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Author: Antony Thomas
Publisher: BBC Books
Original hardcover and dustjacket, 16x24 cm, 368 pages, bw illustrations and maps
A biography of Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902), who seized control of 90 per cent of the world's diamond production, made another fortune in gold and then carved out a "personal" empire in Africa ten times the size of the United Kingdom. Cecil Rhodes was alive in this century. In his short thirty-year career he added nearly a million square miles to Britain's African empire and gave his name to a country larger than England, Germany, France and the Low Countries combined - Rhodesia.
When he was only 34 years old, he created a company - De Beers - which achieved a virtual monopoly of the world's diamond production; he then went on to make a second fortune in gold. He laid the foundations of apartheid and drew Britain into the Boer War, the costliest and bloodiest war it was to fight between Waterloo and the First World War. Rhodes walked with emperors, kings and queens. Prime ministers and field marshals acted at his bidding and his charm and personal charisma were legendary. As his famous business rival, Barney Barnato, once said: 'You can't resist him: you must be with him.'
When he died, at the age of 48, his funeral was an occasion for unprecedented scenes of mass hysteria. Yet today little is known about this extraordinary man, save for the Rhodes scholarships which appear to be his only lasting memorial. Antony Thomas's biography of Cecil Rhodes is a brilliant study of one of the nineteenth century's major historical figures.
At its heart is the story of Britain's race for Africa, but Rhodes's own story is that of a young man corrupted by the pursuit of power and driven by the knowledge that his life would be short. The fact that he was a visionary who could reach out to others, whatever their race, and inspire them with a sense of purpose only serves to exacerbate the tragedy of Rhodes's legacy to the African continent, if not the whole world.