Need some good books regarding Africa...

Dec 16th, 2004, 12:10 AM
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Need some good books regarding Africa...

Just finishing up an amazing (and horrifying) book called King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild and I am looking for more reading material.

Regarding King Leopold of Belgium, how many people are aware that he is responsible for as many or more deaths as Hitler or Stalin? Unfortunately, because it was in the name of colonialism (and the victims were of a darker shade), there is very little attention paid to the atrocities committed in the Belgian Congo. The first nation to recognize King Leopold's claim to the Belgian Congo? The United States, after no other European country would do so. Yet, they lined up in droves to recognize it once the U.S. did so that they would not be left out of the mix once it came to commerce.

Amazingly, the Congo was not even a Belgian colony to start out, but rather a King Leopold colony, as he honestly owned it himself through a foundation in which he was basically the only member. Only after needing financing, years later, did he agree to leave the Belgian Congo to the Belgian government in his will. Really, it is an amazing and eye-opening book.

I've just read Eye Of The Elephant and Cry Of The Kalahari by Mark & Delia Owens, as well as The Africa House by Christina Lamb and I am just wrapping up King Leopold's Ghost. I've even ordered a couple antique books on EBay that should take about a week to arrive, hopefully in time for the holidays.

I didn't much care for Dark Star Safari (talk about the cup is half full) and I will soon get around to read Heart Of Darkness (Conrad spent a total of 6 months in the Congo but from what I have read in King Leopold's Ghost, he is very sympathetic to colonialism, so long as it is British).

I've put in an order for Kakuli by Norman Carr (the alleged founder of the walking safari and lifelong resident of the Luangwa Valley in Zambia).

I do prefer wildlife and colonialism type books over books about current political problems, etc. First I have to understand the history to understand what is happening today. Just read an interesting article in the L.A. Times yesterday about the Black Empowerment in South Africa and how Archbishop Desmond Tutu and President Mbeki are at odds about it. Seems that most of the opportunities are going to high ranking ANC officials and the poverty levels of blacks, overall, is worse now than it was at the end of the white government (although there are some few select blacks, largely ANC officials, that are doing very well for themselves. Article wrote that there are some that are worried with the with the growing divide of rich and poor and unprecedented poverty levels that there is a real risk of civil war if things do not change for the betterment of the poverty-stricken.

Anyway, I NEED BOOKS. Cannot believe it has taken me three visits to Africa before I have really finally taken an interest, but now I just want to feed my brain with as much knowledge as possible!
Roccco is offline  
Dec 16th, 2004, 01:35 AM
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May I suggest you check these out:
* Livingstone's Tribe (A Journey from Zanzibar to the Cape) by Stephen Taylor - Re the whites of post-independence.
* The Shadow of the Sun (My African Life) by Ryszard Kapuscinski
* The Scramble for Africa, by Thomas Pakenham. Probably the definitive work, very learned but packed with action.
* My Kenya Days, by Wilfred Thesiger.
* The Shadow of Kilimanjaro, by Rick Ridgeway. On foot across East Africa.
* Into Africa (The Dramatic Retelling of the Stanley-Livingstone Story) by Martin Dugard.
If you are really keen, look at the website for the world-famous Stanford's Bookshop in London ( EVERY time I go into the capital I always end up in their fantastic shop!
P.S. I do not work for them, this is an independent opinion!
GovernorPhil is offline  
Dec 16th, 2004, 03:47 AM
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I felt the same about Dark Star Safari - almost like he feels more sophisticated somehow if he presents this jaded, bored attitude. Put me off so much I didn't even bother finishing the book!
There have been a few threads with some good recommendations - have you seen them?
Kavey is offline  
Dec 16th, 2004, 03:59 AM
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I can't believe it either, Roccco.

"Scramble for Africa" is a must. But what I REALLY REALLY recommend are:

Fantastic Invasion by Patrick Marnham.
The Africans by David Lamb.

They put a slightly different gloss on colonialism.

And Doris Lessing's early work (fiction) and her "African Laughter" about a return to Zim after many years.

I assume you have read "Long walk to Freedom"?
alice13 is offline  
Dec 16th, 2004, 05:44 AM
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I just want to add another endorsement to all those interesed in the history of Africa to read "King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild". I also have just recently completed reading this book. A real eye opener to how and why Western colonialism evolved in central Africa.

I know personally when I heard the term "Belgium Congo" I never gave it a second thought as to its origin or true meaning. It seemed like a benign description of some far off perriod in history. In reality the term should evoke the same feelings as when you hear "Nazi Germany" or "Stalinist Russia".
GreenDrake is offline  
Dec 16th, 2004, 05:57 AM
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Wow...thanks for all the recommendations!

