The best books about wild Africa

The Books I Picked & Why

The Tree Where Man Was Born

By Peter Matthiessen

Book cover of The Tree Where Man Was Born

Why this book?

I could have chosen any of Matthiessen’s books set in Africa – Sand Rivers and African Silences are both magnificent – but The Tree Where Man Was Born is a book of wise observations, superb writing, and great humanity. Whether writing about the Maasai, the poignant death of a zebra, or the landscapes of the Serengeti, the words are perfectly chosen and the tone elegiac. The final chapter, ‘At Gidabembe’ is a masterpiece.


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Cry of the Kalahari

By Mark Owens, Delia Owens

Book cover of Cry of the Kalahari

Why this book?

This warm and gentle memoir takes us back to a time before tourists discovered Africa’s wild spaces, and the Owens’ evocation of the Kalahari’s wildlife and golden grasslands remains a classic. So much happened to the Owens after they were here – Delia Owens has, for example, found fame and fortune with her novel When the Crawdads Sing – but this love letter to one of my favourite African landscapes is a beautiful thing in its own right.


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Out of Africa

By Isak Dinesen

Book cover of Out of Africa

Why this book?

Set aside the Hollywood film for a moment and read this remarkable book. Characters – both human and animal – fill this drama-filled account of colonial East Africa, and Blixen’s descriptions of landscapes and wildlife include many passages of rare beauty; her description of buffaloes emerging from the mist is near-perfect in its execution.  


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A Primate's Memoir: A Neuroscientist's Unconventional Life Among the Baboons

By Robert M. Sapolsky

Book cover of A Primate's Memoir: A Neuroscientist's Unconventional Life Among the Baboons

Why this book?

Funny and wise in equal measure, A Primate’s Memoir is a window on baboon social dynamics with plenty of forays into the world of safari tourism that he observes from askance. Sapolsky has since gone on to become one of the science world’s keenest observers of human behaviour, and his portrayals of baboon and human interactions are priceless.


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The Marsh Lions: The Story of an African Pride

By Brian Jackman, Jonathan Scott, Angie Scott

Book cover of The Marsh Lions: The Story of an African Pride

Why this book?

Written and photographed by three of Britain’s leading wildlife personalities, The Marsh Lions remains a seminal text when it comes to lions. Scott’s and Jackman’s unrivalled knowledge of what is perhaps Africa’s most famous lion pride (which was immortalised in Big Cat Diary, hosted by Jonathan Scott) shines through in the writing, which is patient wildlife storytelling at its best. 


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