The best books about Central Africa

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

Soon, you will be able to filter by genre, age group, and more. Sign up here to follow our story as we build a better way to explore books.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission (learn more).

Travels in West Africa

By Mary H. Kingsley,

Book cover of Travels in West Africa

Among my favourite great women explorers of the past, her intrepid streak brings wild adventures which she handles with earthy common sense and humour – her writing makes me smile. I recommend it because it’s a superb escape into the once-real world of a woman explorer in the 1890s.

I particularly loved her voyage by dugout canoe downriver in the Ogowe rapids, and her bartering of lacy shirts with Fang tribesmen when her trade goods ran out. It all seemed so normal. It taught me not to fear the outside world, and that the wildest rainforests are safe compared to our big city jungles. As a woman alone, one is more of a novelty than a threat.

Travels in West Africa

By Mary H. Kingsley,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Travels in West Africa as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Upon her sudden freedom from family obligations, a sheltered Victorian spinster traded her stifling middle-class existence for an incredible expedition in the Congo. Mary Kingsley traversed uncharted regions of West Africa alone, on foot, collecting specimens of local fauna and trading with natives--a remarkable feat in any era, but particularly for a woman of the 1890s. After hacking her way through jungles, being fired upon by hostile tribesmen and attacked by wild animals, Kingsley emerged with no complaint more serious than a pair of tired feet. She undertook her exploits in the traditional garb of her era but lived as…

Who am I?

If I needed an excuse to be an explorer, I’d say it was inherited wanderlust. My grandparents moved to China in the 1920s and my grandmother became an unconventional traveller by mule in the wilds. My mother spent her childhood there. And much of her married life in West Africa, where I was born and raised. The wildest places fill me with curiosity.


I wrote...

Madagascar Travels

By Christina Dodwell,

Book cover of Madagascar Travels

What is my book about?

Madagascar is an island of secrets, where new species of wildlife continue to be discovered and rumors of mysterious aboriginals and natural phenomena persist in the forest. Christina Dodwell explores its least accessible corners and makes friends with its people. Her four-month journey began in the highlands where, travelling by horse-drawn stagecoach, she encounters a healer, a village poet, and families who perform bone-turning rites for their ancestors. Taboos, fetishes, and astrology weave through her travels among wood-carvers and lead to a royal meeting. Christina’s great courage, open mind, and unbounded curiosity enable her to go to places few would dare visit, and she almost invariably finds kindness and hospitality wherever she travels.

Land of Tears

By Robert Harms,

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

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.

Land of Tears

By Robert Harms,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Land of Tears as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In January 1885, the powers of Europe gathered in Berlin to set ground rules for dividing Africa and its lucrative natural resources among themselves. In the years that followed, they rapidly laid claim to nearly all of the continent. Africa's division and conquest might appear today to have been inevitable. But the outcome was far from certain. Drawing upon decades of research, esteemed historian Robert Harms shows how outsiders from Europe, America, and the Arab world competed for resources, money, fame, and power in the Congo rainforest. Reconstructing this chaotic process, Land of Tears provides a comprehensive depiction of how…


Who am I?

My only expertise is my enthusiasm for African travel. I’ve visited twenty countries, Morocco to Madagascar, the Great Lakes to the Skeleton Coast, for (I hope) my next book. You can read about a few of my African adventures, like crossing Lake Malawi, hurrying through Namibia, sailing to St. Helena Island, and witnessing the mass wildebeest migration, in my other books. Experiencing African culture, nature and wildlife is the most fun I’ve ever had, anytime, anywhere. By all means, if you can, go!


I wrote...

Out There: Thirty Essays on Travel

By Bill Murray,

Book cover of Out There: Thirty Essays on Travel

What is my book about?

Out There is a collection of essays from my monthly travel column at 3QuarksDaily, a survey of the world in easily digestible bits. With reporting from Anguilla, Ascension Island, Borneo, Côte d’Ivoire, East Africa, Estonia, Greenland, Iowa, Karelia, Lapland, Latvia, Masaai Mara, Medieval Europe, the Mekong Delta, Namibia, Nazi Europe, Nepal, Pandemic America, Papua New Guinea, Pass Control, Rapa Nui, Russia, St. Helena Island, Svalbard, Tanzania, Tibet, Ukraine, and Zambia.