"The Scramble For Africa" is definitely one that seems to be a must-read. That term is referenced frequently in King Leopold's Ghost.


I am in the same boat as you regarding Dark Star Safari. I think I made it all the way to about Ethiopia and then stopped right about there. I have better things to do with my time than to listen to some guy whine, talk about how good things were 'back in his day' and generally talk trash about those of us that don't have the time to spend a year or two doing overland trips of Africa. He was just so negative throughout that not once have I even been tempted to pick up the book to finish it.

Alice 13,

Thanks for the recommendations. I have not yet read Long Walk To Freedom, but I will definitely get to it before my next visit. I have visited Robben Island, as well as taken a tour of Soweto, so this is a topic that interests me greatly. As I said though, I kind of want to start from the colonial era and work my way up to the more modern. If I could read at least one book a month that would be great.


I echo your sentiments about the Belgian Congo. It is unfortunate that the word Congo does not conjure up images of horror. I mean, I am not surprised, but celebrity Jennifer Lopez, owns a nightclub called the "Congo Room." If she knew her history, perhaps she would think better of that title, but I suppose tens of thousands of people have frequented this Hollywood locale without a second thought about the name. I don't exactly see anybody going out and naming their nightclub or restaurant "Club Auschwitz!"
Roccco is offline  
Dec 16th, 2004, 07:32 AM
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I too was moved by King Leopold's Ghost and highly recommend it. There's also a very good documentary film, made by a Belgian filmmaker about the Congo which asserts that once the colony was taken over by the Belgians the horrors continued. I'm sorry I can't remember the name of it at the moment. You should certainly pick up In To Africa, which is excellent.

But I also would like to come to the defense of Paul Theroux's Dark Star Safari. Yes, I agree that it was fairly negative but I believe that for people who have a great love and respect for the African continent, as I and I'm sure many of us here do, we can't close our eyes to the horrors that are happening on there now. Yes, the Congo of the past was unquestionably horrible but what about Mubutu's thirty year reign? Also I read a report recently that as many as 4 million people have died in the DR Congo over the past six years as a result of fighting and disease there.

A lot of the news (indeed much of the news) is not good out of Africa today and much needs to be done to get things on track. Theroux is correct to point this out in his book and maybe it'll get more people thinking about the horrors also going on this very moment rather than just the ones that happened in the past
gfhoule is offline  
Dec 16th, 2004, 07:48 AM
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My objection to Dark Star Safari has nothing to do with a desire to close my eyes to the horrors that this continent has experienced in relatively recent history. Not at all. I'm happy to learn about these eras of history because, as Rocco said, it's important to understand history if one wants to understand the present. Also because I feel that these horrors should not be forgotten or swept under the carpet, so to speak.
My objection is to Mr Theroux's attitude itself, as it comes over in his writing - jaded, bored, superior and cold. He comes across as very unsympathetic and very hostile to those who, as Rocco said, are not able to travel in the way that he can. And I just don't enjoy reading when presented with that kind of atmosphere.
Kavey is offline  
Dec 16th, 2004, 08:10 AM
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Hi Kavey: I think that your criticisms of Mr. Theroux are generally fair and I do agree with you in many ways. However I think Mr. Theroux’s criticism, for example, of many of the NGOs in Africa is relatively fair and, at least, provides an interesting view. Yes Theroux is grumpy and he can sometimes be condescending but I think he offers a legitimate and interesting perspective from someone who truly does respect Africa, saw the continent during the independence fervor of the 1960s, and compared that time to today. He doesn’t romanticize anything.

I agree 100% that he tends to look down on people who didn’t have the luxury to travel in his manner overland and I understand how this can be a turn-off for some. I guess I was able to look past this and see the book for the strengths that it provided. I think, in general, the book is a valuable and engaging read for people interested in Africa.
gfhoule is offline  
Dec 16th, 2004, 09:47 AM
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Since our first trip to Africa is in May 2005, I have been reading as much as possible about the country. Thanks for all you suggestions.
Just finished The Long Walk to Freedom which was a great read, filled with mounds of SA history and really helped me to better understand what a amazing man that Nelson Mandela is. What a struggle the people have Africa have been enduring, I was moved to tears many times. There is such arrogance and greed in the march towards colonialism and christianity.

