91 books directly related to Africa 📚

All 91 Africa books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

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

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

By Jeannette Eileen Jones

Why this book?

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.

From the list:

The best books on the USA and the world in the nineteenth century

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Book cover of Out of Africa

Out of Africa

By Isak Dinesen

Why this book?

Karen Blixen was Danish aristocracy, rich and comfortable. But she sought the adventure only Africa could offer. Like our heroine, Blixen finds Africa and love much more complicated and much harsher than she expected. And like our heroine, she perseveres and overcomes daunting obstacles, both geographic and romantic. I love Dinesen’s description of Africa, its inhabitants, its climate, and especially its animals. Her will to make a life without much help from anyone is a testimony to the kind of woman who can survive.

From the list:

The best books for wild women desperately seeking adventure

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Book cover of Fishing in Africa: A Guide to War and Corruption

Fishing in Africa: A Guide to War and Corruption

By Andrew Buckoke

Why this book?

A revealing portrait of 80s/90s Africa from a journalist who had covered many of the continent’s trouble spots for major British newspapers. Through his journeys you get to meet a wide range of players from fighters in the bush to aid executives and politicians in executive suites. A fascinating mix of travel writing and political analysis (and yes with some fishing thrown in). 

From the list:

The best African set political thrillers

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Book cover of The Whisper of the Palms

The Whisper of the Palms

By Harriet E. Michael

Why this book?

I loved this book! It is an engaging inspirational novel of two people who love God and answer His call to go to Africa as missionaries. The author does a wonderful job of putting the reader right there in the scene. I especially loved the way the characters at times struggled in their faith but always sought God's will. This is a really great book that will help to strengthen the reader's faith and walk with God. Harriet Michael was born in Nigeria, West Africa. The Whisper of the Palms, based on the love story of her parents, offers an…

From the list:

The best Christian fiction books to highlight the wonders of life and mission work in Africa

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Book cover of Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Medical Missionary's African Challenges

Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Medical Missionary's African Challenges

By Lowell A. Gess

Why this book?

I found Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory a compelling and interesting book about Dr. Gess and his work as a doctor in Africa. Although he treated various medical conditions, his work focused on the plight of the blind in Africa. This dedicated Christian doctor brought not only physical healing to his patients, but also spiritual help and guidance to his patients and their families. The book includes many photographs of the events being described. By end of the book, I had a new awareness of the physical and spiritual needs of the people in this vast continent.

From the list:

The best Christian fiction books to highlight the wonders of life and mission work in Africa

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Book cover of The Hand on My Scalpel: Humorous & Heartbreaking Stories from a Jungle Operating Room

The Hand on My Scalpel: Humorous & Heartbreaking Stories from a Jungle Operating Room

By David C. Thompson

Why this book?

The Hand on my Scalpel was interesting and amusing to read. Dr. Thompson gave a first-hand account of his work in Africa as a surgeon. He is an excellent writer who was able to relate his life and challenges in Africa with vivid clarity and descriptions. I was able to envision each scene as if I were there. 

From the list:

The best Christian fiction books to highlight the wonders of life and mission work in Africa

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Book cover of North of South

North of South

By Shiva Naipaul

Why this book?

The “other Naipaul”, the younger brother who died too young to compete with VS, managed to leave behind some extraordinary examples of his talent. North of South discovers what 'liberation', 'revolution,' and 'socialism' meant to the ordinary people of Africa and it is the book of a contrarian who, brutally honest to the point of being dismissive, travels across a continent on a brink of change, but instead of adopting the easy line of praising it explains why he is not impressed. If you like irony that verges into sarcasm, you can’t miss it.

From the list:

The best books about post colonial life in Africa

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Book cover of Africa Bites: Scrapes and escapes in the African Bush

Africa Bites: Scrapes and escapes in the African Bush

By Lloyd Camp

Why this book?

Yes, Lloyd is a friend of mine but despite the number of campfires we have sat around swapping tales there were many in this book I had never heard. Like all good guides, Lloyd is a natural storyteller, but he is also a great reader and that has a positive effect on this, his first book. His writing shines, the stories move along briskly like a startled warthog, and in no time it is over and you want more.

From the list:

The best books on African wildlife and safaris

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Book cover of Bitter Money

Bitter Money

By Parker Shipton

Why this book?

It isn’t just African politics that is different. Economics is too. If modern economics had been invented by an African, instead of Adam Smith, it would look very different. Wealth would be measured in people rather than material objects, property, and capital. There would be much less emphasis on markets. Some things, should never be sold, and if they were it would create “bitter money” and bad luck. This book is a great place to start to re-think your ideas about economics.

From the list:

The best books to read to understand Africa

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Book cover of Travels in the Congo

Travels in the Congo

By Andre Gide

Why this book?

This travel diary by the Nobel Prize winning French writer was published in 1927 and expertly translated by his lifelong friend Dorothy Bussy. Gide dedicated his book and its sequel, Return from Chad, to Joseph Conrad, whose Congolese itinerary Gide retraced in part. In 1926 and 1927, the Frenchman spent ten months in Equatorial Africa with his lover Marc Alégret, making no secret of his sexual preference for young men and boys. In these travelogues, Gide fiercely criticized French colonialism and especially France’s “concessionary companies,” the large monopolistic firms that cruelly exploited Congolese laborers forced under inhuman conditions to harvest…
From the list:

The best books for understanding the impact of European colonialism on Africa and Africans

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Book cover of The Black Man’s Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation-State

The Black Man’s Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation-State

By Basil Davidson

Why this book?

Whenever I see suddenly this remarkable book on my bookshelves, I wonder how the author, writing in later years of his life, was able of combining his practical experience in Africa with his theoretical engagement of Africa. The author narrates sympathetically how African political elites who embraced Western alien institutions and state ideals failed to reconsider the reconfiguration of the nation-state on their continent.

From the list:

The best book on contemporary Africa and the legacy of late colonialism

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Book cover of It's Our Turn to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistle-Blower

It's Our Turn to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistle-Blower

By Michela Wrong

Why this book?

Michela Wrong’s story centres on one country, Kenya, and one person, but it resonates throughout the continent and far beyond it – everywhere, where corruption is as systemic, as it is in Kenya. John Githongo, a journalist who fought corruption, was appointed to head an anti–corruption unit by a new president. As in every decent detective novel, involving corruption, the hero discovers that the roots lead to the very top, finds the proof and, after many adventures, publicizes it. Only this is not a novel, though it certainly reads like one. Wrong’s hero is a real person, who did what…

From the list:

The best books to understand “what is wrong” with Africa – and what is right

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Book cover of Angola Bradt Travel Guide 2nd

Angola Bradt Travel Guide 2nd

By Mike Stead, Sean Rorison, Oscar Scafidi

Why this book?

