The best books about North Africa

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

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The New Arab Wars

By Marc Lynch,

Book cover of The New Arab Wars: Uprisings and Anarchy in the Middle East

 All the books in this list worry about the relationship between revolutions and liberty and democracy. Is democracy desirable? Does it mean the same thing in different societies? Do revolutions bring democracy closer? Or do they start conflicts that make it more distant? These questions arose again in the Arab Uprisings against dictatorships from Tunisia to Syria that occurred in 2010-2011. Unfortunately, instead of bringing democracy, they brought instability, and in some cases horrifically violent civil wars, that continue to this day. Mark Lynch is angry about this outcome, but he is also one of our finest scholars of Middle East politics, and has written a passionate, detailed account of these uprisings and how they produced anarchy and violence.

Who am I?

I have studied revolutions for over forty years, trying to understand how people fought for liberty and democracy--but also to understand how things so often went wrong!  I have worked at universities in the US, the UK, Japan, Germany, Russia, and Hong Kong, gaining a global view of how societies change. I have learned that everywhere people have to struggle for their rights.  Whether in ancient Greece or in modern Cambodia, the resulting revolutionary drama unfolds sometimes with wonderful results, but sometimes with tragedy.  No events better display the very best and worst that we can accomplish.  I’ve chosen the books on this list to convey the power of revolutions, their grand successes and tragic failures.

I wrote...

Revolutions: A Very Short Introduction

By Jack A. Goldstone,

Book cover of Revolutions: A Very Short Introduction

What is my book about?

This short book introduces readers to the full range of revolutions across history, from ancient times to the Arab Uprisings of this century. Goldstone presents theories of why revolutions occur, examines violent and non-violent revolutions, and still manages to give special attention to constitutional revolutions, communist revolutions, and more recent color revolutions. To understand how and why revolutions have changed history, and the men and women who led them, this slim volume is the best place to start.

Desert War

By Alan Moorehead,

Book cover of Desert War: The North African Campaign 1940-1943

One of the earlier classic accounts of the whole of the Desert War from the pen of a celebrated war correspondent of the era who was actually there. This is a good and accessible history of the War which features all the main advances and retreats of both sides and includes interesting commentary on the desert generals, ours and theirs.

Who am I?

I am a successful published author of military history nonfiction and fiction with 44 titles in print and have been a lifelong obsessive on the subject of WWII which was my parents’ war. I started on a diet of black & white war movies, then epics such as Tobruk, Raid on Rommel et al. I have been lecturing on the subject at the former Centre for Lifelong Learning at Newcastle University (Now the ‘Explore’ Programme) for 25 years. I am also an experienced and much travelled WWII Battlefield tour guide, with experience of guiding all the major Western Front campaigns. I’m a lifelong historical interpreter and re-enactor.

I wrote...

Blitzing Rommel

By John Sadler,

Book cover of Blitzing Rommel

What is my book about?

For Joe Milburn, Geordie to the core and son of a tenant farmer, war presents an intoxicating mix of terror, tragedy, bloodshed, adrenalin, and opportunity.

As his wartime exploits earn him admiration and respect, he begins to mix in circles very different from those he grew up in – and to take part in military operations that go not only beyond his own previous experience, but beyond the expectations of the most practised of soldiers. When Joe finds himself in North Africa he discovers, among all the loss, love, in the flawless form of Nurse Alice Fleming. Yet as he makes plans for a safer future, one more challenge calls. What else can a man expect when he keeps company with the newly-born SAS?

Sufferings in Africa

By James Riley,

Book cover of Sufferings in Africa: The Astonishing Account of a New England Sea Captain Enslaved by North African Arabs

This remarkable tale is not as well known as others, in part because it was written in 1817 and by a less accomplished writer, but it is hard to beat as a true account of nearly unsurvivable hardship. Captain James Riley, captured when his American ship—Commerce—runs aground south of Morocco, is taken into the Sahara desert along with several of his crew as slaves of Bedouins. Barefoot, terribly sunburnt, forced to drink camel urine, they walk hundreds of miles behind their master’s camels until finally ransomed by an American consul. This shocking reversal of the usual slavery tale is a poignant indictment of the slave trade. Abraham Lincoln claimed that Sufferings in Africa, along with The Bible and Pilgrim’s Progress, had the most effect on his political ideology.

Who am I?

Ever since spending seven years of my youth in East Africa, I have read the literature of that continent. I have relished the incredible novels of authors like Chinua Achebe, Ngugi Wa Thiongo, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Maaza Mengiste, but I have also sought out stories of those who entered Africa from outside, wanting to confirm my experience and to make sense of it. My reading has included masterpieces like Abraham Verghese’s novel Cutting for Stone or Ryszard Kapuscinski’s journalistic expose The Emperor. But here are a few personal memoirs that have given me a basis for my own understanding of being an expatriate shaped profoundly by life in Africa.  

