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Reviews of The Guardian

"I want James Zug's job! He is the chief correspondent for Squash magazine and travels all over the world—The Pyramids! The Emirates! Symphony Hall!—covering the fastest game afoot. (Lacrosse? Pshaw!) And he is a man of many parts. In addition to Squash: A History of the Game, Zug recently published not one but two books about John Ledyard, the legendary American explorer who accompanied Captain James Cook on his third and final South Seas voyage. Comes now The Guardian: The History of South Africa's Extraordinary Anti-Apartheid Newspaper, which Zug started researching 17 years ago, for his senior thesis at Dartmouth. The Guardian, at times a down-the-line Stalinist propaganda organ, was shuttered by the government in 1963. To own a copy of the paper, even after it was banned, was punishable by three years in jail. British journalist Anthony Sampson wrote of the white-edited paper: 'Africans hated the "white hand" (i.e. white-run 'black' papers). They suspected a white man's trick to keep them quiet. "A dog with a bone in his mouth can't bark," says a Shangaan proverb. The only paper for Africans which had their confidence was the Guardian, an outspoken Communist weekly.'"

— Alex Beam, Boston Globe, 11 June 2007

 

"Zug began researching his subject seventeen years ago, and his thoroughness reflects more seemingly nonessential detail and color than a reader might expect from a work of history published by an academic press. But what elevate this book is largely Zug's judicious handling of this detail and his writing ability in general, as well as his passionate admiration for the heroic journalists who served in the Guardian's ranks. He recognizes the need to introduce readers not only to the Guardian's editors and wealthy backers but also to figures of lesser importance in the newsroom whose own passions and deeply held convictions must be understood if they are to make sense of the motivations of highly talented, dedicated journalists who devoted their lives to low-paying jobs in squalid surroundings with no prospects for advancement."

— Harold Cordry, Foreword Magazine, November/December 2007

 

"The story of the survival and role of the Guardian is written in conjunction with political events in South Africa leading to the overthrow of apartheid. Zug also writes about the work and influence of major and some secondary individuals connected with the paper. With a background as a historian as well as a journalist, author Zug writes an enduring history of this notable newspaper."

— Henry Berry, Midwest Book Review, January 2008

 

"A socialist journal that ran beauty contests; initially racially patronizing yet becoming a kind of paper of record for the national liberation movements; having seven names in twenty-six years, the Guardian was something of a legend in the anti-apartheid struggle. James Zug admirably brings out its complexity in his well-written and highly engaging book....Written with great vigor, reading at times like a novel, and packed with detailed research-including a swath of interviews with former associates of the Guardian-this is an excellent contribution to modern South African history. It points to an area of history that needs more research, a sympathetic yet critical examination of the role of the left in South Africa. It deserves to be read beyond the small circles of scholarship and what's left of the left."

— Anthony Egan, Mail & Guardian, 26 March 2008

 

"Wonderfully written....With a novelist's skill, Zug chronicles the activities of a remarkably brave group of South African leftists, fellow-travelers, and Party members who, through the pages of their newspaper and with their very lives, fought racism in South Africa when so many 'right-thinking people' stood by in silence. He doesn't sugar-coat the story, and never fails to point out when The Guardian's editors and writers were on the wrong side of an issue. But Zug saves them from being written out of history all together by broad-brushed dismissals of mid-century communism. Not only that, he tells a ripping tale. Please read this book."

— Marshall Poe, New Books in History, 26 June 2008

 

"Numerous adjectives come to mind when describing the Guardian—bold, courageous, defiant, historian, spokesman for the oppressed, worker's voice, unbowed, organizer, educator, anti-Nazi. Much can be written about each of these. The Guardian cannot be fitted into any one category. It was not just a newspaper. It was an institution. For almost three decades it stood out as the most consistent and powerful defender of the cause of justice, equality and non-racialism. At times it was the lone voice. Its files remain an indispensable resource for anyone wishing to research and write about the history of South Africa. We owe a debt of gratitude to James Zug for his initiative."

— Ahmed Kathrada, chair of the Robben Island Council, Rivonia Trialist and ex-political prisoner at Robben Island

 

"James Zug positions the life and times of the Guardian within the history of left-wing politics in South Africa. Writing in the style of a literary journalist, this is an entertaining as well as compelling study of South Africa's signature anti-apartheid newspaper."

— Les Switzer, co-editor of South Africa's Resistance Press

 

"Has any newspaper been as courageous, influential and long-lived as the Guardian? For more than a quarter century, from 1937 to 1963, this multi-racial weekly newspaper reported on the grievances and aspirations of the black majority. Rich in anecdote, this story will fascinate readers with its cast of personalities, the intrusion of ideology in the struggle and the imaginative tactics of the newspaper's survival. An original and welcomed book."

— Thomas G. Karis, co-editor of From Protest to Challenge: A Documentary History of African Politics in South Africa

 

"James Zug has taken a piece of South African history that deserves to be preserved and preserved it both meticulously and affectionately."

— Shaun Johnson, author of The Native Commissioner and chief executive of the Mandela Rhodes Foundation