The best books about Africa

58 authors have picked their favorite books about Africa and why they recommend each book.

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Transformations in Slavery

By Paul E. Lovejoy,

Book cover of Transformations in Slavery: A History of Slavery in Africa

In this classic history, Paul Lovejoy examines how indigenous African slavery developed from the fifteenth to the early twentieth centuries within an international context, leading to the Atlantic trade conducted by Europeans and Americans. He describes the processes of enslavement and the marketing of slaves and assesses slavery's role in African and world history.


Who am I?

As an engineer, I have constructed bridges, highways, and power plants throughout Africa, and on journeys learned and explored the continent's history. My novel, Ama, a Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade, won the 2002 Commonwealth Writers Prize for the Best First Book. My 200 plus sources, and excerpts from many of them, are listed on the companion website


I wrote...

Ama, a Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade

By Manu Herbstein,

Book cover of Ama, a Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade

What is my book about?

Ama is a neo-slave narrative set in the late 18th century. The novel follows the life of its eponymous protagonist from her youth in the African Sahel to old age in a Brazilian sugar estate, a life in which she balances resistance to the deprivation of her freedom with unavoidable accommodation to the power of her oppressors. It has four sections, entitled Africa (set in the north of today’s Ghana and in Kumase, capital of the Asante Empire); Europeans (set in the Dutch slave castle at Elmina); The Love of Liberty (set in the Middle Passage); and America (set in Bahia).

West with the Night

By Beryl Markham,

Book cover of West with the Night: A Memoir

In the 1920s and 30s, there were a few adventurous colonials who catered to wealthy tourists who wanted to go on safaris to shoot big game. Among them were Theodore Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway. The guides they used were white Kenyans, British mostly, who knew the country; one of those was also a glamorous young female aviator, Beryl Markham, who scouted by flying her plane ahead of those on safari, and who delivered mail around the Kenyan colony.  She was fearless, loved by many men, but known well by only a few. Beryl once flew across Africa to Britain, and then on a dare, flew alone across the Atlantic, becoming the first person to make the crossing east to west. Beryl continued to California, lived among celebrities in Hollywood, and eventually wrote a haunting novel of her life in East Africa. Earnest Hemingway praised that novel, West with the Night…


Who am I?

From my days as a student in India in the early 1970s through my years in the U.S. Foreign Service with postings in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Kenya, as well as assignments to the India, Kenya, and Uganda desks at the Department of State, I learned something of the cultures of South Asia and East Africa and gained an appreciation for the peoples of those countries. During the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic, I had the time to write. I developed a novel that was part autobiography and part fiction, and most of which was set in South Asia and East Africa. The result is Danger and Romance in Foreign Lands.


I wrote...

Danger and Romance in Foreign Lands

By Stephen E. Eisenbraun,

Book cover of Danger and Romance in Foreign Lands

What is my book about?

To see the world, to report political intrigue abroad—these are the ambitions of Scott Higgins, a young American foreign correspondent in South Asia who encounters dramatic and dangerous events there in the 1970s. It is in India that he also makes an unexpected romantic connection with Rakhi, a smart, savvy, and sultry woman employed by a British multinational bank. Scott and Rakhi elope to Nairobi, where Scott takes up his second reporting assignment, and Rakhi continues with her bank in its Kenyan branch. Even as newlyweds, however, their lives are threatened by unseen but dangerous political actors who resent their presence in the country. They flee Nairobi to London, where trouble of a more personal kind still awaits them.

The Fate of Africa

By Martin Meredith,

Book cover of The Fate of Africa: A History of the Continent Since Independence

The breadth of Meredith’s book makes it a true masterpiece. He covers the political history of virtually every African state from independence through the end of the century. Each chapter is as compelling as it is brutal.


Who am I?

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith are professors of politics at New York University. They use the mathematical approach of game theory to understand the incentives of leaders in different settings. The Dictator’s Handbook distills decades of academic work into a few essential rules that encapsulate how leaders come to power and remain there.


We wrote...

The Dictator's Handbook: Why Bad Behavior Is Almost Always Good Politics

By Bruce Bueno de Mesquita (lead author), Alastair Smith,

Book cover of The Dictator's Handbook: Why Bad Behavior Is Almost Always Good Politics

What is our book about?

Our cynical, but we believe accurate, view of politics examines how leaders come to power, stay in power, and rule for their benefit rather than that for the people. No leader rules alone. Everyone needs essential supporters to implement policy, collect taxes and keep the people under control. Whether we consider dictators, democrats or corporate bosses, political success requires that leaders must always take care of their coalition of supporters first and foremost. In such diverse settings as public policy, tax collection, corruption, revolution, foreign aid, and fighting wars, the handbook shows that the good of the people is always a secondary concern, at best. However, the book contains a hopeful message. By understanding politics through the lens of what is best for the leader, we can constraint leader rapacity.