I found this book helpful because my books are set in Angola. This travel guide gave specific details about the terrain, climate, and geographic challenges of life in Angola. A travel guide such as this one is invaluable to anyone considering a short-term trip to Africa. This particular book even offered help with conversational language terms and gave thorough and interesting information that helped give my books the authenticity I wanted.  

From the list:

The best Christian fiction books to highlight the wonders of life and mission work in Africa

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Book cover of The Conservationist

The Conservationist

By Nadine Gordimer

Why this book?

I read this novel in university in a course taught brilliantly by the scholar WH New. It was the first time I understood the complexity of layers in great literature. Ostensibly about a businessman who buys a farm, it encompasses race relations, power in all its guises, sexuality, relationships to nature, and how character influences personal destiny. Written with outrage and compassion.

I kept The Conservationist in mind when I wrote my own book as an example of what a novel could be, but more than that, it taught me how to think about the world in a new way.

From the list:

The best books that taught me about life, about literature, and about South Africa

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Book cover of Across The Dark Continent Bicycle Diaries from Africa 1931-1936

Across The Dark Continent Bicycle Diaries from Africa 1931-1936

By Kazimierz Nowak

Why this book?

I’ve long been fascinated with travelers and explorers, the wonder of the unknown, and how we push ourselves to our limits, and because of my own work I have a particular interest in how some of the earliest explorers stepped into the unknown to make their way through the African continent. I thought I’d read it all, but recently came across an incredible Polish explorer by the name of Kazimierz Nowak. Poland is hardly known for its explorers, but Kazimierz has the most incredible stories to tell as he cycled and pushed his bicycle across Africa.

Wonderful stories of a…

From the list:

The best books on people living unusual, adventurous or alternative lives

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Book cover of A Bend in the River

A Bend in the River

By V.S. Naipaul

Why this book?

Set in an unnamed and quintessential African country that after independence is descending into chaos, this is one of the most unforgettable books about Africa, but also often classified as one of the best novels of the English language of the last 40 years. A portrait that will never be dated, written in a Conrad type of dry yet very rich style, the Africa of Nobel laureate Naipaul is not for those who want to see things through rose-tinted lenses, but is a profoundly human portrait where the there is no space for clichés.  

From the list:

The best books about post colonial life in Africa

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Book cover of A Month and a Day: A Detention Diary

A Month and a Day: A Detention Diary

By Ken Saro-Wiwa

Why this book?

This is an interesting and moving account by Nigerian writer, Ken Saro-Wiwa, which describes his non-violent struggle against big petroleum companies and the military dictatorship who were involved in human rights and environmental abuses of the Ogoni people. He describes his detention and the events leading up to it in harrowing detail and gives lucid convincing arguments against his accusers. A truly inspirational message, especially given that much of it was written in secret in prison, and knowing that he was unjustly tried and executed in 1995, shortly after the book’s publication. 

From the list:

The best books set in Africa that move, uplift, and inspire

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Book cover of King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa

King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa

By Adam Hochschild

Why this book?

In the late nineteenth century, Europe’s Great Powers tried to regulate their competitive land grab in Africa by allowing King Leopold II of Belgium, a tiny, neutral player on the world stage, to take personal control over a massive territory in central Africa, the so-called Congo Free State. To exploit the region’s huge supply of rubber, Leopold’s agents terrorized the Congolese population, taking women and children hostage to force men to work under slave-like conditions in the grueling equatorial heat. Cruel overseers sliced off the hands of workers deemed rebellious or insufficiently productive and chased potential laborers into the bush…
From the list:

The best books for understanding the impact of European colonialism on Africa and Africans

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Book cover of Moods of Future Joys: Around the World by Bike Part One: From England to South Africa

Moods of Future Joys: Around the World by Bike Part One: From England to South Africa

By Alastair Humphreys

Why this book?

One of the most beautifully written cycling books, Al details how he spent over 4 years cycling around the world instead of taking a good job in teaching. Doing a long journey like that before the luxuries of modern technology all adds to the real sense of adventure. I only wish I had had the courage to partake in such a long adventure when I left school.

From the list:

The best books about long distance cycling

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

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

By Martin Meredith

Why this book?

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.

From the list:

The best books about rulers behaving badly in Africa

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Book cover of Black, French, and African

Black, French, and African

By Janet G. Vaillant

Why this book?

This book stands as a reference when it comes to the early life of Senegal’s first president, Léopold Sédar Senghor, and it is one of the first biographies of an African president that I read. Beyond the extreme richness of this book, I have always been struck by how little the author wrote about Senghor’s political career as president (which remains quite controversial). For a long time, biographies of African presidents were grounded in an idea of greatness and exceptionality rather than unraveling political intricacies. 

From the list:

The best books on African presidents and their history

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Book cover of Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa: Performed Under the Direction and Patronage of the African Association, in the Years 1795, 1796, and 1797

Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa: Performed Under the Direction and Patronage of the African Association, in the Years 1795, 1796, and 1797

By Mungo Park

Why this book?

Beyond the occasional adrenaline rush, one of the chief attractions of risky travel is that it enables us to see how we and others behave under challenging circumstances. For readers whose exposure typically comes from UNILAD Adventure posts or edgy Bruce Chatwin travelogues, this book is refreshingly unself-conscious and uniquely terrifying.

In his quest to locate the legendary Niger River as a potential trade route during the late 18th century, when most of Africa was still unmapped, Park, at 24, set off with two days’ worth of provisions and a few strategic supplies (including an umbrella – he was…

From the list:

The best books about traveling to dangerous places

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Book cover of Devil's Peak

Devil's Peak

By Deon Meyer

Why this book?

Character-driven, brilliantly absorbing, genuinely exciting, and richly atmospheric – for me, all the attributes of a rewarding crime novel. Meyer’s almost broken protagonist, Benny Griessel, is a policeman whose personal and professional lives interleave with witnesses, associates, and perpetrators, making him both intensely vulnerable but, also, highly effective. Against the backdrop of both a dark and a blindingly bright Cape Town, Meyer describes brilliantly the motivations and circumstances that bring each of his characters into conflict, making for a nail-biting read.
From the list:

The best crime thrillers set in Africa

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Book cover of Black Bull, Ancestors and Me: My Life as a Lesbian Sangoma

Black Bull, Ancestors and Me: My Life as a Lesbian Sangoma

By Nkunzi Zandile Nkabinde

Why this book?

