The most recommended Sierra Leone books

Who picked these books? Meet our 16 experts.

16 authors created a book list connected to Sierra Leone, and here are their favorite Sierra Leone books.
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Book cover of Fighting for the Rain Forest: War, Youth and Resources in Sierra Leone

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

From my list on Africa.

Why am I passionate about this?

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?

African civil wars are not about ethnicity, diamonds, or foreign aid. They are genuine political conflicts about how society is to be organized, created by grievances and political marginalization and also deeply embedded in local cultures. As such, they stem from the same roots as the English Civil War of the 1640s or the American Revolutionary War of the 1770s-1780s. This is all revealed in this brilliant book on the Sierra Leone civil war.

By Paul Richards,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fighting for the Rain Forest as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Do small wars in Africa manifest a 'new barbarism'?
What appears as random, anarchic violence is no such thing. The terrifying military methods of of Sierra Leone's soldiers may not fir conventional western models of warfare,but they are rational and effective nonetheless. The war must be understood partly as a 'performance', in which techniques of terror compensate for lack of equipment.

PAUL RICHARDS is Professor of Technology and Agrarian Development, Wageningen University

Published in association with the International African Institute


Book cover of The New Story - Storytelling as a Pathway to Peace

Susan Perrow Author Of Therapeutic Storytelling: 101 Healing Stories for Children

From my list on the healing power of story and storytelling.

Why am I passionate about this?

My name is Susan Perrow. I am an Australian whose ‘work’ passion is stories and storytelling. I am an author, storyteller, teacher trainer, and parent educator. For the last 30 years, I have been documenting stories from other cultures, writing stories, and telling stories to groups of children and adults – all this woven in with a career in teaching, lecturing, and consulting in Australia, Africa, Asia, China, Europe, and North America. I currently have four published story collections, in a total of 14 languages. Three of my collections are Healing Stories for Challenging Behaviour, An A-Z Collection of Behaviour Tales, and Stories to Light the Night: A Grief and Loss Collection for Children, Families and Communities.

I have chosen my fourth collection to introduce to you below.

Susan's book list on the healing power of story and storytelling

Susan Perrow Why did Susan love this book?

This is a book for all who work with people – in other words, it is a book for everyone. It is full of inspiration and practical tools to bring transformation and healing into your daily life, wherever you are. During times of conflict, storytelling dedicated to peace and reconciliation has proven successful in creating a common ground between people of all ages, from different cultures and disparate world views.

The New Story includes more than 30 tales from around the world plus easy-to-do exercises, with contributions from six modern storytellers at work in places like Israel, Kurdistan, and Sierra Leone.

By Inger Lise Oelrich,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The New Story - Storytelling as a Pathway to Peace as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The shortest distance between two human beings is - a story. Without inspired passion things will not change. Storytelling is a social activity where two or more people are present. In a rich and lively picture language, ancient myths, wisdom tales, life stories and spontaneously created stories are shared in an appreciative way, where everyone has a voice. In THE NEW STORY, more than 30 tales from around the world and easy to do exercises give a fresh and encouraging take on how to bring about understanding, compassion and transformation in different life situations - whether at school, in worklife,…


Book cover of Gambling on Development: Why Some Countries Win and Others Lose

Lodewijk Smets Author Of Retooling Development Aid in the 21st Century: The Importance of Budget Support

From my list on economic growth and international development.

Why am I passionate about this?

As Nobel prize-winning economist Robert Lucas put it, "Once you start thinking about economic growth, it's hard to think about anything else." That's why I am eager to share the best books on economic development with you! I am a Senior Economist at the World Bank, the world's premier development institution. Over the years, I have developed a deep interest in what makes countries prosper, have published extensively on the topic in academic journals, and earned a PhD in Economics along the way. As a development practitioner, I have been supporting sustainable growth across the globe, with working experience in the Caribbean, Africa, and the Pacific. 

Lodewijk's book list on economic growth and international development

Lodewijk Smets Why did Lodewijk love this book?

Stefan Dercon argues that the answer lies not in specific policies but rather in a key ‘development bargain,’ whereby a country’s leaders shift from protecting their own interests to gambling on a growth-based future. Despite its imperfections, China is among the most striking recent success stories, along with Indonesia and Ethiopia.

This book is about these choices, in contrast to countries stuck in a bad equilibrium. I loved the global experience Dercon drew on, ranging from Ebola in Sierra Leone, scandals in Malawi, beer factories in the Congo, mobile phone licenses in Mozambique, and humanitarian aid in Sudan.