How Europe Underdeveloped Africa

By Walter Rodney,

Book cover of How Europe Underdeveloped Africa

The canon of anti-colonial, anti-racism writing from and about Africa includes many authors whose passion and insights are sometimes muddied by turgid or masculinist prose. For me, Rodney stands out – and stands the test of time – by the way he so masterfully weaves history into a compelling narrative that utterly demolishes the lies and conceits about supposed Western benevolence toward the continent. Scales fell from my eyes the first time (of many) I read this book. And yes, Rodney is almost as androcentric in his language, sources, and arguments as was the norm in those days. But his acknowledgment of the dignity of African women is implicit, and his discussion of the regressive elements of the colonial economy and education for African women and girls presaged a field of scholarly enquiry and activism that still intrigues me.


Who am I?

I first travelled to Zimbabwe in 1984, eager both to “build scientific socialism” but also to answer two big questions. How can people proclaim rage at certain injustices yet at the same time perpetuate them against certain other people? And, could I learn to be a better (more empathetic) man than my upbringing inclined me towards? Years of teaching in the rural areas, and then becoming a father taught me “yes” to the second question but for the first, I needed to continue to pursue that knowledge with colleagues, students, mentors, friends and family. Today, my big question is, how can we push together to get these monsters of capitalism, patriarchy, homophobia, racism, and ecocide off our backs?


I wrote...

Hungochani: The History of a Dissident Sexuality in Southern Africa

By Marc Epprecht,

Book cover of Hungochani: The History of a Dissident Sexuality in Southern Africa

What is my book about?

Challenging the stereotypes of African heterosexuality - from the precolonial era to the present. In the tapestry of global queer cultures, Africa has long been neglected or stereotyped. In Hungochani, Marc Epprecht seeks to change these limited views by tracing Southern Africa's history and traditions of homosexuality, modern gay and lesbian identities, and the vibrant gay rights movement that has emerged since the 1980s.

Epprecht explores the diverse ways African cultures traditionally explained same-sex sexuality and follows the emergence of new forms of gender identity and sexuality that evolved with the introduction of capitalism, colonial rule, and Christian education. Using oral testimony, memoirs, literature, criminal court records, and early government enquiries from the eighteenth century to the present, he traces the complex origins of homophobia. 

In Search of Brightest Africa

By Jeannette Eileen Jones,

Book cover of In Search of Brightest Africa: Reimagining the Dark Continent in American Culture, 1884-1936

This is a breathtaking book. The image of the “Dark Continent” seems so ingrained in our understanding of how Africa was perceived in the nineteenth century that it’s hard to overturn it. Jones does just that, showing how Pan-Africanists, naturalists, and filmmakers reimagined Africa as a site of regeneration for a variety of different ideas. But it’s about more than that – it’s a serious challenge to confront what you think you know about Africa today too.


Who am I?

I am a historian of the United States' global pasts. What excites me most in both research and teaching is approaching familiar topics from unconventional angles whether through unfamiliar objects or comparative perspectives. To do so I have approached the US past from the perspective of its emigrants and the global history of gold rushes, and am doing so now in two projects: one on the ice trade and another on the United States’ imperial relationship with Africa between the Diamond Rush of 1867 and the First World War. I currently teach at the University of Oxford where I am a Fellow in History at St Peter’s College.


I wrote...

Made in Britain: Nation and Emigration in Nineteenth-Century America

By Stephen Tuffnell,

Book cover of Made in Britain: Nation and Emigration in Nineteenth-Century America

What is my book about?

The United States was made in Britain. For over a hundred years following independence, a diverse and lively crowd of emigrant Americans left the United States for Britain. From Liverpool and London, they produced Atlantic capitalism and managed transfers of goods, culture, and capital that were integral to US nation-building. In British social clubs, emigrants forged relationships with elite Britons that were essential not only to tranquil transatlantic connections, but also to fighting southern slavery. As the United States descended into Civil War, emigrant Americans decisively shaped the Atlantic-wide battle for public opinion. 

Blending the histories of foreign relations, capitalism, nation-formation, and transnational connection, Stephen Tuffnell compellingly demonstrates that the United States’ struggle toward independent nationhood was entangled at every step with the world’s most powerful empire of the time. With deep research and vivid detail, Made in Britain uncovers this hidden story and presents a bold new perspective on nineteenth-century trans-Atlantic relations.