For those who study or teach about Africa, it is essential to know the pioneers of struggles for justice on the continent. African intellectuals eloquent in European languages began calling out injustices as early as the 18th century. To my mind, however, Nkabinde is a particularly impressive pioneer from the early 21st. It’s not just that African women have been routinely overlooked by historians. The very existence of African lesbians and transwomen was until very recently completely denied. Here, then, for the very first time, an African woman tells of her coming to sexual self-awareness, first as a spirit…

From the list:

The best books for thinking about social justice in Africa

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Book cover of Move Your Shadow: South Africa, Black and White

Move Your Shadow: South Africa, Black and White

By Joseph Lelyveld

Why this book?

Move Your Shadow is a masterpiece of reportage. Lelyveld, a former executive editor of the New York Times, spent considerable periods in apartheid South Africa in both the 1960s and the 1980s. The sixties was the period of “baaskap”—“bosshood” apartheid, when the perverse racist cruelties of the system were imposed with a sledgehammer. I would call the eighties the era of “facelift” apartheid—why, the word was hardly used by the regime anymore. 

To paraphrase Gramsci, the old world was dying, a new one struggled to be born. Monsters abounded. Nobody captured the period better than Lelyveld. The chapter on Philip…

From the list:

The best books about Southern Africa as picked by a historian

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Book cover of The Invention of Somalia

The Invention of Somalia

By Ali Jimale Ahmed

Why this book?

This groundbreaking and pioneering book was the best book ever written on Somalia. It was indeed an eye-opener for me during my early years of academia. It dramatically changed how I would think of Somali studies. I still recall vividly to this day how I became enchanted with how authors, most of whom were Somalis, had critically challenged previous anthropological and historical scholarship on Somalia, pompously written at the time by Eurocentrists. As soon as I finished reading the book, I began to follow in the footsteps of scholars like Professor Ali Jimale Ahmed.

From the list:

The best book on contemporary Africa and the legacy of late colonialism

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Book cover of The Tree Where Man Was Born

The Tree Where Man Was Born

By Peter Matthiessen

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.

From the list:

The best books about wild Africa

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Book cover of The Lion Who Stole My Arm (Heroes of the Wild)

The Lion Who Stole My Arm (Heroes of the Wild)

By Nicola Davies

Why this book?

I know, the title sounds like a downer, especially for kids, but the book is full of new learning, acceptance, and even dealing with revenge. I loved it. And since the title already gives away the scary moment, your young reader doesn’t have to feel nervous.

The story, which takes place in Africa, is simple and powerful and even though the moment of loss is alarming and sad, the story doesn’t slide into sentimentality. In the end, Pedru, the main character, is able to put away his need for revenge and ultimately embrace lion conservation. The book transported me to…

From the list:

The best kids books with diverse and spunky characters

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Book cover of Brazzaville Beach

Brazzaville Beach

By William Boyd

Why this book?

The compromising of science in close-up, claustrophobic microcosm as determination to preserve reputation, funding, and status battles emerging, inconvenient, horrifying truth. I was gripped by the power struggle between the guru-like head of a chimpanzee research centre and a young uncompromising researcher observing chimp behaviour which does not fit the accepted narrative. It's incredibly specific and also at the same time incarnates something absolutely universal. I will never forget it – it got right into my head and stuck.

From the list:

The best books about conditions which people say don’t exist but do

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Book cover of Life & Times of Michael K

Life & Times of Michael K

By J.M. Coetzee

Why this book?

It was a shock to read this book. So unlike anything I’d read before in the literature of South Africa. A strange almost dreamlike novel about a mostly mute man’s wanderings and sufferings through the societies and landscapes that make up South Africa. Allegorical, subversive, challenging, philosophical, yet ultimately life-affirming. 

Still valid, in our present age of wandering peoples, in its depiction of a failed Eden.

I paid homage to the book by introducing a minor character named Michael in my own novel.

From the list:

The best books that taught me about life, about literature, and about South Africa

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Book cover of The Memory of an Elephant

The Memory of an Elephant

By Alex Lasker

Why this book?

This book is strictly speaking not Southern African, but I believe that the author’s engaging style and love for African wildlife is reason enough to include his book in my list of recommendations. My focus is on worthwhile books and not just any old book on African wildlife. Plus, it is a work of fiction, which makes it a favourite of mine. Written from the perspective of an aging elephant with a mission, I find this novel refreshingly different.

From the list:

The best books of Southern Africa with wild life

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Book cover of What the Day Owes the Night

What the Day Owes the Night

By Yasmina Khadra

Why this book?

This is a story of love and friendship set in 1950s Algeria before and during the Algerian War of Independence. The main character, Younes, is an Arabic Algerian but forms friendships with some European boys and falls in love with Emilie a beautiful European girl. Great descriptions of the environment and the characters’ feelings make for an engrossing and moving read as Younes has to make choices about his loyalties towards his friends and family from the two different cultures. 

From the list:

The best books set in Africa that move, uplift, and inspire

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Book cover of West with the Night: A Memoir

West with the Night: A Memoir

By Beryl Markham

Why this book?

Even though Beryl Markham was a bit of a romantic wrecking ball (she famously enticed Denys Finch-Hatton away from Isak Dinesen/Karen Blixen—Robert Redford and Meryl Streep, respectively, in Out of Africa), I have a hard time not wanting to be her. She was the ultimate free-range child in Kenya at the beginning of the 20th century and grew up to be a racehorse trainer, talented pilot, idiosyncratic beauty, and, as evidenced by this memoir, a spare, elegant writer of seemingly effortless lyricism. Damn, she was cool. 

From the list:

The best books about female adventurers

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Book cover of Nomad: One Woman's Journey Into the Heart of Africa

Nomad: One Woman's Journey Into the Heart of Africa

By Mary Anne Fitzgerald

Why this book?

African exploration has a rich history of intrepid women travelers (I think particularly of Mary Kingsley, who had once ascended Mount Cameroon in a day, Victorian petticoats notwithstanding. Kingsley finally died of typhoid in South Africa while she was administering to Boer prisoners of war, but before that, she made many an expedition among the Fang of Gabon and, as she put it, “danced many a wild dance with the wild river.”) Mary Anne Fitzgerald is the best modern example. Jailed by the dictatorship of Kenya’s Daniel Arap Moi and subsequently expelled, she then reported from hotspots all over Africa,…

From the list:

The best books illustrating the richness and complexity of African cultures

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Book cover of Travels in West Africa

Travels in West Africa

By Mary H. Kingsley

Why this book?

