The best books about Ethiopia 📚

Browse the best books on Ethiopia as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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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 The Wife's Tale: A Personal History

The Wife's Tale: A Personal History

By Aida Edemariam

Why this book?

The author is an Ethiopian/Canadian journalist living in London. The book is a vivid biography of her grandmother, Yetemegnu, based on many conversations and interviews. It begins in a traditional household in northern Ethiopia where the grandmother was married at the age of 10 to an ambitious priest twenty years older than her, and it takes us through a century of history as the family lives through and adapts to turbulent times, ending up in modern Addis Ababa where her son became a successful doctor and emigrated to Canada. It’s a beautiful and affectionate account that introduces us to a…

From the list:

The best books on the ancient Christian faith of Ethiopia

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Book cover of The Chains of Heaven: An Ethiopian Romance

The Chains of Heaven: An Ethiopian Romance

By Philip Marsden

Why this book?

The author walks from Lalibela to Axum, the two main pilgrimage destinations of Christian Ethiopia. It’s a journey of 250 miles through the heartland of Christian Ethiopia. It’s a spectacular mountain landscape, along an old road which passes by many churches and monasteries. As he walks, he describes the people he meets, explains the history of the region, tells the stories and legends, and shares his adventures. For the visitor, Ethiopia is a strange and unfamiliar place and so encountering Ethiopia is always a journey of exploration. We need a guide and Philip is an engaging and well-informed travel companion.

From the list:

The best books on the ancient Christian faith of Ethiopia

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Book cover of Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother's Time, My Mother's Time, and Mine

Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother's Time, My Mother's Time, and Mine

By Emily Bernard

Why this book?

Faithful to its title, this brilliant book starts with the body — an unspeakable injury to the narrator’s body, a crime, a horror. Bernard writes with a specificity that is gut-wrenching without being sensational. And all along, running alongside the sensory language is the author’s intellectual river, constantly washing over and over a moment, a scene, a feeling, a thought. This book includes twelve interconnected essays, each building on the other despite how many years – and miles – separate them.
From the list:

The best lyrical memoirs that act as salve to the soul

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Book cover of The Shadow King

The Shadow King

By Maaza Mengiste

Why this book?

War is often food for epic. In Mengiste’s Shadow King a domestic beginning – our future hero Hirut a servant in a noble household, its husband and wife future leaders of the Ethiopian resistance – opens out with fascist Italy’s invasion. Internal points of view include a fascist commander, a Jewish-Italian war photographer, Haile Salassie. The novel deploys group Choruses as in Greek tragedy, imitates Homer’s Iliad in its asymmetric battle scenes, and rests on oral songs of Ethiopia in memory of the war. Hirut’s Wujigra – a crotchety old rifle, that she has to cling onto against her own…

From the list:

The best seriously epic historical fiction books

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Book cover of The Barefoot Emperor

The Barefoot Emperor

By Philip Marsden

Why this book?

What William Dalrymple is to India, Philip Marsden is to Ethiopia. They are both inspired travel writers and scholarly historians. What I particularly loved about The Barefoot Emperor was that it actually reads like a page-turning thriller. Central to the story is the towering figure of the Emperor Tewedros, a brilliant military commander, political reformer, and charismatic leader, who was both loved and loathed by the warring factions that made up his kingdom. His rise and fall compare with anything achieved by Julius Ceasar or Genghis Khan, and Marsden captures his incredible, true-life story with bravura writing that leaps off…

From the list:

The best books that show you the real Ethiopia

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