It is “as remarkable for its gentle wit as for the quiet sharpness of its commentary. Romps, revelations, and ride-it-out gut-checks, come hell or high water. Vivid, enlightening, worthwhile. Un-put-downable armchair travel.”

Book cover of The Atlantic Slave Trade from West Central Africa, 1780-1867

In this book, Daniel B. Domingues da Silva traces the origins of the enslaved men, women, and children shipped from West Central African ports as well as their methods of enslavement. Silva has been part of the group of scholars who organized the Voyages, the Transatlantic Slave Trade Database. In this book, he draws upon archival research and the quantitative data found in the database to analyze the scale and organization of the forced migration of enslaved Africans to the Americas. Silva demonstrates that an important proportion of the enslaved Africans exported to the Americas in the nineteenth century originated from coastal areas. Therefore, his findings bring into question the theory of an expanding slave frontier inland.

The Atlantic Slave Trade from West Central Africa, 1780-1867

By Daniel B. Domingues da Silva,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Atlantic Slave Trade from West Central Africa, 1780-1867 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Atlantic Slave Trade from West Central Africa, 1780-1867 traces the inland origins of slaves leaving West Central Africa at the peak period of the transatlantic slave trade. Drawing on archival sources from Angola, Brazil, England, and Portugal, Daniel B. Domingues da Silva explores not only the origins of the slaves forced into the trade but also the commodities for which they were exchanged and their methods of enslavement. Further, the book examines the evolution of the trade over time, its organization, the demographic profile of the population transported, the enslavers' motivations to participate in this activity, and the Africans'…

Who am I?

I am a professor of African history at the Royal Military College of Canada, where I teach courses on European colonialism and early and modern Africa. I earned a PhD in history from York University in Canada and spent two years as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto before joining RMC. My research interests include slavery, slave trade, legitimate commerce, and intercultural marriages in Luanda and its hinterland. I have published articles and book chapters and co-edited (with Paul E. Lovejoy) Slavery, Memory and Citizenship. My first book, Slave Trade and Abolition was published by the University of Wisconsin Press in January 2021.


I wrote...

Slave Trade and Abolition: Gender, Commerce, and Economic Transition in Luanda

By Vanessa Oliveira,

Book cover of Slave Trade and Abolition: Gender, Commerce, and Economic Transition in Luanda

What is my book about?

Well into the early nineteenth century, Luanda, the administrative capital of Portuguese Angola, was one of the most influential ports for the transatlantic slave trade. Between 1801 and 1850, it served as the point of embarkation for more than 535,000 enslaved Africans. In the history of this diverse, wealthy city, the gendered dynamics of the merchant community have frequently been overlooked.

Vanessa S. Oliveira traces how existing commercial networks adapted to changes operating in the South Atlantic during the nineteenth century. Slave Trade and Abolition reveals the strategies adopted by slavers in face of the ban on slave exports in 1836. Oliveira shows that large-scale merchants survived the end of the slave trade becoming the main investors in the "new" trade in tropical commodities, including ivory, wax, coffee, cotton and sugar.

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

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.

Paths in the Rainforests

By Jan Vansina,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Paths in the Rainforests as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Vansina’s scope is breathtaking: he reconstructs the history of the forest lands that cover all or part of southern Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, the Congo, Zaire, the Central African Republic, and Cabinda in Angola, discussing the original settlement of the forest by the western Bantu; the periods of expansion and innovation in agriculture; the development of metallurgy; the rise and fall of political forms and of power; the coming of Atlantic trade and colonialism; and the conquest of the rainforests by colonial powers and the destruction of a way of life.

“In 400 elegantly brilliant pages Vansina lays out five…


Who am I?

I am a social scientist who has been doing fieldwork and research in Africa since 1999. For me, there’s no more fascinating part of the planet – Africa is the cradle of civilization, more diverse than anywhere else and culturally and institutionally vibrant and creative. I have worked in Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Zimbabwe investigating the determinants of political institutions and economic prosperity. I have taught courses on Africa at Harvard University, the University of Chicago, the University of Ghana at Legon and this summer the University of Nigeria in Nsukka.


I wrote...

Book cover of Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty

What is my book about?

Brilliant and engagingly written, Why Nations Fail answers the question that has stumped the experts for centuries: Why are some nations rich and others poor, divided by wealth and poverty, health and sickness, food and famine?

Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson conclusively show that it is man-made political and economic institutions that underlie economic success (or lack of it). Korea, to take just one of their fascinating examples, is a remarkably homogeneous nation, yet the people of North Korea are among the poorest on earth while their brothers and sisters in South Korea are among the richest. The south forged a society that created incentives, rewarded innovation, and allowed everyone to participate in economic opportunities.

Congo

By David Van Reybrouck,

Book cover of Congo: The Epic History of a People

As the author of a book on the Democratic Republic of Congo myself, I should have felt fiercely competitive with Van Reybrouk, a Belgian playwright, poet, and author. In fact, I loved this book. He tells this enormous country’s complex history, from King Leopold’s 19th-century giant land grab through to Patrice Lumumba's premiership, Marechal Mobutu Sese Sekos’ overthrow, Laurent Kabila’s Rwandan-backed takeover and beyond, almost exclusively through the testimony of living Congolese citizens, making it not only extraordinarily fresh, but utterly authentic as a record of the past. It’s a long book – 150 years of history, addressed at a leisurely pace, takes up a lot of paper - but every chapter is a jewel.

Congo

By David Van Reybrouck,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Congo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

FINALIST FOR THE CUNDILL PRIZE FOR HISTORY

'Not only deserves the description "epic", in its true sense, but the term "masterpiece" as well' Independent

This gripping epic tells the story of one of the world's most critical failed nation-states: the Democratic Republic of Congo. Interweaving his own family's history with the voices of a diverse range of individuals - charismatic dictators, feuding warlords, child soldiers, and many in the African diaspora of Europe and China - Van Reybrouck offers a deeply humane approach to political history, focusing squarely on the Congolese perspective and returning a nation's history to its people.


Who am I?

After working as a foreign correspondent in Italy and France I was sent by Reuters news agency to Cote d’Ivoire and what was then Zaire, the latter posting coinciding with the shocking start of the genocide in neighboring Rwanda. It was the kind of assignment you don’t forget, and when I moved to the Financial Times I continued following the larger-than-life dramas unfolding in Africa’s Great Lakes region. I’ve now written five books, the first – In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz - about Mobutu Sese Seko's imprint on the Democratic Republic of Congo and the latest – Do Not Disturb - looking at personalities and events I first started writing about a quarter of a century ago. You keep going back.


I wrote...

Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad

By Michela Wrong,

Book cover of Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad

What is my book about?

A real-life murder and spy thriller set in central Africa. Do Not Disturb uses the lurid assassination of Patrick Karegeya, Rwanda’s exiled former spy chief, to unpick the story of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the movement that went from united guerrilla group to unhappy post-genocide government, with one man – Paul Kagame – emerging as a ruthless despot, ready to eliminate all those who stand in his way. Kagame's victims include his old friend Karegeya, strangled in the Michelangelo Hotel in Johannesburg on his orders. This is a story about an African revolution gone bad, but it’s also a tale of treachery amongst friends, for the founders of the RPF attended school together, learned how to fight at one anothers’ sides, and made speeches at each others’ weddings. The personal IS the political in this slow-motion African tragedy.

Kintu

By Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi,

Book cover of Kintu

A multi-generational novel which starts in 1750 with the heroic figure of Kintu, a provincial chief setting off with his entourage to pay ritual obeisance to the feared Kabaka (king), and culminates in bustling, hustling, modern Uganda. It’s an epic story that explores the imprint family bonds and ancestral legacies - including curses that travel down through the decades – leave on daily life. The kind of book which, because of its sheer heft, seems more than a little daunting at the start. But by the last page, you’re left wanting more, reluctant to have to say goodbye to all the characters you have come to know and love, hungry to know the end of their various journeys.  

Kintu

By Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Kintu as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2017

Winner of the Windham-Campbell Prize

Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize


"A soaring and sublime epic. One of those great stories that was just waiting to be told."—Marlon James, Man Booker Prize-winning author of A Brief History of Seven Killings

First published in Kenya in 2014 to critical and popular acclaim, Kintu is a modern classic, a multilayered narrative that reimagines the history of Uganda through the cursed bloodline of the Kintu clan. Divided into six sections, the novel begins in 1750, when Kintu Kidda sets out for the capital to pledge allegiance…


Who am I?

