The Boer War (1899-1902) was one of the last of the romantic wars, pitting a sturdy, stubborn pioneer people, fighting to establish the independence of their tiny nation, against the might of the British Empire at its peak. Farwell captures the incredible feats, the personal heroism, the unbelievable folly, and the many incidents of humor as well as tragedy.
Doyle the Apologist?
With a remarkable devotion to detail, Doyle chronicles the Boer war of South Africa. Because of his manner of writing, it can only be assumed that sentiments antagonistic to the war had infiltrated a great deal of public thought in the UK, and here, Doyle has chosen the part of apologist in order help justify Britain's actions. Indeed, the brilliant writer he was, he did an excellent job of explaining the conflict and convincing the reader of Britain's legitimacy in armed confrontation with the Boers who were so poorly governed, politically, but well-armed and effective militarily. In his efforts, however, Doyle spends a great deal of time detailing the many failures of the British military leaders, and the reader wades through encounter after bloody encounter where the British army is repeatedly mauled. He invests much of his work here convincing the reader that the Boer's armed aggression was premeditated, well-planned, and well-executed. In the process, however, the combined forces of the UK frequently appear inept, and I never really developed a feel for exactly when the tide began to turn for Britain. Doyle seems to go too far in avoiding the appearance of vainglory or national vanity, and consequently we rarely get a detailed glimpse of the battles and skirmishes won by the Brits. In fact, he frequently lays upon the Boers heavy accolades for their tenacity and ability to repeatedly bloody up his own countrymen. Certainly, some of this can be understood and overlooked as he is likely attempting to present the war in "conciliatory" fashion, especially given the timing of it's writing (1902). On the whole, I finished the book with a much better understanding of the Anglo-Boer War, and I recommend it to anyone who seeks a better understanding of not just the war, but of a region experiencing the many challenges of transition into the 20th century that just, decades before, was governed by primitive tribal rule and recurrent bloodshed at the hands of the great Zulu army.