By Stefan Dercon,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In the last thirty years, the developing world has undergone tremendous changes. Overall, poverty has fallen, people live longer and healthier lives, and economies have been transformed. And yet many countries have simply missed the boat. Why have some countries prospered, while others have failed? Stefan Dercon argues that the answer lies not in a specific set of policies, but rather in a key 'development bargain', whereby a country's elites shift from protecting their own positions to gambling on a growth-based future. Despite the imperfections of such bargains, China is among the most striking recent success stories, along with Indonesia…


Book cover of Ebola's Evolution: Turning Despair to Deliverance: a Road Map for Covid-19

Michael B.A. Oldstone Author Of Viruses, Plagues, and History: Past, Present, and Future

From my list on understanding how viruses cause disease.

Why am I passionate about this?

Michael B.A. Oldstone was head of the Viral-Immunobiology Laboratory at The Scripps Research Institute, devoting his career to understanding viruses, the diseases they cause, and the host’s immune response to control these infections. His work led to numerous national and international awards, election to the National Academy of Science and the National Academy of Medicine. Oldstone served on the SAGE executive board of the World Health Organization and as a WHO consultant for the eradication of polio and measles.

Michael's book list on understanding how viruses cause disease

Michael B.A. Oldstone Why did Michael love this book?

This book provides an intimate portrait of outbreaks of Ebola, the world’s most fearsome and deadly virus, and reveals how the result of that experience provides information to help fight Covid-19. Introduced are people who fought heroically with limited resources, including  Sheik Kahn who died fighting Ebola as it spread as a tsunami, Pardis Sabeti a geneticist named “scientist of the year” by Time magazine and Robert Garry who led the fight against viral hemorrhagic diseases. Sabeti and Garry worked with the authors and provide a personal narrative of the involved events.

By Michael B.A. Oldstone, Madeleine Rose Oldstone,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ebola's Evolution as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book provides an intimate portrait of multiple outbreaks of Ebola in Africa and reveals how the results of that experience can help us fight COVID-19.
Michael B.A. Oldstone, who led the Viral-Immunobiology Laboratory at the Scripps Research Institute worked with Ebola, teams up with Madeleine Rose Oldstone to give a detailed account of the 2013-2016 and 2018-2020 Ebola outbreaks.
The authors trace the origin of the disease, its spread like a tsunami thru Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, the collapse of economies, and the development of anti-viral therapies against Ebola. They compare the outbreaks of one of the world's…


Book cover of Experiencing War

Greta Lynn Uehling Author Of Everyday War: The Conflict over Donbas, Ukraine

From my list on the connection between personal relationships.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a cultural anthropologist, I'm like a cultural detective, exploring the intricate and often heart-wrenching world of war, conflict, and population displacement. But before you envision me in a dusty library, let me share that I found my passion for unraveling the everyday, lived experiences of war while living in Ukraine, where I became close to incredible individuals whose lives had been profoundly altered by war. When people shared with me how Russian aggression was tearing apart their cherished friendships and family bonds, I knew I had to delve into the profound effects of war on personal relationships. So, here I am, on a mission to illuminate the hidden stories, and the untold struggles, that are so important. 

Greta's book list on the connection between personal relationships

Greta Lynn Uehling Why did Greta love this book?

Experiencing War is a gem because Christine Sylvester argues so compellingly that war can’t be fully apprehended without considering experiences in addition to the more abstract geopolitical levels of analysis.

It was my personal experience of PTSD in Ukraine that persuaded me I had enough situated knowledge to write Everyday War, and Sylvester’s book affirmed this experience as a starting point. Everyday War is calibrated to fill the gap in knowledge about the embodied and subjective dimensions of war that Sylvester identifies in her succinct survey of the literature on war.

By Christine Sylvester (editor),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This edited collection explores aspects of contemporary war that affect average people -physically, emotionally, and ethically through activities ranging from combat to television viewing.

The aim of this work is to supplement the usual emphasis on strategic and national issues of war in the interest of theorizing aspects of war from the point of view of individual experience, be the individual a combatant, a casualty, a supporter, opponent, recorder, veteran, distant viewer, an international lawyer, an ethicist or other intellectual. This volume presents essays that push the boundaries of war studies and war thinking, without promoting one kind of theory…


Book cover of The Devil That Danced on the Water: A Daughter's Quest

Mark Weston Author Of The Ringtone and the Drum: Travels in the World's Poorest Countries

From my list on travel in Africa.

