The best books on the ancient Christian faith of Ethiopia

John Binns Author Of The Orthodox Church of Ethiopia: A History
By John Binns

The Books I Picked & Why

Ancient Churches of Ethiopia: Fourth-Fourteenth Centuries

By David W. Phillipson

Ancient Churches of Ethiopia: Fourth-Fourteenth Centuries

Why this book?

David Phillipson is an archeologist who has excavated – and shown me round – sites at Axum and other places. Here he guides us through the early history of the church from the 4th to 15th centuries by showing the wonderful photos, descriptions, and plans of the main church sites, supplemented by historical and geographical essays. A tour of the buildings is a clear and perceptive introduction to this tradition – as well as being a breath-taking journey through some of the more important historic centres of this ancient civilisation.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Greater Ethiopia: The Evolution of a Multiethnic Society

By Donald N. Levine

Greater Ethiopia: The Evolution of a Multiethnic Society

Why this book?

Ethiopia is a country with the second largest population in Africa. There are over 80 ethnic groups and languages, living in a region that includes the largest area of mountains in Africa and also the lowest point on the earth’s land surface. While this book tells the history of the Christian north, including the national epic which tells how Ethiopian kings are descended from Solomon of Israel, it also describes the culture and traditions of other societies which make up this fascinating country, and shows both the tensions and the creativity within Ethiopian society. 


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Understanding Contemporary Ethiopia: Monarchy, Revolution and the Legacy of Meles Zenawi

By Gérard Prunier, Éloi Ficquet

Understanding Contemporary Ethiopia: Monarchy, Revolution and the Legacy of Meles Zenawi

Why this book?

Ethiopian society has gone through radical changes and transformations during the last century – and which continue into an uncertain future. The medieval-style empire of Haile Selassie was toppled by a Marxist dictatorship in 1974, which in turn fell to an alliance of northern peoples who set up a federalist system in 1991, which is now showing signs of tension. This collection of sixteen essays by some of the best-known authorities in their fields, outlines the political history and economic changes. It also tells about the arrival of Pentecostal churches, the growth of militant Islam, and the adaptation of the Orthodox church to a changing world. 


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

The Wife's Tale: A Personal History

By Aida Edemariam

The Wife's Tale: A Personal History

Why this book?

The author is an Ethiopian/Canadian journalist living in London. The book is a vivid biography of her grandmother, Yetemegnu, based on many conversations and interviews. It begins in a traditional household in northern Ethiopia where the grandmother was married at the age of 10 to an ambitious priest twenty years older than her, and it takes us through a century of history as the family lives through and adapts to turbulent times, ending up in modern Addis Ababa where her son became a successful doctor and emigrated to Canada. It’s a beautiful and affectionate account that introduces us to a changing society. 


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

The Chains of Heaven: An Ethiopian Romance

By Philip Marsden

The Chains of Heaven: An Ethiopian Romance

Why this book?

The author walks from Lalibela to Axum, the two main pilgrimage destinations of Christian Ethiopia. It’s a journey of 250 miles through the heartland of Christian Ethiopia. It’s a spectacular mountain landscape, along an old road which passes by many churches and monasteries. As he walks, he describes the people he meets, explains the history of the region, tells the stories and legends, and shares his adventures. For the visitor, Ethiopia is a strange and unfamiliar place and so encountering Ethiopia is always a journey of exploration. We need a guide and Philip is an engaging and well-informed travel companion.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Random Book Lists