Heart of Darkness

By Joseph Conrad,

Book cover of Heart of Darkness

Seeing Africa and the dangers of Western assumption played out on that raw terrain was Conrad’s genius. The “otherness” of that land, reflected in actions and reactions by Marlow stand as examples of seeing reality dissolve in favor of desperate perspective needed to survive. The depth of truth here, the experience he brings to the reader of a land people think (mistakenly) has changed are unique and prescient.


Who am I?

I have been to, and loved, North, Central, and especially East Africa for over fifty years. Only six times have I been to Africa on holiday; more often, perhaps twenty or more times, as a television producer. Working in Africa gains a perspective of reality that the glories of vacation do not. Each has its place, each its pitfalls like stalled plane rides with emergency landings in the bush or attacks by wildlife. But, in the end, the magic of the “otherness,” what an old friend called “primitava” captures one’s soul and changes your life.


I wrote...

Kidnapped on Safari

By Peter Riva,

Book cover of Kidnapped on Safari

What is my book about?

"Peter Riva’s singular ability to both entertain and inform is captured in this literary tour-de-force; a page-turner in every sense of the term."—David Ariosto, author of This is Cuba: An American Journalist Under Castro's Shadow and executive producer of Intelligence Squared

“Best of all, Riva delivers rat-a-tat action, rarely letting up, building to a nail-biter conclusion. Move over Jason Bourne. Baltazar is here." — Mary Glickman, bestselling author of Home in the Morning and National Jewish Book Award finalist for One More River

The Shadow of the Sun

By Ryszard Kapuściński,

Book cover of The Shadow of the Sun

I prefer to read books whose focus lingers long enough on a conflict to uncover its complexities and contradictions. But in this instance, despite The Shadow of the Sun sometimes reading like a backpacker’s travel memoir, I couldn’t put it down. Spanning four decades and much of Africa, the narrative begins in the newly independent Ghana of the nineteen-sixties when the hopes and aspirations of a continent are alive on the streets of Accra, and continues through to the troubled times of Eritrea and Ethiopia in the mid-nineties and many coups and wars in between. Kapuściński’s writing covers the mundane through to the life-changing. From the state of the roads, to stories of his neighbors, to the geopolitics of governments, the breadth of his writing helps the reader contextualize the Africa of today.


Who am I?

I have lived, breathed, and studied peace and conflict since 1998, but what I’m most passionate about is the plight of the people. I spent over a decade in countries such as Iraq, Sudan, and East Timor providing humanitarian assistance followed by another decade writing and working on the consequences of wars. The more we understand the impact of wars the better humanity will be placed to stop them. That is why I chose five beautifully written books that will be difficult to put down while offering an array of voices and perspectives that together provide insights into how we can better respond to outbreaks of war.


I wrote...

No Dancing, No Dancing: Inside the Global Humanitarian Crisis

By Denis Dragovic,

Book cover of No Dancing, No Dancing: Inside the Global Humanitarian Crisis

What is my book about?

As an aid worker in war zones around the world, I often wondered what happened to the people and the projects. Did the communities flourish? Were the water plants maintained? Did the second bout of fighting destroy what we built? No Dancing follows my return journey to the site of three major humanitarian crises—South Sudan, Iraq, and East Timor—in search of answers.

Along the way, I engage with young entrepreneurs striving to build their businesses, tribal leaders who give unvarnished views of foreign aid, and former colleagues who continued to serve their community long after the last expatriate had left. Alongside stories of freeing kidnapped colleagues and dealings with ayatollahs and tribal chiefs the book looks behind the façade of Western aid interventions and along the way offers answers to how we can better respond to the global humanitarian crisis.

Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1800

By John Thornton,

Book cover of Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1800

An invaluable scholarly source for understanding the Atlantic slave system at its source.  Among the book’s virtues are details of the cultures and politics in the area of European penetration and African slavery itself and the African participation in the European trade. This book should be recognized with the extensive literature on the Atlantic slave trade for its acknowledgment of the great range of African languages and cultures that ended up in Brazil, the Caribbean, and North America.


Who am I?

I taught American, European, and World History at the University of British Columbia for over 30 years. I was constantly reminded of the dynamics and consequences of slavery and how a history of black America should be more prevalent in understanding the development of American culture, institutions, and identity over time. In writing two books on colonial America and the American Revolution, the roots of America’s racial divide became clearer and the logic of permanence seemed irresistible. My Shaping the New World was inspired by a course I taught for years on slavery in the Americas. Compiling the bibliography and writing the chapters on slave women and families helped to refine my understanding of the “peculiar institution” in all its both common and varied characteristics throughout the Americas.