I wrote...

Chameleon Days: An American Boyhood in Ethiopia

By Tim Bascom,

Book cover of Chameleon Days: An American Boyhood in Ethiopia

What is my book about?

In 1964, at the age of three, I was thrust into a radically different world when my family moved from midwestern America to the highlands of Ethiopia. Like the herky-jerky chameleon that I found outside a classroom where my missionary parents were learning to speak Amharic, I saw two directions at once, struggling to integrate two hemispheres of experience. Sent reluctantly to boarding school in the capital, I found that beyond the gates enclosing our peculiar, western enclave, conflict roiled Ethiopian society. When secret riot drills at school were followed by an attack by rampaging students near my parents' mission station, I witnessed Haile Selassie’s empire crumbling, and I felt parallel tremors in my family, which had been strained to breaking point by American, evangelical idealism.

An Army at Dawn

By Rick Atkinson,

Book cover of An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943

Atkinson’s Pulitzer Prize winning opener to his World War II trilogy reads like a novel. It also succeeds in the almost impossible task of bringing military history alive, weaving expertly drawn biographies of individuals at all levels of the US military into a grand narrative of the campaign to liberate North Africa in 1942-43.

Who am I?

Steven Casey is Professor in International History at the LSE. A specialist in US foreign policy, he is the author of ten books, including Cautious Crusade, which explored American attitudes toward Nazi Germany during World War II; Selling the Korean War, which won both the Truman Book Award and the Neustadt Prize for best book in American Politics; and When Soldiers Fall which also won the Neustadt Prize. In 2017, he published War Beat, Europe: The American Media at War against Nazi Germany, which won the American Journalism Historians Association 2018 book of the year, the panel judging it “a landmark work.” 

I wrote...

The War Beat, Pacific: The American Media at War Against Japan

By Steven Casey,

Book cover of The War Beat, Pacific: The American Media at War Against Japan

What is my book about?

The definitive history of American war reporting in the Pacific theater of World War II, from the attack on Pearl Harbor to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After almost two years slogging with infantrymen through North Africa, Italy, and France, Ernie Pyle immediately realized he was ill-prepared for covering the Pacific War. As Pyle and other war correspondents discovered, the climate, the logistics, and the sheer scope of the Pacific theater had no parallel in the war America was fighting in Europe.

The War Beat, Pacific shows how foreign correspondents ran up against practical challenges and risked their lives to get stories in a theater that was far more challenging than the war against Nazi Germany, while the US government blocked news of the war against Japan and tried to focus the home front on Hitler and his atrocities.

The Oblivion Seekers

By Isabelle Eberhardt,

Book cover of The Oblivion Seekers

With vivid, dream-like lucidity, these vignettes, stories and fragments describe the life and adventures of a truly extraordinary traveller: the daughter of Russian nihilists who moved to North Africa at the end of the nineteenth century, dressed and lived as a man, drank and smoked kif to excess, had numerous affairs, converted to Islam, was initiated into a Sufi sect, survived an assassination attempt and died in a freak flash flood at the age of only twenty-seven. The writing that survives is as fierce and as gloriously intense as the desert itself.

Who am I?

Nick Hunt is a walker and writer about the landscapes and cultures of Europe. He is the author of Walking the Woods and the Water, Where the Wild Winds Are (both finalists for the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year), and a work of gonzo ornithology, The Parakeeting of London. His latest book, Outlandish, is an exploration of four of the continent’s strangest and most unlikely landscapes: arctic tundra in Scotland, primeval forest in Poland and Belarus, Europe’s only true desert in Spain, and the grassland steppes of Hungary.

I wrote...

Outlandish: Walking Europe’s Unlikely Landscapes

By Nick Hunt,

Book cover of Outlandish: Walking Europe’s Unlikely Landscapes

What is my book about?

In Outlandish, acclaimed travel writer Nick Hunt takes us across landscapes that should not be there, wildernesses found in Europe yet seemingly belonging to far-off continents: a patch of Arctic tundra in Scotland; the continent's largest surviving remnant of primeval forest in Poland and Belarus; Europe's only true desert in Spain; and the fathomless grassland steppes of Hungary.

