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Expert on South Africa remembers Nelson Mandela

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Non fiction biography

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Released by coincidence at the time of Nelson Mandela's death and funeral, "Knowing Mandela: A Personal Portrait" (HarperPerennial, $14.99) by John Carlin stands as a uniquely personal portrait of the South African leader.

Carlin was a journalist in South Africa from 1989-1995 and reported extensively on Mandela's political career during that era. His book "Playing the Enemy' about how Mandela encouraged soccer as a way to unite cultures became the movie "Invictus" which was viewed worldwide.

The book follows Mandela's career from the time of his release from prison in 1990 to 2009 when Carlin last saw Mandela in person. Carlin uses interviews with Mandela's family, friends and enemies to provide a thorough insight into the man who was both revered and despised as the leader of South Africa.

Mandela himself endorsed Carlin's work on South Africa, saying in a public address in 1998, "The way in which you wrote and the way in which you carried out your task in this country was absolutely magnificent."

Carlin remains invested in telling the story of South Africa. He is working on a book about Oscar Pistorius and post-Mandela South Africa. "I hear plenty of stories of disappointment with the ANC government, of raging crime. But the country moves me like no other."

Of Mandela, Carlin says, "(He) is not the only great South African. He is a son of that soil." He writes that his memories of Mandela are "a tapestry" but the most outstanding is of spending time with Mandela just after he was elected president. Mandela had just seen the country's first democratic election and now held the office formerly held only by white men. His observation to Carter: "Remarkable, remarkable, Yes, remarkable."

Many books will emerge in the next months. This short, eloquent portrait is one worth taking the time to read. Carlin's skill as a journalist is expertly applied and the result is a concise but thorough look at both the flaws and triumphs of one of the world's most renowned leaders.

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