Looks like I have a few more books to add to my reading list.
Happy Travels,
wallybrenda is offline  
Dec 16th, 2004, 10:30 AM
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Just a couple of others to look at:

Don't Lets Go Down to the Dogs Tonight, by Alexandra Fuller - about her childhood growing up during the Rhodesian civil war. She's written another book - Scribbling the Cat - which I haven't read.

Facing the Congo - A Modern Day Journey into the Heart of Darkness, by Jeffrey Tayler. This is a travel narrative.

For some lighter fictional fare, there is Alexander McCall Smith's series about Precious Ramotswe's No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency in Gaborone.
dreaming is offline  
Dec 16th, 2004, 11:28 AM
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Hi there, I also have those Owen's books. You may want to try:
The End Of The Game, Peter Beard.
Awesome photos!But very disturbing.Even a bit depressing. We just have to change everything we step into! If you pick it up. Would like your take on it.
Thanks, David
tuskerdave is offline  
Dec 16th, 2004, 02:08 PM
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I also recommend "Don't Let's go to the Dogs Tonight" but "Scribbling the Cat" wasn't as interesting. Another childhood in Africa book that I really enjoyed was "The Poisonwood Bible."
moremiles is offline  
Dec 16th, 2004, 03:47 PM
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I second the opinion about Alexander McCall Smith's books on Botswana. A lot of fun to read. Here are a few of my favorites: I Dreamed of Africa by Kuki Gallman, West With the Night by Beryl Markham, Flame Trees of Thika by Elsbeth Huxley and Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen. Also all of the books by Jane Goodall.
KathyAZ is offline  
Dec 17th, 2004, 12:29 AM
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Yes I am sure he has a lot of valid points that he makes in the book. Unfortunately for him, I'm sure I'm not the only person who will never read them because they are put off by his attitude. I'm not only interested in happy, cheerful reading but where there's negative content I'd rather that be because of the content itself rather than because of the way he writes about it, if that makes sense.
Anyway, Mr Theroux clearly has his fans as the book sold well enough so I doubt he'll be changing his style anytime soon.
Kavey is offline  
Dec 17th, 2004, 01:59 AM
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Some more recommendations:

If you are particularly interested in the 19th century and are focussed on southern Africa then "The Washing of the Spears" by Donald R Morris is wonderful. I bought it in a second hand bookshop in Durban some years back but I know it has been re-published since.

For East Africa - can't go past Alan Mooreshead's "White Nile" and "Blue Nile".

We haven't even started on West Africa.

But with respect: it's great to read up on the early history of the West and Africa - but what has had a much greater impact IMHO on the way the continent is now, is what has happened post colonialism in the years since the African nations gained their independence.

alice13 is offline  
Feb 19th, 2005, 12:00 AM
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I just want to give a whole-hearted recommendation to "Don't Let's Go To The Dogs Tonight" by Alexandra Fuller. What an amazing book this was, and in response I have already ordered "Scribbling The Cat", her next book about her travels with an African soldier.

It is fascinating reading some of these books that have taken place in Zambia (as did the end of Don't Let's Go To The Dogs Tonight) and actually having met some of the actual people appearing in the books. Living history, I guess.

I am currently reading "Scramble For Africa" by Thomas Pakenham but I definitely need to break that up, as it is nearly 700 pages in length, so I have also just started "Elephant Memories: Thirteen Years In The Life Of An Elephant Family" by Cynthia Moss.

Just a visiting and then following their link to Barnes and Noble's website, a 5% donation will go to the Owens Foundation to help fight poaching in North Luangwa and elsewhere, while it will not cost you any extra when purchasing your books.

I will not buy a book now without first visiting the below listed website.
Roccco is offline  
Feb 19th, 2005, 08:19 AM
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If you need a book about colonialism you should read Exterminate all the Brutes by Sven Lindqvist.
Nyamera is offline  
Feb 19th, 2005, 08:24 AM
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Two wonderful picture/painting books that I have recently enjoyed are "Africa: An Artists Journal" by Kim Donaldson (beautiful, photographic watercolors of animals country by country) and Safari by French photojournalist Patrick De Wilde (2004), which also goes country by country with truly exceptional pictures of the wildlife and of game lodges. I think most people who love safari will really like these two books.
AKR1 is offline  
Feb 20th, 2005, 01:43 AM
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Roccco; I recommend you get a copy of Martin Meredith's book titled "Robert Mugabe" Power, Plunder and Tyranny in Zimbabwe". His books on post-war black Africa have become essential guides to anyone seeking a closer understanding of the complexities of Africa. His account of the last decade of white rule in Rhodesia, "The Past is another Country" , was highly praised.
tod is offline  

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