Conversations With Myself is a moving collection of letters, diary entries and other writing that provides a rare chance to see the other side of Nelson Mandela's life, in his own voice: direct, clear, private. An international bestseller, Conversations With Myself is an intensely personal book that complements his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom. In his foreword to Nelson Mandela's book, President Barack Obama writes: 'Conversations With Myself does the world an extraordinary service in giving us [a] picture of Mandela the man.' Conversations With Myself gives readers insight to the darkest hours of Nelson Mandela's twenty-seven years of imprisonment and his troubled dreams in his cell on Robben Island. It contains the draft of an unfinished sequel to Long Walk to Freedom, notes from Madiba's famous speeches, and even doodles made during meetings. There are photos from his life, journals written while on the run during the anti-apartheid struggles of the early 1960s, and conversations with friends in almost 70 hours of recorded interviews. An intimate journey from the first stirrings of his political conscience to his galvanizing role on the world stage, Conversations With Myself is an extraordinary glimpse of the man behind one of the world's most beloved public figures. 'More revealing of the man than his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom -- and in many respects more moving as well' F.W. De Klerk 'A book that breaks the heart and then makes it sing' Andrew Rawnsley, Observer Books of the Year 'Intensely moving, raw and unmediated, told in real time with all the changes in perspective that brings, over the years, mixing the prosaic with the momentous. Health concerns, dreams, political initiatives spill out together, to provide the fullest picture yet of Mandela.' Peter Godwin, Observer
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Nelson Mandela was born in Transkei, South Africa on 18 July 1918. He joined the African National Congress in 1944 and was engaged in resistance against the ruling National Party's apartheid policies after 1948. From 1964 to 1982, he was incarcerated at Robben Island Prison and then later moved to Pollsmoor Prison, during which his reputation as a potent symbol of resistance to the anti-apartheid movement grew steadily. Released from prison in 1990, Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and was inaugurated as the first democratically-elected president of South Africa in 1994. He is the author of the international bestseller Long Walk to Freedom.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Like many people around the world, I came to know of Nelson Mandela from a distance, when he was imprisoned on Robben Island. To so many of us, he was more than just a man – he was a symbol of the struggle for justice, equality, and dignity in South Africa and around the globe. His sacrifice was so great that it called upon people everywhere to do what they could on behalf of human progress.
In the most modest of ways, I was one of those people who tried to answer his call. The first time that I became politically active was during my college years, when I joined a campaign on behalf of divestment, and the effort to end apartheid in South Africa. None of the personal obstacles that I faced as a young man could compare to what the victims of apartheid experienced every day, and I could only imagine the courage that had led Mandela to occupy that prison cell for so many years. But his example helped awaken me to the wider world, and the obligation that we all have to stand up for what is right. Through his choices, Mandela made it clear that we did not have to accept the world as it is – that we could do our part to seek the world as it should be.
Over the years, I continued to watch Nelson Mandela with a sense of admiration and humility, inspired by the sense of possibility that his own life demonstrated and awed by the sacrifices necessary to achieve his dream of justice and equality. Indeed, his life tells a story that stands in direct opposition to the cynicism and hopelessness that so often afflicts our world. A prisoner became a free man; a liberation figure became a passionate voice for reconciliation; a party leader became a president who advanced democracy and development. Out of formal office, Mandela continues to work for equality, opportunity and human dignity. He has done so much to change his country, and the world, that it is hard to imagine the history of the last several decades without him.
A little more than two decades after I made my first foray into political life and the divestment movement as a college student in California, I stood in Mandela’s former cell in Robben Island. I was a newly elected United States Senator. By then, the cell had been transformed from a prison to a monument to the sacrifice that was made by so many on behalf of South Africa’s peaceful transformation. Standing there in that cell, I tried to transport myself back to those days when President Mandela was still Prisoner 466/64 – a time when the success of his struggle was by no means a certainty. I tried to imagine Mandela – the legend who had changed history – as Mandela the man who had sacrificed so much for change.
Conversations with Myself does the world an extraordinary service in giving us that picture of Mandela the man. By offering us his journals, letters, speeches, interviews, and other papers from across so many decades, it gives us a glimpse into the life that Mandela lived – from the mundane routines that helped to pass the time in prison, to the decisions that he made as President. Here, we see him as a scholar and politician; as a family man and friend; as a visionary and pragmatic leader. Mandela titled his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom. Now, this volume helps us recreate the different steps – as well as the detours – that he took on that journey.
By offering us this full portrait, Nelson Mandela reminds us that he has not been a perfect man. Like all of us, he has his flaws. But it is precisely those imperfections that should inspire each and every one of us. For if we are honest with ourselves, we know that we all face struggles that are large and small, personal and political – to overcome fear and doubt; to keep working when the outcome of our struggle is not certain; to forgive others and to challenge ourselves. The story within this book – and the story told by Mandela’s life – is not one of infallible human beings and inevitable triumph. It is the story of a man who was willing to risk his own life for what he believed in, and who worked hard to lead the kind of life that would make the world a better place.
In the end, that is Mandela’s message to each of us. All of us face days when it can seem like change is hard – days when our opposition and our own imperfections may tempt us to take an easier path that avoids our responsibilities to one another. Mandela faced those days as well. But even when little sunlight shined into that Robben Island cell, he could see a better future – one worthy of sacrifice. Even when faced with the temptation to seek revenge, he saw the need for reconciliation, and the triumph of principle over mere power. Even when he had earned his rest, he still sought – and seeks – to inspire his fellow men and women to service.
Prior to my election as President of the United States, I had the great privilege of meeting Mandela, and since taking office I have spoken with him occasionally by phone. The conversations are usually brief – he is in the twilight of his years, and I am faced with the busy schedule that comes with my office. But always, in those conversations, there are moments when the kindness, and generosity, and wisdom of the man shines through. Those are the moments when I am reminded that underneath the history that has been made, there is a human being who chose hope over fear – progress over the prisons of the past. And I am reminded that even as he has become a legend, to know the man – Nelson Mandela – is to respect him even more.
President Barack Obama
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