The Victorian era had no shortage of European men marching into Africa to plant flags and stake claims. However, there were extremely few women exploring the ‘dark continent’ at the same time, and none who related their experiences with the understated humour of Mary Kingsley. Her writing is frank, funny, and without self-interest. Alone and utterly indomitable, she pursues her anthropological and botanical interests and even makes the first female ascent of West Africa’s highest mountain.

From the list:

The best solo adventure books

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Book cover of Land of Tears: The Exploration and Exploitation of Equatorial Africa

Land of Tears: The Exploration and Exploitation of Equatorial Africa

By Robert Harms

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.
From the list:

The best books about African adventures

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Book cover of "Anyone Here Been Raped and Speaks English?"

"Anyone Here Been Raped and Speaks English?"

By Edward Behr

Why this book?

Being a foreign correspondent in the so-called "developing world" is complicated in a myriad of ways, and journalists often become so deep into the story that their needs become strangely surgical, legal, and surreal.

Need some specific quotes to describe what is happening amid a bloodbath? Want to profile victims of torture and slaughter? Behr's book brings you into his experience as a foreign correspondent for Newsweek in Africa and other media work in a way few other reporters would like to admit -- except to each other.

From the list:

The best books to read if you want to write like a war correspondent

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Book cover of Easy Motion Tourist

Easy Motion Tourist

By Leye Adenle

Why this book?

Visceral, immediate, and engrossing, Adenle’s debut novel features two main characters embroiled in a murder in Lagos. British journalist Guy Collins, an alien in a dangerous, fast-paced city is implicated in a gruesome crime. Amaka, a woman who has devoted herself to the protection of the city’s working girls, speaks for him, hoping that her intervention will be re-payed by Collins in the form of global publicity for her campaign against the people traffickers and body-parts smugglers. Both out of their depth, at great peril, and at the mercy of Nigeria’s mega-city and its huge cast of characters, they find…
From the list:

The best crime thrillers set in Africa

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Book cover of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

By Alexander McCall Smith

Why this book?

This is the first novel in a series and what I love about them all is that they show Africa in a positive light. The crimes our heroine, Precious Ramotswe, has to solve are whimsical rather than violent and show us all to be victims of the frailties of human nature rather than anything more sinister. I’m lucky enough to have travelled in Botswana and you can see a little bit of McCall Smiths characters in everyone you meet. I also love the way that he describes the richness of African everyday life, and the way he captures these moments…

From the list:

The best books that show you the real Ethiopia

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

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

By John Thornton

Why this book?

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.

From the list:

The best books on African slavery in the Americas

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Book cover of Rules of the Wild: A Novel of Africa

Rules of the Wild: A Novel of Africa

By Francesca Marciano

Why this book?

A novel that reads like a reportage, almost a documentary, on contemporary (the Nineties) life in Kenya for the small and influential (but not rich) community of “white Kenyans”: some native of Kenya, some adoptive sons and daughters of the country that invented the safari a century ago and that is the main hub for all news organizations in the continent. So, reporters, conservationists, dreamers, adventures, misfits, eccentrics populate this hugely evocative and partially autobiographical book that has some of the best “sound bites” on the question we are often asked: Why You Love Africa?

From the list:

The best books about post colonial life in Africa

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Book cover of The Distance Between Stars

The Distance Between Stars

By Jeff Elzinga

Why this book?

This sleeper of a novel creates the fictional East African country of Umbika, with its charismatic strongman who everyone refers to as “His Excellency, the Life President”, in a thinly veiled resemblance to Malawi under the dictatorship of the late Hastings Banda. Small wonder for the comparison, since the author was a foreign service officer in Malawi before turning full-time to writing. The journalist in this fast-paced story is an outspoken African-American activist and columnist named Maurice Hightower, and the story revolves around the career American diplomat, Joe Kellerman, who gets the unwanted job of escorting Hightower around Umbika in…

From the list:

The best novels set in Africa about journalists, diplomats, and spies

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

The Marsh Lions: The Story of an African Pride

By Brian Jackman, Jonathan Scott, Angie Scott

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. 

From the list:

The best books about wild Africa

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Book cover of Cry, the Beloved Country

Cry, the Beloved Country

By Alan Paton

Why this book?

I wrote my first novel thirty years after I left South Africa. During the writing, I reread Cry, the Beloved Country. The tone of that book, the cadences of the language, almost biblical, as well as the emotional seriousness in the telling, crept into my own style.

This is a heartbreaking book, told from a very personal perspective, yet universal in its themes.

Can a work of art change the world? Perhaps not on the grand political stage, but most certainly it can change the way we see the world, and thus change us for the better.

From the list:

The best books that taught me about life, about literature, and about South Africa

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Book cover of Silent Thunder: In the Presence of Elephants

Silent Thunder: In the Presence of Elephants

By Katy Payne

Why this book?

After discovering that whales sing to each other, Katy turned her attention to elephants. Silent Thunder chronicles Katy’s work before she founded the Elephant Listening Project. In essence, it is the prequel to Eavesdropping on Elephants. Katy’s evocative prose puts you on the plains of Africa. I love the way she approached her research without any preconceived notions and let the elephants tell her what was important.

From the list:

The best books for elephant lovers

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Book cover of Africans: The History of a Continent

Africans: The History of a Continent

By John Iliffe

Why this book?

There are thousands of histories of Africa, but only this one ties together environment, economy, demography, and society. In just 300 pages Iliffe presents Africa’s history from the birth of humankind to the mid-1990s. His history of Africa is the story of hardship and social adjustment in which population numbers are not just the result of variable, though mostly unfavourable, environmental situations, but a tool of survival and progress. This social adjustability, different as it may be from European patterns, allowed the continent’s people to build one of the greatest civilisations on earth. It carried them through natural disasters, invasions,…

From the list:

The best books to understand “what is wrong” with Africa – and what is right

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Book cover of States and Power in Africa: Comparative Lessons in Authority and Control

States and Power in Africa: Comparative Lessons in Authority and Control

By Jeffrey Herbst

Why this book?

Jeffrey Herbst also looks at the past and present of the African continent, and ecology and demography also come into his story. But his main subject is the specific nature of power and state in Sub–Saharan Africa and the inter-relations between the two. He traces this defining aspect of Africa’s reality through several centuries and presents it within the global context by drawing in experiences of self-organisation of power and state in other continents and regions. Continuity is for him the key to understanding the precolonial, colonial, and postcolonial past and even the future of the continent.