Secret Flotillas

By Brooks Richards,

Book cover of Secret Flotillas: Vol. I: Clandestine Sea Operations to Brittany, 1940-1944

A detailed and authoritative account of the vitally important secret naval operations mounted to rescue Allied service personnel and also ferry secret agents to and from occupied France. Recognised as the official historian of the ‘secret flotillas’, as a Royal Navy officer Brooks Richards took part in many of these operations and thus vividly describes the hazardous voyages, often in small fishing vessels under cover of darkness and well before the days of GPS and other modern navigation tools. In addition to his own wartime experiences, Brooks Richards’ account is informed by extensive personal research, including access to what were then (and some still are) closed government archives.

Who am I?

Anne-Marie Walters was born in 1923 in Geneva to a British father and French mother. At the outbreak of war in 1940, the family escaped to Britain, where Anne-Marie volunteered for the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force). Having been approached by SOE in 1943, she was accepted for training and in January the following year dropped into France by parachute to work as a courier with George Starr, head of the Wheelwright circuit of the SOE in SW France. This she did until August 1944, when Starr sent her back to Britain under somewhat controversial  circumstances. Anne-Marrie was awarded the OBE in 1945 in recognition of her “personal courage and willingness to undergo danger.” 

I wrote...

Moondrop to Gascony

By Anne-Marie Walters,

Book cover of Moondrop to Gascony

What is my book about?

In January 1944, Anne-Marie Walters, aged just 20 years old, parachuted into southwest France to work with the Resistance in preparation for the Allied invasion. With a British father and French mother, she was to act as a courier for the Wheelwright circuit of SOE (Special Operations Executive), carrying messages, delivering explosives, arranging the escape of downed airmen, and receiving parachute drops of arms and personnel at dead of night – living in constant fear of capture by the Gestapo. Then, on the very eve of liberation, she was sent off on foot over the Pyrenees to Spain, carrying urgent dispatches for London.

Originally published just after the war, this new edition includes meticulously researched background notes and identifies the real people behind the pseudonyms. M R D Foot (official historian of SOE) described Moondrop to Gascony as “one of the outstanding surveys of the real-life of a secret agent.”

The Vacillations Of Poppy Carew

By Mary Wesley,

Book cover of The Vacillations Of Poppy Carew

This book turned me into an avid Wesley fan. Aside from her genius at creating characters that face their flaws head-on and then blow a giant raspberry rather than conform—parts of Poppy’s situation mirrored my own at the time. A longtime love had dumped me, then promptly changed his mind, leaving me questioning everything I believed to be true. Poppy bravely takes on a slew of challenges with humor and grace, grabbing back the reigns of her spiraling life. It’s easy to fall in love with a gutsy character like that.

Who am I?

I’m a Scottish writer, based in the USA after living in eight countries. I spent thirty years following work, family, and love, and my experiences seep into everything I write—so there are often elements of travel in my books. Thirteen years ago, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and underwent life-saving surgery. That experience gave me a new perspective on the power of the human spirit, and our ability to forge new and unexpected paths, in the face of adversity. I love to read about and create characters that take on life’s challenges and find inner strength they didn’t know they had. That’s why feisty female protagonists appeal to me. 

I wrote...

The Child Between Us

By Alison Ragsdale,

Book cover of The Child Between Us

What is my book about?

This is an emotionally charged story about the unique bond between sisters, the destructive nature of long-kept family secrets, and what it truly means to be a mother. It explores loss, self-discovery, and the beauty in accepting what life delivers even when it is what you least expected—or didn’t know you wanted.

The Child Between Us is a heart-wrenching story about an impossible choice and what it really means to be a mother. Readers who love Kate Hewitt, Jodi Picoult, and Diane Chamberlain will be utterly gripped.

The Various Flavors of Coffee

By Anthony Capella,

Book cover of The Various Flavors of Coffee: A Novel

Coffee, sex, travel, exotic locales, romance, and at long last love. This novel has it all, made vivid through the story of a more or less ordinary Englishman in the late 1890s who finds that he has a remarkable talent for discovering and describing the flavors and the problems in brewed coffee. He goes to Ethiopia to learn more about coffee. There his adventures become, shall we say, quite vivid, and some remarkable twists appear. Nicely written by an international best-selling author. Used copies are really cheap. You will have fun reading this with a great cup of coffee.

Who am I?

I have found coffee, or in fact just about any aspect of it, from pour-over to espresso, to be endlessly challenging and rewarding. My first visit to coffee farms was in 2004, to Ethiopia and Kenya. Since then I’ve been to dozens of farms in nine or ten countries. There is something about coffee people; they are wondrously generous about sharing their expertise, if they think you care and if you know the right questions to ask. Before going deeply into coffee, I was a professor of history, and I've continued to publish on topics as diverse as Stalin, the witch hunts in Europe and North America, and the body in the Anglosphere, 1880-1920.

I wrote...