Why am I passionate about this?

Since I first visited Africa in 2004 I’ve found it difficult to tear myself away. I’ve lived in South Africa, Ghana, Tanzania, and Sudan and travelled in all corners of the continent. I’ve participated in a revolution, hung out with the illegal fishermen of Lake Victoria, been cursed—and protectedby witch doctors, and learned Swahili. I’ve also read extensively about the place, written three books about it, and broadcast from it for the BBC World Service. In my other life I research and write about international development for universities and global organisations. This too has a focus on Africa.

Mark's book list on travel in Africa

Mark Weston Why did Mark love this book?

This isn’t strictly a travel bookit’s about how the author’s father was brought to his knees and finally executed by the Sierra Leonean dictator Siaka Stevensbut it brilliantly conveys how life and politics work in West Africa and is therefore a must-read if you’re thinking about travelling to the region or want to know more about its post-colonial trajectory.

An extremely moving story, its portrayal of the horror of Stevens’ regime amid the beauty of Sierra Leone encapsulates the fascination of a part of Africa few tourists visit. Tragically, as I discuss in my book, the demise of Stevens’ regime wasn’t the end of Sierra Leone’s troubles.

By Aminatta Forna,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Devil That Danced on the Water as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Praised as “a shining example of what autobiography can be: harrowing, illuminating and thoughtful” (USA Today), Aminatta Forna’s intensely personal history is a passionate and vivid account of an idyllic childhood which became the stuff of nightmare. As a child she witnessed the upheavals of post-colonial Africa, danger, flight, the bitterness or exile in Britain and the terrible consequences of her dissident father’s stand against tyranny.

Mohamed Forna was a man of unimpeachable integrity and enchanting charisma. As Sierra Leone faced its future as a fledgling democracy, he was a new star in the political firmament, a man who had…


Book cover of Someone Knows My Name

Leslie Larson Author Of Breaking Out of Bedlam

From Leslie's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Novelist Reader Walker Vegetable gardener Dog lover

Leslie's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Leslie Larson Why did Leslie love this book?

This is an adventure story with the highest possible stakes. It portrays the most brutal and debased human urges and doesn’t shy away from graphically depicting horrifying scenes of disease, starvation, torture, filth, and death.

At the center is Aminata Diallo, who was kidnapped from Africa as a child and sent into slavery in North America. In her, Hill has created one of the most luminous characters in contemporary literature. Her voice speaks directly to our hearts with breathtaking authenticity and intelligence.

The beauty of her spirit and the strength of her hope, not to mention the power of her narration, triumph over the suffering and injustice, making this a heart-expanding read.

By Lawrence Hill,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Someone Knows My Name as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Kidnapped from Africa as a child, Aminata Diallo is enslaved in South Carolina but escapes during the chaos of the Revolutionary War. In Manhattan she becomes a scribe for the British, recording the names of blacks who have served the King and earned their freedom in Nova Scotia. But the hardship and prejudice of the new colony prompt her to follow her heart back to Africa, then on to London, where she bears witness to the injustices of slavery and its toll on her life and a whole people. It is a story that no listener, and no reader, will…


Book cover of Epic Journeys of Freedom: Runaway Slaves of the American Revolution and Their Global Quest for Liberty

Vincent Carretta Author Of Equiano, the African: Biography of a Self-Made Man

From my list on recover early Black Atlantic lives.

Why am I passionate about this?

When I decided to familiarize myself with eighteenth-century authors of African descent by editing their writings, I didn’t anticipate becoming their biographer. In annotating their writings, I quickly became intrigued and challenged by trying to complete the biographical equivalent of jigsaw puzzles, ones which often lack borders, as well as many pieces. How does one recover, or at least credibly speculate about, what’s missing? Even the pieces one has may be from unreliable sources. But the thrill of the hunt for, and the joy of discovering, as many pieces as possible make the challenge rewarding. My recommendations demonstrate ways others have also met the biographical challenge.

Vincent's book list on recover early Black Atlantic lives

Vincent Carretta Why did Vincent love this book?

Rather than writing the life of just one person, Pybus scours fragmentary church, legal, military, and prison records on three continents to create what might be called a cumulative biography.

Pybus reconstructs the lives of individuals in the diaspora of men, women, and their families who embraced Britain’s offer of freedom to anyone who fled rebel enslavers to join its forces during the American Revolution.