From the list:

The best books to understand “what is wrong” with Africa – and what is right

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Book cover of Dictatorland: The Men Who Stole Africa

Dictatorland: The Men Who Stole Africa

By Paul Kenyon

Why this book?

Rich in interesting and juicy detail, this account of governance in Africa presents a chronicle, rather than an analysis, of what was, and still is, wrong with the continent. Kenyon tells the story of state and power differently, basing it on personalities and circumstances, rather than ages-long continuities. His personalities are the corrupt leaders of seven unhappy countries, who managed to amass enormous power and keep it for decades. With such personalities come passions, greed, and immeasurable cruelty to their compatriots, all presented in intimate detail, as the author saw it all – he was there. But the global context…

From the list:

The best books to understand “what is wrong” with Africa – and what is right

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Book cover of The Prophets

The Prophets

By Robert Jones, Jr.

Why this book?

This novel is a fever dream of the best kind. The Prophets is unapologetically about love, how rare and revolutionary it is. How selfish, envious others can see it as a threat—especially when that love is between two enslaved Black men. As powerful as Isaiah and Samuel’s story is, the chapters set in Africa held me equally entranced. As I read, I kept shouting “Yes!” in my head. I felt like I’d been waiting for this book for years. I don’t reread novels often, but this is one to savor.

From the list:

The best novels about the human toll of American slavery

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Book cover of Spill: Saving Africa's Oiled Penguins

Spill: Saving Africa's Oiled Penguins

By International Fund for Animal Welfare

Why this book?

This is the only other book for adults (besides mine) about the world’s largest animal rescue, when 40,000 penguins were rescued from the Treasure oil spill in Cape Town, South Africa. Spill is written by six individuals from various organizations who headed up this groundbreaking rescue effort. At just 96 pages, and featuring numerous dramatic photos, this 8x12” softcover is more of a coffee table book. The riveting stories are all told by rescuers who were on the front lines of this historic event. The compelling photographs by award-winning photographer, Jon Hrusa, bring the reader face to face with the…

From the list:

The best nonfiction books about penguins for adults

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Book cover of The Dilemma of a Ghost

The Dilemma of a Ghost

By Christina Ama Ata. Aidoo

Why this book?

The 1960s and 70s were periods of Black Consciousness, both in Africa and the diaspora. At the heart of this was Pan-Africanism, a political ideology built on historical and cultural links between Black people everywhere. At the heart of these ideas was a psychical and physical “return” to Africa, the “motherland”. This short, but powerful play, explore these politics in the marriage of Ato Yawson and Eulalie Rush, a Ghanaian man and an African-American woman who emigrate from the US to Ghana in search of racial and cultural harmony. What occurs is a dramatization of what happens when political ideologies…

From the list:

The best books to learn about the African experience of slavery and its afterlives

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Book cover of Game - Ranger

Game - Ranger

By Hannes Kloppers

Why this book?

This is the true story of a game ranger who worked with African Wildlife in the early part of the history of the Kruger National Park. It is a well-written account of a bygone error where the heroic deeds of one man could make a difference. I loved this book because it evoked in me a sense of the dramatic history of the Southern African Game Reserves and the struggle to attain recognition during the early days when animals were a resource only to be hunted. There were a few brave men who recognized the value of conservation and preservation…

From the list:

The best books on African animals, mysticism, ancestral communication and the wild heart of Africa

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Book cover of Recipes for Love and Murder

Recipes for Love and Murder

By Sally Andrew

Why this book?

Having travelled in Africa, I’m always keen to find books set on the continent. It’s a bonus if suspense is involved and a double bonus if the story hinges on the setting. This book gets high marks in both departments. It was a better immersive experience than if I’d rented an Airbnb and watched the action unfold from the front porch.

Rural South Africa is home to advice columnist and cooking authority Tannie Maria (Tannie meaning Auntie, the respectful Afrikaans address for a woman older than you) in the first book in this unique and extraordinary series. A middle-aged widow,…

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The best thrillers set in exotic locations

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Book cover of The Grass Is Singing

The Grass Is Singing

By Doris Lessing

Why this book?

I don’t remember if there is actual wildlife in this book (apart from a dog), but nature plays a big part in the story. It was one of the first novels about Africa I read and it moved me deeply. Doris Lessing has written quite a few books about Africa, some political, others with a focus on the land, its people, and nature. She grew up in Zimbabwe (which was called Rhodesia back then) and is an award-winning author. I had to include at least one of her books in my list, so there.

From the list:

The best books of Southern Africa with wild life

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Book cover of Weep Not, Child

Weep Not, Child

By Ngugi Wa Thiong'o

Why this book?

I was entranced by this book when I first read it, and still am. I loved the way Kenyan writer and activist Ngugi wa Thiong'o told a story in such a simple, unadorned way that just manages to get under your skin. It’s an important lesson for any writer about unaffected writing! This was the first major novel in English by an East African writer and is just so redolent of its time and place. It charts the life of a young boy growing up through a major change in his home country, and the rise of the Mau Mau…

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The best books to inspire you and make you feel good about the world (and yourself)

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Book cover of I Dreamed of Africa

I Dreamed of Africa

By Kuki Gallmann

Why this book?

Kuki Gallman, an Italian socialite, is another wealthy woman who sought adventure in Kenya. And another woman, with her husband, who set out to start a ranch in an inhospitable land. When her husband and son are killed in separate accidents, Gallman turns the ranch into a conservation park, using her money to bring attention to the plight of the local wildlife. And, as is true in Namibia, she enlisted the help of local tribal leaders to save both the endangered wildlife and native culture. In 2010, she founded Prayers for the Earth and in 2011, she and her daughter…

From the list:

The best books for wild women desperately seeking adventure

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Book cover of White Tribe Dreaming: Apartheid's Bitter Roots Witnessed By Eight Generations Of An Afrikaner Family

White Tribe Dreaming: Apartheid's Bitter Roots Witnessed By Eight Generations Of An Afrikaner Family

By Marq de Villiers

Why this book?

I was born in South Africa almost 300 years to the day after the first white Europeans arrived to establish a permanent home at the tip of the continent.

This book begins with that arrival and follows the history of the author’s family through eight generations.

It is a history of individuals, related by bloodlines, but diverse in ambitions and actions, and seeks to trace and explicate how some of those first settlers and their descendants became the Afrikaners of the 20th century. 

While my own antecedents are less well documented, I like to believe that they are not…

From the list:

The best books that taught me about life, about literature, and about South Africa

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Book cover of Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley & Livingstone

Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley & Livingstone

By Martin Dugard

Why this book?

