12 books directly related to East Africa 📚

All 12 East Africa books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

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

Why this book?

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

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

By Robert M. Sapolsky,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked A Primate's Memoir as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the tradition of Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey, Robert Sapolsky, a foremost science writer and recipient of a MacArthur Genius Grant, tells the mesmerizing story of his twenty-one years in remote Kenya with a troop of Savannah baboons.

“I had never planned to become a savanna baboon when I grew up; instead, I had always assumed I would become a mountain gorilla,” writes Robert Sapolsky in this witty and riveting chronicle of a scientist’s coming-of-age in remote Africa.

An exhilarating account of Sapolsky’s twenty-one-year study of a troop of rambunctious baboons in Kenya, A Primate’s Memoir interweaves serious scientific…

Book cover of The End of the Game: The Last Word from Paradise

Why this book?

Peter Beard settled in Kenya in the late 1950s and became obsessed with the plight of wildlife in Africa. The book is full of evocative photos that he took over a period of some 20 years – some of them absolutely tragic. It is not a book for the faint-hearted; but it tells with truth the stories of explorers, entrepreneurs, big game hunters, and missionaries.

It has been published in several editions and formats. The copy I have is a large paperback that dates from 1989, but there are editions that were produced before that time and many that have been published since.

This book is certainly not an attempt to be gently persuasive, and the author’s position can be summed up in these words that he wrote:

When I first escaped to East Africa in August 1955…it was one of the heaviest wildlife areas…in the world…No one then could have guessed what was going to happen. Kenya’s modest population of five million…suddenly became a starving population of over 30,000,000. Millions of years of evolutionary processes were interfered with, cut down, fenced off, shot out, sub-divided. The Pleistocene gets paved over and this is the end of the game… We cunningly adapt to the damage we cause in a big game blame of politically correct spin…teeming populations unchecked, uneducated leadership, crude oil and crude politics, tribalism and territorialism, sensory saturation, conspicuous consumption… anarchy, insurgency, war, disease, mad cowboy, historical mediocrity, betrayal, and shame…Let’s just welcome it all and take notes while the world destroys itself.

The End of the Game: The Last Word from Paradise

By Peter Beard,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This book describes the origins, history, and prospects of big game in Africa.Researched, photographed, and compiled over 20 years, Peter Beard's "End of the Game" tells the tale of the enterprisers, explorers, missionaries, and big-game hunters whose quests for adventure and "progress" were to change the face of Africa in the 20th century. This landmark volume is assembled from hundreds of historical photographs and writings, starting with the building of the Mombasa Railroad ("The Lunatic Line") and the opening-up of darkest Africa. The stories behind the heroic figures in Beard's work - Theodore Roosevelt, Frederick Courtney Selous, Karen Blixen (Isak…

The Tree Where Man Was Born

By Peter Matthiessen,

Book cover of The Tree Where Man Was Born

Why this book?

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

The Tree Where Man Was Born

By Peter Matthiessen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Tree Where Man Was Born as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A timeless and majestic portrait of Africa by renowned writer Peter Matthiessen (1927-2014), author of the National Book Award-winning The Snow Leopard and the new novel In Paradise

A finalist for the National Book Award when it was released in 1972, this vivid portrait of East Africa remains as fresh and revelatory now as on the day it was first published. Peter Matthiessen exquisitely combines nature and travel writing to portray the sights, scenes, and people he observed firsthand in several trips over the course of a dozen years. From the daily lives of wild herdsmen and the drama of…

Tale of Kasaya

By Eva Kasaya,

Book cover of Tale of Kasaya

Why this book?

I was fortunate to have met Eva Kasaya at a writing retreat in Kenya shortly after she wrote this book. Part novel, part biography, Tale of Kasaya is the astonishing story of Eva Kasaya’s journey from a 13-year-old village girl in rural Kenya to a published author in Nairobi. Kasaya, who leaves her family’s farm for a job as a domestic worker in the city recounts the horrific situation some domestic workers undergo. Sexually assaulted, she overcomes her trauma and finds solace in the written word. A beautifully written book that deserves to be a classic.

Tale of Kasaya

By Eva Kasaya,

Why should I read it?

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


Book cover of Too Close to the Sun: The Audacious Life and Times of Denys Finch Hatton

Why this book?

