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Africa in History Paperback – December 1, 1995

ISBN-13: 978-0684826677 ISBN-10: 0684826674 Edition: Revised
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

This is the fourth revision of an excellent book by the prolific and acclaimed author who has done more than anyone else to bring the history of Africa to a popular audience. It covers the general themes of African history and is suitable both as an undergraduate text and for the general reader. The revisions appear to have been minimal, limited primarily to the final chapter and concerned with updating recent events in South Africa. Nevertheless, this is the type of book that most collections of African history, from basic to comprehensive, ought to have.
- Paul H. Thomas, Hoover Inst. Lib., Stanford, Cal.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Book Week Today the history of Africa is undergoing a revolution. No one has done more for that much-needed revolution than Basil Davidson.

Africa, the journal of the International African Institute The best work now available to the general public on the main outlines of the prestigious past of the African continent.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 450 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone Books; Revised edition (1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684826674
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684826677
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.3 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #659,482 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Nitay Artenstein on April 28, 2000
Format: Paperback
Basil Davidson has written an excellent overview of African history, ranging from the Egyptian and Nubian kingdoms to the trading empires of Ghana, Mali and Songhay. An especially adept treatment is given to the Colonial Period; Refraining from the accepted subjective views, Davidson tries to analyze the true effect Europeans had on the continent, without pathos or exaggeration. This does not mean that he resents their interference less - few authors could hold more negative views of individual European exploiters making use of the continent for their private ends.
One point against this book is that it is perhaps too short for its scope. Less than 400 pages, the reader is left with the sensation that he has been told much, and yet has been told nothing - an appropriate sensation, perhaps, to provide the incentive to continue reading about the subject, but the aggregate increase in knowledge resulting from the reading is still not large.
Nevertheless, I would warmly recommend this book to anybody seriously interested in the African subject.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Smith on March 8, 2002
Format: Paperback
Without knowing much on the subject, I will say that all the arguments in this book seem sound. However, it is written in such an incoherant manner - switching back and forth from century to century, that you often don't know what century the author is talking about, much less his current argument. Instead the book comes across as Basil rambling, and this has more to do with the above stated, "being told much, but being told nothing." You'd have to re-write every fact and place them all in cronological order to make any sense of it.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By farington on April 24, 2011
Format: Paperback
If others find this book to be a good overview of African history, more power to them. I side with the reviewer here who found the book to be distractingly jumpy and a bit disconnected, switching from one period and one civilization to another. For me this isn't really a brief history of Africa as much as it is a polemic to counter what had been decades of wrong-headed Western thinking about Africa. Evidently it had been acceptable in respected academic circles to declare the Africans to be simple primitives who had no culture, who needed the "help" of outside cultures to accomplish anything noteworthy. Davidson's primary aim is to refute this attitude and he cites to highly-developed cultures throughout Africa's pre-colonial history. The problem is that to do this, he employs a checklist of anthropological benchmarks (established trade routes, refined metalwork, etc.) against which to measure the historic African societies. This makes for a real sameness, a feeling of not having any flavor of any of the societies he describes because they're just grist for his general anthropological mill. It really was hard for me to keep the narrative straight.

I've previously read an expose and debunking of the arrogant Eurocentric academic attitude toward Africa (see Martin Bernal's "Black Athena") so I didn't feel I needed a replay of it from Davidson. I came to the conclusion, in light of the extreme generality with which Davidson treated his subject, that I'd do better with histories of particular regions/countries. So I'm starting out with a history of Ethiopia, maybe I'll move on to a history of South Africa, who knows after that.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By natron on March 28, 2003
Format: Paperback
This book emphasized the social and historical effects that trade and commerce have had on changing the landscape of African society. I was fascinated to learn about the many kingdoms and empires that existed in ancient Africa. The details of the great trading cities of the West coast, and the great trading kingdoms of the East Sudan areas were new information for me. Also, the effect of the slave trade on disrupting political and socio-economic situations was disheartening. Finally, the current political situation was explained, and I got a picture of how things got to the mess they are today. Now I see how the family unit was disrupted by colonization economics, and how the breakdown of society has affected all levels. Unfortunately, this book was written before the plague of AIDS, the recent Afro-unification efforts, and the South African Peace and Reconciliation commission were set up. So I look forward to reading more about those situations. Additionally, I think the author was soft on many of the corrupt and failed leaders that have squandered so many efforts for democracy and justice that have been attempted in the past fifty years. But taken in light of the long and troubled history of this land, I am not left without hope. The main failure of this book in my opinion, was the lack of the heart of the African, with its inner sense of joy and ability to survive even the harshest situations that I have so learned to admire in my African friends I have made over the years, was not explored. The personal face of the diverse and warm-hearted peoples of this content was not shown by this more academic and political history. So that inspires me to read more about this amazing continent.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful By J.P. Franks on September 21, 2008
Format: Paperback
Attempts to compress a continent's history in 370-odd pages, and so it gets bogged down in the first half with a hard-to-follow succession of names and places (without enough maps). For a primer on African history, it's good, living up to its name and all, and on how Africa got to be in its current state, it's pretty enlightening.

Basically, like a lot of the rest of the world, there were a number of regions in Africa that were more advanced than Europe up till at least the fifteenth century. The northern half of Africa got integrated into the very advanced Islamic world through trade back when Europeans were digging potatoes out of the ground with six-toed feet, and at first contact European traders were actually importing West African cloth, for example. But not having Europe's geography meant not having as much pressure to develop ships (except Eastern Africa, which was trading as far as China before Portuguese barbarians sacked its main cities) and weapons. The killer for African development was the slave trade, which beyond depopulating the continent by some tens of millions was destructive by hamstringing its manufacturing base. First, trading human raw material for manufactured goods - aka comparative advantage - worked as it always has in history. It had a negative effect (contrary to the current orthodoxy in economics) by forestalling any further development in metalwork and handicrafts. Plus, the people shipped off to Europe and the Americas were the most able-bodied men and women, skilled in metalworking and tropical agriculture. Not to mention the devastation that constant slave raids would wreak all around Africa's coasts and into its interior.
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