This is another story that has been parodied out of any semblance of the magnificently foolish endeavor that ended up becoming almost noble. While today the idea would be risible, this book contextualizes the time and culture that created a national hero of the Reverend Livingstone, a clergyman traveling to “darkest Africa” to spread the Good Word to the savages and why finding him became a Western obsession. The insights into the day-to-day life and difficulties of the many and varied characters, tribes, and nations are balanced nicely against the struggles of the main characters to find their way through…

From the list:

The best books about history that read like the most gripping fiction you’ve ever experienced

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Book cover of Paradise

Paradise

By Abdulrazak Gurnah

Why this book?

Yusuf is a young boy, an indentured servant to an Arab trader, living in a cloistered environment amidst much he doesn’t understand. On a trading trip from the Swahili coast, through the foothills of Kilimanjaro, and on to Lake Victoria, he has the opportunity to see foreign wonders, learn how the trader negotiates, and see the attitudes of the Swahili traders toward the people from the interior, the relatively new Indian immigrants, and the German colonizers. The trip is brutal; descriptions are straightforward and realistic but the author never sensationalizes events. This is an important piece of the incredible variety…

From the list:

The best fiction books with trustworthy portrayals of political history & cultural insights into their African settings

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Book cover of Co-Wives, Co-Widows

Co-Wives, Co-Widows

By Adrienne Yabouza, Rachael McGill

Why this book?

In the rare instances that the Central African Republic makes it into the news, it’s for political turmoil or for having some of the worst development indicators. After getting to know Central Africans during my years living there, I’ve long been on the lookout for fiction that shows the day-to-day, human side of the CAR. Yabouza’s novel does exactly that, exploring the lives of two co-wives, Ndongo Passy and Grekpoubou, as they cope with the aftermath of their husband’s sudden death. While the premise might sound similar to Ba’s novel, the results are entirely different, thanks to the tight bond…

From the list:

The best novels from French-speaking Africa translated into English

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Book cover of Whatever You Do, Don't Run: True Tales of a Botswana Safari Guide

Whatever You Do, Don't Run: True Tales of a Botswana Safari Guide

By Peter Allison

Why this book?

I know Peter – we josh each other and trade funny insults on social media. I hate to say it, but he is a very funny guy. Safari guide memoirs are a dime a dozen in Africa, but this one stands out from the pack because it is both humorous and moving. Peter has a wonderful self-deprecating style and tells, hilariously, of some of his epic failures as a young Australian finding his way in the African bush. Peter loves Botswana, and his passion shines through in this book.

From the list:

The best books to read on an African safari

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Book cover of Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa

Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa

By Peter Godwin

Why this book?

Godwin’s brilliant memoir of growing up in what was then Southern Rhodesia, fighting in a war, then defending as a lawyer some of those who he’d fought against is told with enormous wit and great literary flair. It’s a travesty that no film has ever been made of this book, but perhaps no one would believe the stories.

From the list:

The best books on African wildlife and safaris

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Book cover of How Long Will South Africa Survive?: The Looming Crisis

How Long Will South Africa Survive?: The Looming Crisis

By R.W. Johnson

Why this book?

R W Johnson, an international commentator on South African affairs, first wrote a book with this question in 1977. It provided a controversial and highly original analysis of the survival prospects of the apartheid regime.  Now, after more than twenty years of post-apartheid ANC (African National Congress) majority rule, the situation has become so crucial that he feels the question must be posed again. He moves from an analysis of Jacob Zuma’s corrupt rule to the increasingly dire state of the economy, and concludes that South Africa under the ANC is fast slipping backward. Twenty years of ANC rule he…

From the list:

The best books to understand modern South Africa

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Book cover of A Military History of Modern South Africa

A Military History of Modern South Africa

By Ian van der Waag

Why this book?

The first of its kind, this book provides an overview of South African military history from 1899 (1900) to 2000. It focuses on campaigns and battles, evolving military policy, and the development of the South African military. The century started with a brief, but total war, the Anglo-Boer War (more appropriately now called The South African War) 1899-1902, then only 10 years later, it moves to the unlikely establishment of a  Union of South Africa, consisting of the two former Boer republics, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State and the two English colonies, Natal and the Cape Province. As…

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The best books to understand modern South Africa

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Book cover of The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat

The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat

By Ryszard Kapuscinski

Why this book?

All of Kapuscinski’s books are gems. He traveled Africa and other parts of the developing world as a Soviet journalist. The Emperor describes the rule and decline of the Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Selassie. The dry day-to-dry accounts of the emperor’s benign neglect for his people is chilling. Haile Selassie knew to keep those around him happy and not to worry about the people: “A man starved all his life will never rebel…. No one raised his voice or hand there. But just let the subject start to eat his fill and then try to take the bowl away, and…

From the list:

The best books about rulers behaving badly in Africa

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Book cover of I Didn't Do It for You: How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation

I Didn't Do It for You: How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation

By Michela Wrong

Why this book?

Wrong’s account of Eritrea’s bid for independence from Ethiopia highlights the conflict between the needs of the people and the wants of leaders. The title of her book is taken from what a soldier liberating Ethiopia from Italian rule told a local and sets the tone of the book. Time and again Wrong describes how leaders will starve their own people or bomb their own soldiers provide it help keep them in power.

From the list:

The best books about rulers behaving badly in Africa

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Book cover of How Europe Underdeveloped Africa

How Europe Underdeveloped Africa

By Walter Rodney

Why this book?

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…

From the list:

The best books for thinking about social justice in Africa

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Book cover of Paths in the Rainforests: Toward a History of Political Tradition in Equatorial Africa

Paths in the Rainforests: Toward a History of Political Tradition in Equatorial Africa

By Jan Vansina

Why this book?

A seminal history of the development of political institutions in Central Africa over the past 2,000 years. Africa took a very different path into the modern world than Eurasia did and instead of building large centralized and repressive states instead innovated all sorts of different ways of reconciling the autonomy of the individual, men and women, and the local community, with the benefits of living in larger societies. These historical processes still shape Africa today.

From the list:

The best books to read to understand Africa

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Book cover of The Last Train to Zona Verde: My Ultimate African Safari

The Last Train to Zona Verde: My Ultimate African Safari

By Paul Theroux

Why this book?

