The Founder: Cecil Rhodes and the Pursuit of Power

The Founder: Cecil Rhodes and the Pursuit of Power

The Founder: Cecil Rhodes and the Pursuit of Power

The Founder: Cecil Rhodes and the Pursuit of Power

Synopsis

Cecil Rhodes was an imposing figure, tall, robust-looking, with a leonine head, a man so charismatic that one contemporary claimed that "belief in Rhodes was a substitute for religion." But he was certainly a man of contradictions. He was a dreamy idealist whose favorite book was The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius and a ruthless businessman whose guiding principle was "every man has his price." He supported invidious racial laws in South Africa, and invented and sponsored the world-renowned Rhodes Scholarships. Though his own education and intellectual talents were unprepossessing, he dominated the British Empire and became one of the leading figures in the English-speaking world, the confidant of Queen Victoria and Kaiser Wilhelm, and a man of vast wealth and world-wide influence. Based on seventeen years of research, this monumental volume offers the definitive biography of one of the most controversial figures of the nineteenth century. Rhodes was truly larger than life, and this book captures that life in fascinating detail. It offers an astute portrait of Rhodes' childhood and adolescence, informed by insights from modern psychology; it vividly depicts life on a nineteenth-century African cotton farm (Rhodes' first venture) and in mining camps around Kimberley and the Witwatersrand; it traces the surreptitious stock buyouts and mergers that allowed Rhodes to gain control over 90% of the world's diamond production by age thirty-five; it describes his campaigns against African populations that allowed him to establish Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia); and it discusses the poorly planned, disastrous raid on the Transvaal that destroyed Rhodes' reputation. A conqueror and colonial monarch, Cecil Rhodes presided arrogantly over the fate of southern Africa. But he also built lasting economic institutions, furthered transportation and communication links, improved agriculture, and fervently believed that he used his wealth and power to advance the best interests of the British Empire and Africa. This biography illuminates a complex and fascinating life, a life both evil and good.

Excerpt

The agenda was defined a decade ago: "A biography [of Rhodes] adequate for historians of Africa or of imperialism and a biography in its own right has yet to be written." A wise critic, Jeffrey Butler desired a study which would bring together "Rhodes the businessman and Rhodes the politician, Rhodes the creator and ruler of Rhodesia and Rhodes the Cape politician; Rhodes the South African and Rhodes the actor in English politics and money markets; and perhaps above all, Rhodes the formulator of 'native policy.'" The major unfinished business for biographers, he suggested, lay in producing a portrait that was "psychologically convincing," giving appropriate weight "to the favorable and unfavorable aspects of his personality and conduct." Cornelis W. de Kiewiet, who masterfully synthesized the history of South Africa, had earlier written that Rhodes was "not one man, but several men who blended their dissimilar and incongruous traits into a firm and successful union. The biographer [had not appeared who could] do justice to the contradictions of the loftiness to which he could rise and the baseness to which he could stoop." Why and how Rhodes proved so creative and effective in all his multifarious pursuits are key questions, and the driving ones of this new biography.

Rudyard Kipling warned, however, that "Rhodes's personality would be a very difficult thing to translate to a man who did not know him well. . . ." That may be why Anthony Sampson, one of the ablest of recent writers, believes that "the character of Rhodes--with his combination of shrewdness and adolescence, romanticism and ruthlessness, imagination and vulgarity--has eluded all his biographers." For the same reason Geoffrey Wheatcroft, concluding his study of The Randlords, felt that "a satisfactory life of Rhodes is still to seek." For him, and doubtless for many others, "the looming gap between [Rhodes'] deeds and his unfathomable personality remains."

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