The most recommended books about Central Africa

Who picked these books? Meet our 10 experts.

10 authors created a book list connected to Central Africa, and here are their favorite Central Africa books.
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Book cover of Kintu

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

From my list on Central Africa (from a journalist based there).

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.

Michela's book list on Central Africa (from a journalist based there)

Michela Wrong Why did Michela love this book?

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.  

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…


Book cover of Congo: The Epic History of a People

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

From my list on Central Africa (from a journalist based there).

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.

Michela's book list on Central Africa (from a journalist based there)

Michela Wrong Why did Michela love this book?

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.

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.


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

James A. Robinson Author Of Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty

From my list on Africa.

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.

James' book list on Africa

James A. Robinson Why did James love 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.

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…


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

Vanessa Oliveira Author Of Slave Trade and Abolition: Gender, Commerce, and Economic Transition in Luanda

From my list on the slave trade from Angola.

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.

Vanessa's book list on the slave trade from Angola

Vanessa Oliveira Why did Vanessa love this book?

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.

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'…


Book cover of Speaking with Vampires: Rumor and History in Colonial Africa

Benjamin Radford Author Of Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction and Folklore

From my list on (real-life) monsters.

Who am I?

I’ve always been fascinated by monsters. Growing up I saw television shows and read books about famous ones like Bigfoot and Nessie, and always wanted to search for them and discover the truth. That led me to a degree in psychology to learn about human cognition and perception, and a career in folklore to understand how legends and rumors spread. But I also wanted field experience, and spent time at Loch Ness, in Canadian woods said to house Sasquatch, to the Amazon, Sahara, and the jungles of Central America looking for the chupacabra. Along the way became an author, writing books including Tracking the Chupacabra, Lake Monster Mysteries, Big—If True, and Investigating Ghosts

Benjamin's book list on (real-life) monsters

Benjamin Radford Why did Benjamin love this book?

Among all the world’s monsters one perennial favorite is vampires.

Yes, I know they’ve been done to death (or would that be undeath?) but there’s a rich history of vampires beyond Dracula, Nosferatu, Lestat, and their legions. I’m talking about “real” vampires—or at least those people believed to be real vampires.

This is the subject of Luise White’s book Speaking with Vampires: Rumor and History in Colonial Africa. White is an anthropologist and folklorist who investigated rumors of vampires throughout East Africa. She found that many Africans told similar stories of real, actual vampires that sucked the blood out of Africans.

What I love about this book is how White takes a scholarly approach to the rumors of (alleged) real-life vampires, sometimes from their victims. Along the way we learn about colonialism, racism, and the cultural contexts in which these rumors flourish.

By Luise White,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

During the colonial period, Africans told each other terrifying rumors that Africans who worked for white colonists captured unwary residents and took their blood. In colonial Tanganyika, for example, Africans were said to be captured by these agents of colonialism and hung upside down, their throats cut so their blood drained into huge buckets. In Kampala, the police were said to abduct Africans and keep them in pits, where their blood was sucked. Luise White presents and interprets vampire stories from East and Central Africa as a way of understanding the world as the storytellers did. Using gossip and rumor…


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

Marq de Villiers Author Of Timbuktu: The Sahara's Fabled City of Gold

From my list on African cultures.

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

Marq's book list on African cultures

Marq de Villiers Why did Marq love this book?

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…

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…


Book cover of Travels in West Africa

Christina Dodwell Author Of Madagascar Travels

From my list on chosen by a long-term traveller and explorer.

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.

Christina's book list on chosen by a long-term traveller and explorer

Christina Dodwell Why did Christina love this book?

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.

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…


Book cover of The Nile: History's Greatest River

Dan Morrison Author Of The Black Nile: One Man's Amazing Journey Through Peace and War on the World's Longest River

From my list on the Nile and the worlds it created.

Who am I?

I traveled the length of the Nile River from source to sea through Uganda, South Sudan, Sudan, and Egypt to write a book that the Daily Beast called "a masterful narrative of investigative reportage, travel writing, and contemporary history," and that the Village Voice named to its ten best books of the year.

Dan's book list on the Nile and the worlds it created

Dan Morrison Why did Dan love this book?

Water expert, academic, and documentary filmmaker Terje Tvedt fell hard for the Nile decades ago. His third book on the life-giving river is an expert weaver's tapestry of history, ecology, and politics on the Nile.

By Terje Tvedt,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"[A] vivid travelogue." New Statesman "Has much to offer." The Spectator "Sparks the imagination." BBC History Magazine "A fascinating study." BBC History Revealed Magazine "Essential reading." All About History "Valiant, valuable and entertaining." Times Literary Supplement The greatest river in the world has a long and fascinating history. Professor Terje Tvedt, one of the world's leading experts on the history of waterways, travels upstream along the river's mouth to its sources. The result is a travelogue through 5000 years and 11 countries, from the Mediterranean to Central Africa. This is the fascinating story of the immense economic, political and mythical…


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

Bill Murray Author Of Out There: Thirty Essays on Travel

From my list on African adventures.

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!

Bill's book list on African adventures

Bill Murray Why did Bill love 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.

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…