I enjoyed Too Close to the Sun by Sara Wheeler. This book focused on the free spirit and playboy that was Denys George Finch Hatton, portrayed by Robert Redford in the film Out of Africa. Denys was from an upper-class family and lived an unconventional life according to his own rules. He is buried in the Ngong Hills, Nairobi, where he loved to spend his time hunting. He is a perfect example of doing what you want to do and not having to worry about money.

Too Close to the Sun: The Audacious Life and Times of Denys Finch Hatton

By Sara Wheeler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Too Close to the Sun as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Conservationist, scholar, soldier, white hunter and fabled lover - Denys Finch Hatton was an aristocrat of leonine nonchalance. After a dazzling career at Eton and Oxford, he sailed in 1910 for British East Africa - still then the land of the pioneer. Sara Wheeler reveals the truth behind his love affairs with the glamorous aviatrix Beryl Markham, and - famously - with Karen Blixen, a romance immortalised in her memoir Out of Africa.

'No one who ever met him', his Times obituary concluded, 'whether man or woman, old or young, white or black, failed to come under his spell'.


An Ice-Cream War

By William Boyd,

Book cover of An Ice-Cream War

Why this book?

Set during WWI, the story vacillates between Kent and German and British East Africa. There are a host of colourful and caricatured characters. An Ice-Cream War’s motif is the absurdness of war. Its author is unwavering in presenting the East African campaign as utterly futile. 

The book’s grave content is laced with humour of the dark variety, in addition to occasional gruesome descriptions. This unpredictable serio-comedy’s blend of tragedy and black humour appealed to me.   

An Ice-Cream War

By William Boyd,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked An Ice-Cream War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Rich in character and incident, An Ice-Cream War fulfills the ambition of the historical novel at its best."
--The New York Times Book Review

Booker Prize Finalist

"Boyd has more than fulfilled the bright promise of [his] first novel. . . . He is capable not only of some very funny satire but also of seriousness and compassion."  --Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

1914. In a hotel room in German East Africa, American farmer Walter Smith dreams of Theodore Roosevelt. As he sleeps, a railway passenger swats at flies, regretting her decision to return to the Dark Continent--and to…

Book cover of Ecology Control and Economic Development in East African History: The Case of Tanganyika, 1850–1950 (Eastern African Studies)

Why this book?

This pioneering book was one of the first to place the history of East Africa within the context of the environment. It has been used continuously for student teaching. The book puts people at the centre of events. It thus serves as a modification to nationalist history with its emphasis on leaders. Helge Kjekshus provides evidence to suggest that the nineteenth century was a period of relative prosperity with well-developed trade. He questions the view that warfare was pervasive and that the slave trade led to depopulation. He points to a balance between man and the environment. Helge Kjeskshus’s book has, for a long time, been the sole reference on environmental history in East Africa, with a focus on Tanganyika. 

Ecology Control and Economic Development in East African History: The Case of Tanganyika, 1850–1950 (Eastern African Studies)

By Helge Kjekshus,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ecology Control and Economic Development in East African History as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This pioneering book was one of the first to place the history of East Africa within the context of the environment. It has been used continuously for student teaching. It is now reissued with an introduction placing it within the debate that has developed on the subject; there is also an updated bibliography. The book puts people at the centre of events. It thus serves as a modification to nationalist history with its emphasis on leaders. It presents environmental factors that had been underestimated; for instance, it points to the critical importance of the rinderpest outbreak. Helge Kjekshus provides evidence…

Weep Not, Child

By Ngugi Wa Thiong'o,

Book cover of Weep Not, Child

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 freedom fighters.

Weep Not, Child

By Ngugi Wa Thiong'o,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Weep Not, Child as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is a powerful, moving story that details the effects of the infamous Mau Mau war, the African nationalist revolt against colonial oppression in Kenya, on the lives of ordinary men and women, and on one family in particular. Two brothers, Njoroge and Kamau, stand on a rubbish heap and look into their futures. Njoroge is excited; his family has decided that he will attend school, while Kamau will train to be a carpenter. Together they will serve their country - the teacher and the craftsman. But this is Kenya and the times are against them. In the forests, the…

Book cover of Dinka Folktales: African Stories from the Sudan

Why this book?

Prolific author and intellectual Francis Mading Deng became South Sudan’s first ambassador to the United Nations. Meeting Dr. Deng in person was one of the highlights of my life. To read any of his 40-some books is a privilege. It is possible to read Dinka Folktales as astonishing anthropological events, but Francis Mading Deng provides an introduction that reveals the “truth” in storytelling. These folktales contain the philosophical, religious, and day-to-day practices of the Dinka, who are the largest ethnic tribe in South Sudan. Given the civil war with north Sudan and the south’s dramatic victory in establishing their own country, these extraordinary stories belong in the ranks of world literature. 

