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Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles Paperback – March 9, 2010

46 customer reviews

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Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles + The Fate of Africa: A History of the Continent Since Independence + Africa: A Biography of the Continent
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Editorial Reviews


Times UK
“This book is anecdotal, engaging, realistic, and delightfully up-to-date.”

About the Author

Richard Dowden is director of the Royal African Society. He spent a decade as Africa Editor of the Independent, and then another decade as Africa Editor of the Economist. He has made three television documentaries on Africa, for

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; Reprint edition (March 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586488163
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586488161
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #183,698 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

61 of 64 people found the following review helpful By David Kobia on March 18, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This book is almost 600 pages long, and still feels like an abridged account of Africa. I actually thought it was pretty bold to call the book 'Africa' - like a little boy with a toy gun calling himself a cowboy, so I approached the book expecting to disparage it immediately. Having grown up in some of the countries written about in the book, I realized Dowden had actually lived through it enough to warrant telling the tale. I believe this book far outranks many of the history books on Africa, and should be required reading for all high school kids.

Post colonial Africa evokes different types of emotions depending on which side of the railway line you grew up on, so its easy to understand why descendants of the colonialists themselves might not find this an easy read. Dowden places a great deal of the blame for Africa's woes squarely on them and other factors like foreign aid. My opinion is biased because I tend to agree.

Those without any type of bias will find the book extremely fascinating. Discovering Africa through Dowden has left me feeling that I should make the same commitment and re-discover the beautiful continent of Africa.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Obi O. Emekekwue on September 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Richard Dowden draws on his extensive experience covering Africa as a journalist to write one of the most informative and, I might add, most accurate piece of work on the continent. He rightly points out that Africa is much more than the portrayals seen daily on the media where Africa is seen as a continent of perpetual conflict, wars, famine and other disasters and pestilence. Instead, he shows that it is also a vibrant continent where those brave enough to invest have earned unimaginable wealth; a continent witnessing some of the highest growth rates and a place where modern innovations like the mobile phone and the internet have transformed life in ways never anticipated. It is a pity that he continues the practice of separating Africa south of the Sahara from North Africa. Africa is a geographic entity that encompasses both the north and the south. He is, however, to be forgiven since most of his work had been in the sub-Saharan region.

I give the book four stars primarily because of the many typographical and editing errors I found. I also noted a number of factual errors that he might want to correct in future editions. On page 470, he writes that the late Nigerian dictator, Sani Abacha, overthrew Ibrahim Bagangida to become head of state after Babangida annulled the elections that he had organised. The reality is that after he annullled the elections, Babangida set up an Interim National Government headed by Ernest Shonekan. It was that Interim National Government which purportedly "handed" over power to Abacha.

Also, in page 472, Dowden, describes Beko Ransome Kuti as a human rights lawyer. Kuti, although a human rights activist, was no lawyer. He was a medical doctor.

Aside from these minor drawbacks, Mr. Dowden's book is perhaps the best read for a non-African trying to get a solid and unbiased understanding of the continent. He deserves to be commended for writing such an excellent boo.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Tom Sawyer on March 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is by far the most balanced analysis on the challenges faced by sub Saharan African societies. It is unpretentious in that the author confesses his limited exposure/ experience (in the few instances) where it matters and provides a dispassionate analysis of his specific experience before he projects those specific community/ country experiences onto the continent or rather the sub Saharan portion of Africa in general.

The writer obviously benefits from an extended exposure and dispassionate, unbiased discourse with intelligent indigenes which allows an in depth knowledge of both rural and urban circumstances (both historic & current) of diverse sub Sahara African countries.

The author also has the benefit of viewing and experiencing sub Sahara Africa extensively from his Anglo-Saxon value system and you can tell that the narrative is his way of rationalizing multifaceted influences and their projection on current circumstances.

Being that I am African myself and have lived in the US and UK for an extended period, as well as traveled and lived in several West, East, and Southern African countries, I agree with a lot of the inferences he draws.

The only problems I had were that some parts of the book feel like literally reading from his diary and the impression that the author is consciously or unconsciously magnanimous in discussing Britain's role in creating and bolstering a myriad of problems.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By John Gibbs TOP 1000 REVIEWER on December 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Many different perspectives of Africa are captured in Richard Dowden's remarkable book. Dowden first arrived in Africa in 1971, when he moved to Uganda as a school teacher, near the start of Idi Amin's reign. Uganda was just descending into the chaos and civil war which was to last for 15 years, and by the end of 1972 it was no longer safe for Dowden to remain. When he returned to Africa some years later, it was in a new role as a journalist.

The book discusses a broad range of Africa's "Big Men" who have treated their countries as a vehicle for personal enrichment on a massive scale, including Mobutu Sese Seko, who was Zaire's dictator for more than 30 years, Daniel arap Moi, who was Kenya's president for 24 years, Robert Mugabe, who has presided over Zimbabwe's economic decline over the past 20 years, and Nigeria's Sani Abacha and Olusegun Obasanjo, whose administrations have set new standards for absolute corruption.

The book covers the differing issues faced by numerous different African countries including Sudan, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Somalia, Angola, Burundi and Rwanda. Dowden's writing shows a deep understanding of African attitudes to AIDS, the causes of poverty, reasons for failure of foreign aid, the opportunities and pitfalls of African engagement with China, and a host of other issues. This is one of the best available books on Africa.
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