How could I leave out the doyen of modern-day autobiographical travel writing? Paul Theroux’s list of books describing his overland adventures and the history and culture of places he rides through, is impressive. He is funny, cantankerous, offensive, likable, and informative. I chose his last book Zona because he travels the same path I myself once took. It also differs from his earlier tomes in one distinct way; Paul undertook the hard overland journey from Cape Town to Angola at age 71, when most of us expect to be tucked up in bed with a warm toddy and a cat…

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The best inspirational life-changing memoirs

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Book cover of Wizard of the Crow

Wizard of the Crow

By Ngugi Wa Thiong'o

Why this book?

The Wizard of the Crow tells the story of an African president who wants to be all-mighty, his body grows and grows and grows to the point that the president is on the verge of blowing up. Ngugi wa Thiong’o is not only one of the greatest Kenyan/African writers of the 20th century, he is also one of the few to have shown that extensive presidential powers can become a threat to the president himself. This idea very much influenced my book and I try to show that a powerful president must rely on alliances with his best and…

From the list:

The best books on African presidents and their history

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Book cover of Venture To The Interior

Venture To The Interior

By Laurens van der Post

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.
From the list:

The best books about African adventures

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Book cover of Blood Rose

Blood Rose

By Margie Orford

Why this book?

This book is all about the dark, foreboding atmosphere of its setting, a township in an isolated part of Walvis Bay, in Namibia. Dr. Clare Hart is a police profiler sent in to try to pin down the perpetrator of a gruesome crime against a teenage boy. For all Hart’s professional competence, her emotional and relationship skills are in doubt as her wavering romantic interest, Captain Reidwaan Faizal, arrives to lead the investigation. Fantastically well-observed, very dark, and beautifully written, you lose yourself in its fog-filled pages, but the journey is far from comfortable.

From the list:

The best crime thrillers set in Africa

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Book cover of A History of South Africa

A History of South Africa

By Leonard Thompson

Why this book?

Okay, he was my dissertation advisor. Sorry! But Thompson’s is a concise, perceptive, and readable one-volume history of the great country, a splendid introduction. Born and raised in South Africa, the late Thompson was a Rhodes Scholar before seeing extensive service in World War II. Like so many talented South Africans from many fields, he went into exile around 1960 when the apartheid regime moved toward a no-holds-barred stranglehold on all opposition. This was his last book, and in it he distills a lifetime of research, teaching and experience. The fourth edition has an update and new preface by Lynn…

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The best books about Southern Africa as picked by a historian

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Book cover of In the Forest of No Joy: The Congo-Océan Railroad and the Tragedy of French Colonialism

In the Forest of No Joy: The Congo-Océan Railroad and the Tragedy of French Colonialism

By J.P. Daughton

Why this book?

JP Daughton tells the horrifying story of the Congo-Océan railroad, a massive, ill-conceived construction project (1921-34) whose French overseers doomed some 20,000 African workers to die. This story, revealing as it does France’s imperial hubris and callous disregard of human suffering, should have been told a long time ago. But it has been buried by bureaucrats, overlooked by historians, and made invisible to those who chose not to see. We owe Daughton a great debt for bringing it to light and for masterfully adding a new chapter to the tragic history of Central Africa under European colonial rule.
From the list:

The best books for understanding the impact of European colonialism on Africa and Africans

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Book cover of Catching Tadpoles: Shaping of a Young Rebel

Catching Tadpoles: Shaping of a Young Rebel

By Ronnie Kasrils

Why this book?

This is no less than Kasril’s fourth memoir, and the one that resonates most with my own existential worries as a privileged white man. Why did a nice, working-class, Jewish boy from Johannesburg take up armed struggle against institutionalized racism? Become a cabinet minister in the country’s first democratic government devoted to expanding social welfare for Africans? Become a trenchant critic of the rot that subsequently set into the party he helped bring to power?

With profound humility and wit, Kasrils takes us through his boyhood years to reflect upon the often-humiliating process of acquiring political consciousness. He speaks to…

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The best books for thinking about social justice in Africa

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Book cover of Africa's Discovery of Europe, 1450-1850

Africa's Discovery of Europe, 1450-1850

By David Northup

Why this book?

Northup provocatively challenges our perceptions of the early modern world. By offering a relativist view and investigating the primary sources written by Africans themselves the Africans of the early modern period. They reveal much about sixteenth and seventeenth-century Europe, as well as African civilizations.     

From the list:

The best history books about everyone and for everyone

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Book cover of A Good Man in Africa

A Good Man in Africa

By William Boyd

Why this book?

This laugh-out-loud story of a bumbling British diplomat, Morgan Leafy, in the fictitious African country of Kinjanja evokes the immediate British post-colonial with a dark wit and a sense for the absurd. The colonial expats depicted in the book are all thoroughly dislikable, but as Leafy gets mired deeper and deeper into problems, I found myself rooting for him to find a way out. His characterisation of the expats and the locals, and the hilarious interactions between them, seem searingly accurate, probably because Boyd grew up in Nigeria and Ghana, giving him rich material for his first novel.

From the list:

The best novels set in Africa about journalists, diplomats, and spies

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Book cover of The State in Africa: The Politics of the Belly

The State in Africa: The Politics of the Belly

By Jean-Francois Bayart

Why this book?

This extraordinary book forces anyone who attempts at studying African politics during the post-colonial period (‘on the postcolony’ in Achile Mbembe’s term) as well as in the late Cold War to (re)consider the role of Africans in the shaping of post-colonial Africa. The author uses various examples to nuance the dilemma of the African state-building process. The notion of ‘the politics of the belly’ derived from a Cameroonian saying, not a Bayart’s creation, as many in the West would think of it.

From the list:

The best book on contemporary Africa and the legacy of late colonialism

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Book cover of Out of Africa

Out of Africa

By Isak Dinesen

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.  

From the list:

The best books about wild Africa

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Book cover of A Question of Power

A Question of Power

By Bessie Head

Why this book?

Do you like a good scare? Well, Stephen King is one kind of scary, but A Question of Power is something else altogether: a descent into a sunless valley writhing with monsters. We know that these monsters dwell in the mind of the main character, Elizabeth. But there’s no safety in knowing that, for we’re locked in with them. If we sometimes climb a tree and feel a fresh breeze on our faces, it’s with the knowledge that those tentacles can slither up and snatch us back into hell at a moment’s notice. And they do. 

I didn’t start with…

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The best fantasy novels no one ever calls fantasy novels

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Book cover of The Great Penguin Rescue: Saving the African Penguins

The Great Penguin Rescue: Saving the African Penguins

By Sandra Markle

Why this book?