Coffee: From Bean to Barista

By Robert W. Thurston,

Book cover of Coffee: From Bean to Barista

What is my book about?

Taking the story of coffee from the ground up, the book covers cultivation, processing, roasting, brewing, the spread of coffee around the world, health and drinking coffee (good news!), and climate change. I cover the history of coffee as it spread from Ethiopia, including the social benefits and disruption that it helped facilitate. New research is featured on the plants, their main pests, and questions about how much and what kind of shade is best for the trees. Certification programs like Fair Trade get their share of praise and criticism, as does organic coffee farming. For the book, I draw on my own experience as a roaster and retailer as well as on my many visits to coffee farms around the world.

The Sheltering Sky

By Paul Bowles,

Book cover of The Sheltering Sky

It is a notion that Paul Bowles realizes intuitively in his deeply philosophical novel The Sheltering Sky. For Bowles, it is our memories, not simply our flesh, that render life so precious, so fleeting. “How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood,” Bowles writes, “some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.”

Who am I?

If you’re anything like me, you are driven by your passions. And the key to stoking our passions is finding inspiration—sometimes in the most unlikely of literary places. The study of literature is intrinsically about the act of knowing. It is about knowing the world—a vast, uncharted universe of people and places, ideas, and emotions. But in helping us to know the world, literature is mostly about coming to know yourself. It is about exploring the recesses of your mind, the vicissitudes of your memories, the weight and pleasure of your deepest, most personal experiences. It is about getting closer and ever closer to understanding your own essential truths—and yet never quite arriving there. It is, in short, the most intimate and transformative journey that you can possibly take through the lens of your mind’s eye. It is about you.

I wrote...

John Lennon 1980: The Last Days in the Life

By Kenneth Womack,

Book cover of John Lennon 1980: The Last Days in the Life

What is my book about?

John Lennon 1980: The Last Days in the Life traces the powerful, life-affirming story of the former Beatle’s remarkable comeback after five years of self-imposed retirement.

As renowned music historian Kenneth Womack reveals in vivid detail, Lennon’s final pivotal year would climax in unforgettable moments of creative triumph as he rediscovered his artistic self in dramatic fashion. With the bravura release of the Double Fantasy album with his wife Yoko Ono, he was poised and ready for an even brighter future, only to be wrenched from the world by an assassin’s bullets. John Lennon 1980 isn’t about how the gifted songwriter and musician died, but rather, about how he lived.

The Key to Rebecca

By Ken Follett,

Book cover of The Key to Rebecca

This is my top favourite when it comes to choosing a World War 2 spy novel. I read it several times and I never get tired of it. I adored the exotic setting and the colourful cast of characters that feel authentic and so intriguing, for they are all flawed to a certain degree and yet they pursue what, in their view, is the greater good. Follett manages to make the reader care for every single one of them, and that’s what I absolutely love about this writer.

This is a book that also gives a better understanding of what World War 2 was like in the heat of North Africa and is rich in accurate historical details. The rotation of the points of view make it fun to read and the innumerable twists and turns keep you engaged at all time. An edge-of-seat, definitely unbeatable classic by this master…

Who am I?

I am a former journalist and corporate public relations expert with a Ph.D. in Foreign Languages, I’ve always been passionate about World War 2 history and truly fascinated by the deceptions put in place by both the Allies and the Axis. I believe that a story that mixes fiction with history is highly powerful and evocative. I set my debut novel in the Rome in 1942 because I was inspired by the numerous stories heard from both my grandfathers who fought in the war and because Fascist Italy is not as well-known as it should be. As one of the very few female thriller writers in this genre, I wanted to celebrate the contribution of women in World War 2!

I wrote...

Lucifer's Game: An Emotional and Gut-Wrenching World War II Spy Thriller

By Cristina Loggia,

Book cover of Lucifer's Game: An Emotional and Gut-Wrenching World War II Spy Thriller

What is my book about?

Spies, military secrets, and a personal crusade for freedom…Rome, 1942Cordelia Olivieri is a young, determined hotel owner desperate to escape Mussolini’s racial persecution. But as Fascist leaders gather in Rome, Cordelia is suddenly surrounded by the world’s most ruthless and powerful commanders. In an effort to keep her Jewish heritage a secret and secure safe passage out of Italy, Cordelia forms a dangerous alliance with the British army who wants to push the Axis out of North Africa once and for all.

Going undercover, Cordelia begins obtaining and leaking military intelligence to a British agent, hoping the intelligence will secure her freedom. But the more Cordelia uncovers, the greater the risks – especially for one handsome German Afrika Korps officer. How far must Cordelia go to protect her identity and secure passage out of Rome?

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