Sample Book Review Paper on Playing the Enemy


The book begins back in 1985 when Nelson Mandela was in prison and when he decided to fight the supporters of apartheid. First, he gained his freedom and in 1994, he won the head of state seat in the country’s first ever-free election. Nonetheless, he was aware of the fact that South Africa was still severely alienated due to prolonged years of apartheid. Mandela had to unite his country in a primitive, emotional and fast manner or risk its collapse due to chaos. He needed to have all the charisma and tactical shrewdness he had polished during his entire life of activism, and he needed to come up with a cause that every South African citizen could share. Surprisingly, Mandela chose a cause that nobody would have imagined which was the national rugby team that was hosting the Rugby World Cup. Since the national team was to face the best team in the world, their chances of winning were minimal. On the other hand, their chances of gaining the support of most South Africans appeared minimal since they had long been the personification of white domination rule.

In the period of apartheid, the Springbok’s white fans would sing out racist songs and blacks would attend the matches just to intimidate the white by cheering any team playing against them. Regardless of this, Mandela believed that the national Rugby team could represent and unite the new South Africa. However, the national Rugby team embraced the plan and they would be seen on TV singing the national hymn of black opposition to apartheid. As their unanticipated series of victories prolonged, their home-ground advantage developed exponentially. Everybody in South Africans regardless of color or political affiliation found themselves supporting the team. When the national team finally took to the field for the finals against New Zealand, Mandela was in his presidential garage wearing the team’s jersey while 62,000 supporters, majority white, chanted his name in chorus. Millions more watched from their TV sets in order to support their team toward conquest. The Springboks defied the odds by winning the match and capped the Mandela’s astonishing ten-year-long endeavor to unite 43 million South Africans in a lasting bond. John Carlin, the author of the book, offers an outstanding description of a great political leader by blending the impulsive blend of race, sport, and political affairs to intoxicating outcome. He exploits his broad interviews with Mandela and other South Africans who were implicated in Mandela’s historic campaign, and the Springboks’ unbelievable victory. As he makes stirringly apparent, their finals surpassed the mere ecstasy of victory to expunge ancient hatreds and make the country whole.


The book describes Mandela’s brilliant, unlikely and systematic campaign of bringing together the aggrieved blacks and anxious whites around a sporting occasion. The assertion that a single rugby championship match could mend three centuries of ethnic division, dispelling amassed panics and hatreds in a magical Mandela moment is a romantic hyperbole. Carlin summoned various witnesses, from dedicated freedom firebrands to prejudiced whites, who confirmed that the 1995 final match was a greatly determining moment in the young nation’s move away from the risk of civil war. Carlin presents the final theatrical chapters of how Mandela and his clever strategy of using the rugby team to mend South Africa. Carlin depicts sports as a powerful tool that can be used to break down ethnic barriers. After presenting a comprehensive account of apartheid’s bitter heritage and Mandela’s dignified character as a leader, the scene is laid down for the important rugby match involving the dominant New Zealand team and the inconsistent South African team. The author concludes this book of redemption and pardon with chapters that portray how a separated nation can be raised beyond hate and brutality to pride and reconciliation.

Key issues/lessons

Carlin expresses how efficiently Mandela was able to induce his fellow blacks who, rightly, depicted rugby as the secular religious conviction of the whites. Additionally, rugby symbolized a certain viciousness and a masculine attitude with which black people in South African were simply too familiar and was regarded as obscene intimacy of power. One of the lessons a leader can learn from the book is Mandela’s charisma, willpower, and nationalism, which helped him, win the support of white rugby players to a point that the team wound sing the national hymn of the black opposition movement. Mandela is portrayed as a clever, conscious, politically confident man who rose up in the appropriate time in his nation’s history to help it plot a course the choppy waters of terror and intolerance. Even though the author focuses on Mandela’s exploitation of the 1995 World rugby competition, which had been timely scheduled to take place exclusively in South African sports grounds, he presents numerous enthralling anecdotes that illumine the troubled political situation in South Africa during that period. Carlin describes Mandela’s growing attitude toward rugby, from his dislike for a sport that embodied white South African supremacy to his consideration of the sport as an instrument for reconciliation, to him becoming a real rugby supporter.


This book is of great value especially in a political context and to a student aspiring to be leaders or practicing leadership. Nestled within the author’s accounts are valuable insights into the political mastermind of Mandela both generally and exclusively in his role in joining sports, traditions, and politics together. The book is of high value when it comes to studying politics and history of South Africa and it can be used as a case study in other countries with the problem of racism. Other heads of state can emulate Nelson Mandela who is depicted in the book as a great political leader who mixed the volatile blend of race, sport, and political affairs to intoxicating outcome. This book describes sporting activities as the best strategy to break down ethnic barriers.

Strengths and weaknesses

Reading Carlin’s book is like listening to Mandela talking to a young rugby team captain about winning a rugby match as if South Africa’s hopes relied on that game. He puts the reader on the front lines of this incredible account of forgiveness and bonding a country. The book is one of the closest representations of the truly remarkable leader that Mandela was, and an aide memoire of the greatness of a man who steered a nation into a new age of democracy, liberation and the national rugby team defeating the best team in the world. The author has no illusion concerning the influence of sport in getting rid of racism, but he builds a good case that the game was the end of the beginning of a fresh South African state. The author’s interviews, with Mandela, the players, and different politicians, act as rich primary-source material. Carlin tracks the events that results to the 1995 World Cup with a clear understanding of both the history and the game of rugby. However, the most memorable part is his depiction of Mandela as a naturally simple man with an aptitude for the ideal political gesture, and the audacity and certainty to pull it off. The only notable weakness of the book is the absence of rhetorical devices such as diction and details. Although the book contains smooth and skilled use of grammar, the author does not explain in details the historical context of the story. The book also lacks footnotes and references, which would have made it more appropriate for academic addresses.

Summary and recommendation

In the final chapters of this book, the author presents the tactics used by President Mandela of using a sporting event to unite South Africa. The book’s theme is the negotiated revolution that made apartheid surrender to majority rule exclusive of the massacre that many observers had anticipated. Key to that process, as the author believes, was Mandela’s resolution in prison that he required to entice his Afrikaner opponents. Mandela was a genius since he knew where he wanted to take his nation, found ways to get there, and influenced people from very disjointed groups to help execute his plan. The author concludes the book with chapters that portray how a separated state can be raised beyond racial barriers to pride and reconciliation. This book can be recommended for use in high school and public libraries to be reviewed in history classes