The Washing of the Spears

By Donald R. Morris,

Book cover of The Washing of the Spears: A History of the Rise of the Zulu Nation under Shaka and its fall in the Zulu War of 1879

Book description

In 1879, armed only with their spears, their rawhide shields, and their incredible courage, the Zulus challenged the might of Victorian England and, initially, inflicted on the British the worst defeat a modern army has ever suffered at the hands of men without guns. This definitive account of the rise…

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2 authors picked The Washing of the Spears as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

Morris’s history of the rise and fall of the Zulu kingdom remains a classic. Trained as a journalist, Morris presents a vivid, lively, and compelling narrative, tracing the rise of Shaka’s Zulu kingdom, the outbreak of war in 1879, and the tragic aftermath of civil war and national disintegration. Although more recent scholarship casts doubt on some of Morris’s assertions, his book remains the starting point for understanding the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879.

At first glance, US Navy veteran and CIA officer Donald R Morris might seem an unlikely author of an epic chronicle of the bloody trajectory of the Zulu kingdom in nineteenth-century South Africa. Yet when The Washing of the Spears emerged in 1965 it was immediately recognised as a major work of historical narrative. Morris traces the forging of the Zulu war machine under the ruthless and charismatic Shaka, its subsequent setbacks at the hands of Boer settlers, and its revival under Shaka’s nephew Cetshwayo. Morris’s book reaches a powerful climax in his analysis of the ferocious Zulu clashes with…

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