Among them were men formerly enslaved to George Washington and Patrick Henry.

Evacuated by the withdrawing British forces at the end of the war, the continuing quest for freedom of Black Loyalists brought them to Canada, Britain, Africa, and Australia.

By Cassandra Pybus,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Cassandra Pybus adds greatly to the work of [previous] scholars by insisting that slaves stand at the center of their own history . . . Her 'biographies' of flight expose the dangers that escape entailed and the courage it took to risk all for freedom. Only by measuring those dangers can the exhilaration of success be comprehended and the unspeakable misery of failure be appreciated.--Ira Berlin, from the Foreword

During the American Revolution, thousands of slaves fled their masters to find freedom with the British. Epic Journeys of Freedom is the astounding story of these runaways and the lives they…


Book cover of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

Shugri Said Salh Author Of The Last Nomad: Coming of Age in the Somali Desert

From my list on bringing other cultures to life.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am at heart a storyteller, with a special interest in archiving and weaving the tales of my people to give you insight into a culture that is quite different from yours. Like an archaeologist digging a forgotten world, I want to bring these stories to life in the form of words. After a long day of animal herding and chores, my family and I would sit by the fire in a vast, open desert covered in blackness, and share century-old stories. My big ears consumed these stories like a thirsty desert after a long drought, so I could one day share this library of wisdom with others.

Shugri's book list on bringing other cultures to life

Shugri Said Salh Why did Shugri love this book?

This memoir captures the journey of child soldiers during the civil war in Sierra Leone, and shows how once-innocent children with ordinary lives became killing machines in the hands of a ruthless rebel leader. Beah doesn't shy away from the gruesomeness of civil war, but there is beauty in how he weaves this memoir that reads like a novel. Though I am not usually a fan of books with a lot of violence, I was drawn to this one and could not put it down. I believe history is best learned from those who have first-hand experience. This is a one-of-a-kind book and to Beah’s credit, well-written as well. 

By Ishmael Beah,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked A Long Way Gone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is how wars are fought now: by children, hopped-up on drugs and wielding AK-47s. Children have become soldiers of choice. In the more than fifty conflicts going on worldwide, it is estimated that there are some 300,000 child soldiers. Ishmael Beah used to be one of them. What is war like through the eyes of a child soldier? How does one become a killer? How does one stop? Child soldiers have been profiled by journalists, and novelists have struggled to imagine their lives. But until now, there has not been a first-person account from someone who came through this…


Book cover of Journey without Maps

Faith and Martin Sternstein Author Of Ten African-American Presidents

From my list on the history of Liberia, America’s stepchild.

Why are we passionate about this?

Faith “Zanweah” Sternstein grew up in Tappita, Nimba County, Liberia. Her heritage and cultural background is that of the Dan (Gio) ethnic group, where her lineage comes directly through Chiefs Tarpeh, Snagon, and Vonleh. She met her future husband, Martin Sternstein, when he served as Fulbright Professor at the University of Liberia. While much has been written about Liberia, there has been little serious research into the lives of the early presidents, and we much enjoyed filling in this gap. We subscribe to the African proverb: Until the lion tells his side of the story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.

Faith's book list on the history of Liberia, America’s stepchild

Faith and Martin Sternstein Why did Faith love this book?

We have divergent views on Greene’s travelog. Before first venturing forth to Liberia, Martin read Greene’s book for some appreciation of the undeveloped regions of the country. Faith, a native Liberian, read the book and found Greene’s naivety somewhat amusing.

In 1935 Greene embarked on a four-week, 350-mile trek through the Liberian hinterland. He had sharp eyes and was a master storyteller. With wit, compassion, and insight, he described a part of Liberia seemingly untouched by Western civilization.

While he overly dwelled on what he perceives as negatives, still an unconquered spirit of the indigenes manages to shine forth.

By Graham Greene,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Journey without Maps as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

His mind crowded with vivid images of Africa, Graham Greene set off in 1935 to discover Liberia, a remote and unfamiliar republic founded for released slaves. Now with a new introduction by Paul Theroux, Journey Without Maps is the spellbinding record of Greene's journey. Crossing the red-clay terrain from Sierra Leone to the coast of Grand Bassa with a chain of porters, he came to know one of the few areas of Africa untouched by colonization. Western civilization had not yet impinged on either the human psyche or the social structure, and neither poverty, disease, nor hunger seemed able to…