After working as a foreign correspondent in Italy and France I was sent by Reuters news agency to Cote d’Ivoire and what was then Zaire, the latter posting coinciding with the shocking start of the genocide in neighboring Rwanda. It was the kind of assignment you don’t forget, and when I moved to the Financial Times I continued following the larger-than-life dramas unfolding in Africa’s Great Lakes region. I’ve now written five books, the first – In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz - about Mobutu Sese Seko's imprint on the Democratic Republic of Congo and the latest – Do Not Disturb - looking at personalities and events I first started writing about a quarter of a century ago. You keep going back.


I wrote...

Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad

By Michela Wrong,

Book cover of Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad

What is my book about?

A real-life murder and spy thriller set in central Africa. Do Not Disturb uses the lurid assassination of Patrick Karegeya, Rwanda’s exiled former spy chief, to unpick the story of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the movement that went from united guerrilla group to unhappy post-genocide government, with one man – Paul Kagame – emerging as a ruthless despot, ready to eliminate all those who stand in his way. Kagame's victims include his old friend Karegeya, strangled in the Michelangelo Hotel in Johannesburg on his orders. This is a story about an African revolution gone bad, but it’s also a tale of treachery amongst friends, for the founders of the RPF attended school together, learned how to fight at one anothers’ sides, and made speeches at each others’ weddings. The personal IS the political in this slow-motion African tragedy.

Book cover of Travels and Discoveries in North and Central Africa: Timbúktu, Sókoto, and the Basins of the Niger and Bénuwé

This is exploration literature at its very best. Heinrich Barth was inclined to pedantry, but he was thorough and meticulous (his maps were models of their kind); he was also a skilled linguist (fluent in Arabic, he later published vocabularies of eight African languages including Tamashek and Hausa, and learned enough Hausa on a single journey from Ghat to Agadez to be able to converse freely).

He stayed in the Sahara for six years in the 1840s, and returned with massive journals packed with priceless ethnographic and geographic information, only to find fame passing him by. His contemporary, David Livingstone, was much more suited than the stolid German to a life of the celebrity traveler, and spoke much more eloquently at revival meetings and at conventions of Geographical Societies. (Livingstone met Barth once, and gave him an inscribed copy of his Missionary Travels, which must have grated). Barth’s massive…

Travels and Discoveries in North and Central Africa

By Henry Barth, Heinrich Barth,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Travels and Discoveries in North and Central Africa as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it. This work was reproduced from the original artifact, and remains as true to the original work as possible. Therefore, you will see the original copyright references, library stamps (as most of these works have been housed in our most important libraries around the world), and other notations in the work.

This work is in the public domain in the United States of America, and possibly other nations. Within the United States, you may freely copy and…

Who am I?

I was born in Africa and have been infatuated with its history and cultures all my life. Of the 48 countries sharing the African mainland, I have spent time in all but four. True, a few only for a laughably brief stay (I wandered across the Cameroon-Equatorial Guinea border once by mistake, not knowing I had crossed; there was no sign of a border post or any guards. I stayed only for the rest of the day, never leaving the beach, before wading back to Cameroon.) But others I have lived in for years, and have travelled extensively to famous and obscure regions alike, especially in the Sahel


I wrote...

Timbuktu: The Sahara's Fabled City of Gold

By Marq de Villiers, Sheila Hirtle,

Book cover of Timbuktu: The Sahara's Fabled City of Gold

What is my book about?

Perhaps no other city in the world has been as golden—and as deeply tarnished—as Timbuktu. Founded in the early 1100s by Tuareg nomads, it became a wealthy metropolis and a nexus of the trans-Saharan trade. Salt from the deep Sahara, gold from Ghana, and money from slave markets made it rich. In part because of its wealth, Timbuktu also became a center of Islamic learning and religion, boasting impressive schools and libraries that attracted scholars from Alexandria, Baghdad, Mecca, and Marrakech.

The arts flourished, and Timbuktu gained near-mythic stature around the world, capturing the imagination of outsiders and ultimately attracting the attention of hostile sovereigns who sacked the city three times and plundered it half a dozen more. The ancient city was invaded by a Moroccan army in 1600, which began its long decline; since then it has been seized by Tuareg nomads and a sad variety of jihadists, in addition to enduring a severe earthquake, several epidemics, and numerous famines. Why does this faded metropolis matter now? Timbuktu’s relaxed, inclusive and cosmopolitan version of Islam still has lessons to teach the world about tolerance and accommodation.

New book lists related to Central Africa

All book lists related to Central Africa

Bookshelves related to Central Africa