The best books about African adventures

The Books I Picked & Why

East Along the Equator: A Journey Up the Congo and Into Zaire

By Helen Winternitz

East Along the Equator: A Journey Up the Congo and Into Zaire

Why this book?

Ms. Winternitz and Timothy Phelps traveled by local barge 2,000 miles up the Congo River in then-Zaire in 1983, living all the exotica, intrigue, and utter terror you’ve always imagined about the steamy African interior, with a requisite dose of political peril at the hands of Mobutu Sese Seko’s secret police. The Congo (river, country, jungle) is so fabled as opaque and impassable that it has spawned a mini-proliferation of titles.


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Chief of Station, Congo: Fighting the Cold War in a Hot Zone

By Larry Devlin

Chief of Station, Congo: Fighting the Cold War in a Hot Zone

Why this book?

There are different kinds of adventure. Safe to say the life of a CIA operative in raw, post-colonial Africa, who is charged with countering his Cold War rival the Soviet Union, must have been unique. Devlin portrays himself as a free-wheeling rogue playing fast and loose with the law (such as it was in 1960s Congo), and even with the life of murdered independence Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. It makes for exciting reading, even if not all of it is completely true.


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Land of Tears: The Exploration and Exploitation of Equatorial Africa

By Robert Harms

Land of Tears: The Exploration and Exploitation of Equatorial Africa

Why this book?

Harms catches you up in the grand sweep of African history with two convergent tours d’horizon, both the better known European exploration of the African west coast (and early European incursions into the continent from there), and the eastern, Arabian incursions, with a good discussion of where the twain did meet.


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Venture To The Interior

By Laurens van der Post

Venture To The Interior

Why this book?

Malawi is gorgeous, inexpensive, and way under-visited. Laurens van der Post, a Bloomsbury socialite as a young man, World War Two POW, and then apartheid critic, travels ‘by aeroplane‘ across Nyasaland (present-day Malawi) in the early 1950s. Perhaps a few who have heard of Malawi know of its sprawling lake, but how many know of its majestic peaks? Van der Post’s evocation of those highlands compares with Hemingway’s Spain in For Whom the Bell Tolls. Likewise, Venture to the Interior doesn’t have a happy ending.


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Another Day of Life

By Ryszard Kapuscinski, William R. Brand, Katarzyna Mroczkowska-Brand

Another Day of Life

Why this book?

Like Larry Devlin, Kapuscinski can spin up a whirlwind of a tale, even if it’s hard to believe one man can be at the center of so much turmoil. The Africa correspondent for the Polish Press Agency in the Cold War 1970s, Kapuscinski recalls Portugal’s catastrophic, chaotic withdrawal from Luanda after centuries of misrule and abuse. He stamps an indelible imprint of the abandonment of Luanda that you can’t unread.


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