I’m sure I’m biased, but I love that this book picks up where my book with the same title (for adults) leaves off. I’m very pleased that the author has highlighted the important conservation story of the African penguin (an endangered species), and the efforts to save it, including the hand-raising of African penguin chicks. The author discusses in detail the many ways that humans have impacted this species - both negatively and positively. This is definitely a book for older children, as it talks about the various threats to penguins, which could be upsetting information for younger children. But,…

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The best nonfiction books about penguins for kids

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Book cover of Dreams in a Time of War: A Childhood Memoir

Dreams in a Time of War: A Childhood Memoir

By Ngugi Wa Thiong'o

Why this book?

I recommend this book because it takes the reader to a totally different world of a child growing up in the 1940s and 50s in Kenya, East Africa, during the war between the British colonials and Mau Mau freedom fighters. The author was born into a typical African compound ruled by a patriarch with four wives. He had many adventures in his attempts to escape the restrictions of his native culture. In Chapter 3 of my memoir, titled “First Dreams of Africa,” I describe how I saw shapes which looked like African animals on a hill, the other side of…

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The best memoirs of childhood and youth

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Book cover of Galimoto

Galimoto

By Karen Lynn Williams, Catherine Stock

Why this book?

Galimoto is the story of a boy in Malawi who wants to make his own toy from scraps of wire. The story captivated me from the first lines, which perfectly capture a child’s feelings (“Kondi opened an old shoebox and looked inside. These were his things. They belonged to him.”). When Kondi’s older brother laughs and says he is too young to make a galimoto and doesn’t have enough wire, he says he will get it—and he does, with resourcefulness and perseverance. Anyone who reads this book will definitely want to make a galimoto of their own.
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The best picture books for kids who love to tinker

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Book cover of Nationalism in Asia and Africa

Nationalism in Asia and Africa

By Elie Kedourie

Why this book?

Kedourie (1926-1992) was a scholar of Middle Eastern history who also exerted quite an influence upon the field of nationalism studies. This was achieved through his famous Nationalism and the follow-up project cited here. The diverse sources collected in Nationalism in Asia and Africa are introduced with a lengthy opening essay in which Kedourie attempts to account for the ‘family resemblance’ among the movements in question (mainly of late 19th and early 20th-century vintage). The sources themselves are far from ordinary. See for example document 17, which details the final days of an imprisoned Egyptian political dissident – these spent…
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The best books which document the spread of nationalism throughout the modern world

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Book cover of The Sunbird

The Sunbird

By Wilbur Smith

Why this book?

The Sunbird was Wilber Smith’s first book. It was one of the first books on Wild African Adventure that I read and has kindled in me a lifelong passion for Africa, African animals, and the love of wildlife. It was a reason that I became a veterinarian and that I wanted to work with African Wildlife. It is a mix of contemporary and historic African Fiction. It is memorable because it is a wonderful story that I would want to share around the fire in a camp somewhere in the heart of the African bush. I would want Wilbur Smith…

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The best books on African animals, mysticism, ancestral communication and the wild heart of Africa

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Book cover of Riding High: Horses, Humans and History in South Africa

Riding High: Horses, Humans and History in South Africa

By Sandra Swart

Why this book?

Swart makes a big argument: studying horses changes how we understand all history. This sweeping overview shows that “The history of horses is the history of the desire for power” whether economic, political, military, social, or cultural. The history of horses in South Africa offers an interesting comparison with both the American West and the American South in terms of frontiers, the military, race, class, and gender. Swart is a lively, funny, and entertaining writer. The fieldwork she did for this book gives the reader a visceral sense of what South Africa is like as a place. What is there…

From the list:

The best books about horses in history

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Book cover of Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa

Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa

By Jeanette Winter

Why this book?

There are many beautiful picture books about environmentalist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya, but this one expresses so simply and clearly the connection between the health of the land and of the community that depends on it. 

After years away, Wangari Maathai came home to Kenya and was shocked to find barren ground where there had once been trees and crops. Although she was overwhelmed by the loss, she refused to give in to despair. Wangari planted nine seedlings and convinced other women to do the same. My favourite part…

From the list:

The best children’s books on gardening as community building

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Book cover of Henderson the Rain King

Henderson the Rain King

By Saul Bellow

Why this book?

This comical journey into the heart of a mythical Africa was compared to the Odyssey and Don Quixote by Newsweek. “I am a high-spirited kind of guy,” Eugene Henderson says. “And it’s the destiny of my generation of Americans to go out in the world and try to find the wisdom of life.” I read Henderson the Rain King in high school, and it stayed with me when I joined the Peace Corps after college and journeyed to Africa. I couldn’t get Henderson’s refrain— “I want I want I want”—out of my head. What I wanted was experience. Adventure.…

From the list:

The best books to tickle your fancy

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Book cover of The Son of the House

The Son of the House

By Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia

Why this book?

The Son of the House is modern, original, page-turning, powerful, and beautifully written. I was curious about the seeming contradiction between Onyemelukwe-Onuobia’s title, and the novel’s subject, two women who have been kidnapped in Enugu, Nigeria. Of course, I soon learn there is no contradiction. The lives of both Nwabulu and Julie are impacted by the value once placed upon the son of the house. The novel makes clear that these traditions are changing fast, even as the characters grapple with the reverberations. The novel introduces us to fascinating women who I have thought about long after I finished reading…

From the list:

The best novels by African women

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Book cover of Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa

Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa

By Dambisa Moyo

Why this book?

Development aid is a type of foreign aid that is directed at the economic development of recipient countries. The failures of government-to-government development aid in Africa are Moyo’s focus. She notes that Africa is the only region that is regressing in major socio-economic indicators. She argues such aid distorts African economies, enables corruption, and incubates a culture of aid dependency. African governments can afford not to provide public goods because their revenue is guaranteed by development aid. To remedy such externalities, Moyo wants to end development aid to Africa. Instead of aid, she prefers free trade with the West and…

From the list:

The best books on using foreign aid to do good in a realistic way

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Book cover of So Long a Letter

So Long a Letter

By Mariama Ba, Modupé Bodé-Thomas

Why this book?

Published in 1989, this is the oldest book on this list, and yet it still resonates in its depiction of the female condition in Senegal specifically, and Africa in general. Ramatoulaye, a recently widowed Senegalese schoolteacher, writes a letter to her old friend and fellow teacher, Aissatou, to share her struggles after her husband took on a second wife 25 years into their marriage. Juxtaposed against pre- and post-independence from colonial power France, the novel shines a light on how much less Senegalese women benefited from newfound rights and freedoms than their male counterparts.

From the list:

The best novels from French-speaking Africa translated into English

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