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The Cowboy Capitalist

John Hays Hammond, the American West, and the Jameson Raid in South Africa
Charles van Onselen

BUY Paper · 576 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813941318 · $35.00 · Apr 2018
BUY Ebook · 576 pp. · ISBN 9780813941363 · $35.00 · Apr 2018

The Jameson Raid was a pivotal moment in the history of South Africa, linking events from the Anglo-Boer War to the declaration of the Union of South Africa in 1910. For more than a century, the failed revolution has been interpreted through the lens of British imperialism, with responsibility laid at the feet of Cecil Rhodes. Yet, the raid was less a serious attempt to overthrow a Boer government than a wild adventure with transnational roots in American filibustering.

In The Cowboy Capitalist, renowned South African historian Charles van Onselen challenges a historiography of over 120 years, locating the raid in American rather than British history and forcing us to rethink the histories of at least three nations. Through a close look at the little-remembered figure of John Hays Hammond, a confidant of both Rhodes and Jameson, he discovers the American Old West on the South African Highveld. This radical reinterpretation challenges the commonly held belief that the Jameson Raid was quintessentially British and, in doing so, drives splinters into our understanding of events as far forward as South Africa’s critical 1948 general election, with which the foundations of Grand Apartheid were laid.


Van Onselen offers a gripping narrative, a witty voice dripping with matchless sarcasm, and unparalleled knowledge of the early Rand’s history.

Alex Lichtenstein · The Johannesburg Review of Books

Once again, Charles van Onselen offers us a remarkable book. The Cowboy Capitalist is a brilliant contribution to historical scholarship as well as a reminder of van Onselen’s master storytelling and riddle solving.

Steven Hahn, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of A Nation under Our Feet, New York University

In The Cowboy Capitalist... Van Onselen does something quite new, which is wholly to change one’s perception of a significant event in South African and global history, the Jameson Raid.

Times Literary Supplement

Charles van Onselen is arguably the most talented and influential South African historian of his generation. His latest book, The Cowboy Capitalist: John Hays Hammond, The American West and the Jameson Raid in South Africa, focuses on the influential elite composed of both mine owners and politicians of late nineteenth-century South Africa.... [T]hrough the imaginative discovery of new evidence, introducing a broader cast of characters into our understanding of the Jameson Raid, Charles van Onselen has opened the way for a reconsideration of South Africa’s history in the increasingly global world of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

African Studies Association

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