I wrote...

Shaping the New World: African Slavery in the Americas, 1500-1888

By Eric Nellis,

Book cover of Shaping the New World: African Slavery in the Americas, 1500-1888

What is my book about?

Between 1500 and the middle of the nineteenth century, some 12.5 million slaves were sent as bonded labour from Africa to the European settlements in the Americas. Shaping the New World introduces students to the origins, growth, and consolidation of African slavery in the Americas and race-based slavery's impact on the economic, social, and cultural development of the New World.

While the book explores the idea of the African slave as a tool in the formation of new American societies, it also acknowledges the culture, humanity, and importance of the slave as a person and highlights the role of women in slave societies.

Afro-Catholic Festivals in the Americas

By Cécile Fromont,

Book cover of Afro-Catholic Festivals in the Americas: Performance, Representation, and the Making of Black Atlantic Tradition

This edited volume studies Black festive traditions in the Americas that are rooted in African interpretations of early-modern Iberian customs. It shows how, from the beginning of the transatlantic slave trade, enslaved and free Africans in the Americas used Catholic brotherhoods as spaces for cultural and religious expression, social organization, and mutual aid. By demonstrating that the syncretic development of certain Black performance traditions in the Americas is a phenomenon that already set in on African soil, it breaks with previous scholarship that (mis)interpreted these festive traditions in the Americas as new, Creole syncretisms. I am convinced that this pioneering book will strongly affect the way future generations of scholars will come to understand Black cultural and religious identity formation in the Americas.


Who am I?

I am a philologist with a passion for Atlantic cultural history. What started with a research project on the African-American Pinkster tradition and the African community in seventeenth-century Dutch Manhattan led me to New Orleans’ Congo Square and has meanwhile expanded to the African Atlantic islands, the Caribbean, and Latin America. With fluency in several foreign languages, I have tried to demonstrate in my publications that we can achieve a better understanding of Black cultural and religious identity formation in the Americas by adopting a multilingual and Atlantic perspective. 


I wrote...

From the Kingdom of Kongo to Congo Square: Kongo Dances and the Origins of the Mardi Gras Indians

By Jeroen Dewulf,

Book cover of From the Kingdom of Kongo to Congo Square: Kongo Dances and the Origins of the Mardi Gras Indians

What is my book about?

From the Kingdom of Kongo to Congo Square presents a new interpretation of the Mardi Gras Indians, one of New Orleans’ most enigmatic cultural traditions. By interpreting this performance in an Atlantic context and using historical sources in multiple languages, I traced the “Black Indians” back to the ancient Kingdom of Kongo in Africa and its war dance known as “sangamento.” The book shows that talented warriors in the Kongo kingdom were by definition also good dancers, masters of a technique of dodging, spinning, and leaping that was crucial in local warfare. Furthermore, it demonstrates how this performance tradition accompanied enslaved Kongolese communities to the African island of São Tomé and, subsequently, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Louisiana.

Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade

By David Eltis, David Richardson,

Book cover of Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade

This is best viewed as a template for the vast historiography of the slave trade that includes studies of the slave ship, the crews, the horrors of the “middle passage” and the organized acquisition in Africa and disposal in the Americas of African bodies. The Atlas is a graphic summary of the comprehensive base compiled by Eltis and his colleagues.


Who am I?

I taught American, European, and World History at the University of British Columbia for over 30 years. I was constantly reminded of the dynamics and consequences of slavery and how a history of black America should be more prevalent in understanding the development of American culture, institutions, and identity over time. In writing two books on colonial America and the American Revolution, the roots of America’s racial divide became clearer and the logic of permanence seemed irresistible. My Shaping the New World was inspired by a course I taught for years on slavery in the Americas. Compiling the bibliography and writing the chapters on slave women and families helped to refine my understanding of the “peculiar institution” in all its both common and varied characteristics throughout the Americas.


I wrote...

Shaping the New World: African Slavery in the Americas, 1500-1888

By Eric Nellis,

Book cover of Shaping the New World: African Slavery in the Americas, 1500-1888

What is my book about?

Between 1500 and the middle of the nineteenth century, some 12.5 million slaves were sent as bonded labour from Africa to the European settlements in the Americas. Shaping the New World introduces students to the origins, growth, and consolidation of African slavery in the Americas and race-based slavery's impact on the economic, social, and cultural development of the New World.

While the book explores the idea of the African slave as a tool in the formation of new American societies, it also acknowledges the culture, humanity, and importance of the slave as a person and highlights the role of women in slave societies.

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