Dinka Folktales: African Stories from the Sudan

By Francis Mading Deng,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Text: English (translation)

Book cover of The Lunatic Express: The Magnificent Saga of the Railway's Journey Into Africa

Why this book?

Kenya was an exotic territory for British colonial interests in the late 19th century. For reasons almost impossible to understand today, the British decided to build a railroad from Mombasa, the seaport on the Indian Ocean, through the Kenyan savannah, to Kampala, a city of some riches in the far interior of what is now Uganda. The story of the building of the railroad at the end of the 19th century is hair-raising, thanks to Miller’s classic history, as imported Indian workers had to endure predatory lions, harsh climates, and raging rivers to forge across the frontier. That the railroad to nowhere was completed is a tribute to those Indian workers and their intrepid British overseers.

Today, one can take the train from Mombasa to Nairobi, some three hundred miles distant, either in the daylight, hoping to spy some wildlife, or in a sleeping berth at night. I have taken that train many times between the two cities in the years I lived in Mombasa. Modern-day Kenya is a beautiful country but a dangerous one also, not from lions but from its citizens who are not always kind to outsiders who try to understand the country.

The Lunatic Express: The Magnificent Saga of the Railway's Journey Into Africa

By Charles Miller,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In 1895, George Whitehouse arrived at the east African post of Mombasa to perform an engineering miracle: the building of the Mombasa-Nairobi-Lake Victoria Railway - a 600-mile route that was largely unmapped and barely explored. Behind Mombasa lay a scorched, waterless desert. Beyond, a horizonless scrub country climbed toward a jagged volcanic region bisected by the Great Rift Valley. A hundred miles of sponge-like quagmire marked the railway's last lap. The entire right of way bristled with hostile tribes, teemed with lions and breathed malaria.

What was the purpose of this 'giant folly' and whom would it benefit? Was it…


Moja Means One: Swahili Counting Book

By Muriel Feelings, Tom Feelings (illustrator),

Book cover of Moja Means One: Swahili Counting Book

Why this book?

This well acclaimed and award-winning book by Muriel Feelings is great for anyone interested in learning about culture through language. What I love so much about this book is its simplicity. The book teaches how to count up to ten in Swahili, using East African imagery and culture, and it has pronunciation keys as well. The detailed monochromatic illustrations create a mood of awe and reverie.

Moja Means One: Swahili Counting Book

By Muriel Feelings, Tom Feelings (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

FOR USE IN SCHOOLS AND LIBRARIES ONLY. The Swahili words for the first ten numbers are introduced together with information on East African culture

Moth Smoke

By Mohsin Hamid,

Book cover of Moth Smoke

Why this book?

In the early 1980s, when I lived in Lahore, Pakistan, and served on the board of the Lahore American School—an institution that catered to rich Pakistanis and expats whose commercial companies paid the high tuition—I talked to a fourth-grade class whose Pakistani teacher was a close friend. She alerted me twenty years later that one of those students had just published his first novel, describing the fast life of the affluent and often decadent Pakistanis who lived in mansions, partied till dawn, drank heavily, and engaged, it was rumored, in romantic liaisons with each other’s spouses.

Moth Smoke describes this life, with a main character who falls in love with a friend’s wife while losing his job and turning to the sale of heroin and hashish to survive.  Mohsin takes the reader through a bittersweet recounting of life in the fast lane in modern Pakistan, a life I observed for three years while living in Lahore. The New York Times selected Moshin’s debut novel as a Notable Book of the Year in 2000; it is a good read and valuable as a window into one facet of modern, upper-class Pakistani life.

Moth Smoke

By Mohsin Hamid,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The debut novel from the internationally bestselling author of Exit West and The Reluctant Fundamentalist, both shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize

Moth Smoke, Mohsin Hamid’s deftly conceived first novel, immediately marked him as an uncommonly gifted and ambitious young literary talent to watch when it was published in 2000. It tells the story of Daru Shezad, who, fired from his banking job in Lahore, begins a decline that plummets the length of Hamid’s sharply drawn, subversive tale.

Fast-paced and unexpected, Moth Smoke was ahead of its time in portraying a contemporary Pakistan far more vivid and complex than the…