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Wonders of the African World Hardcover – October 5, 1999

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (October 5, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375402357
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375402357
  • Product Dimensions: 10.6 x 10.7 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #652,528 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

In the 1920s, Harlem Renaissance poet Countee Cullen asked, "What is Africa to me?" Wonders of the African World, a stunning African travelogue by Harvard's Henry Louis Gates Jr. (arguably America's most public and prolific black intellectual), takes up that question for a new generation. A beautifully illustrated, literary companion to a PBS documentary series, Wonders traces Gates's 10-month sojourn through the African motherland, from the haunting pyramids of the Egyptian/Nubian empire in Sudan and the ancient Christian heritage of Ethiopia to the lost city of Timbuktu and the fabled University of Sankore. Erudite scholar that he is, Gates uses his trip to investigate the promise and perils of contemporary Africa, considering, among other issues, the unifying potential of the Swahili language and black complicity in the slave trade. Gates also takes aim at the Enlightenment, the subsequent colonialist occupations by European nations, and the worst aspects of Afrocentrism. Ultimately, he reveals an unbreakable, albeit ill-defined, relationship between Afro-Americans and Africans: "I have learned that I am neither Fon nor Beninian, Asante nor Ghanian, Swahili nor Kenyan, Nubian or Sudanese," Gates writes. Though not a member of any one of these great peoples in particular, I am, as a descendant of a West African slave and of ex-slaves, the product of a truly Pan-African new world culture forged out of the crucible of slavery." --Eugene Holley Jr.

From Publishers Weekly

"I knew that any meaningful explanation of what Africa was to me would depend on discovering what Africa was, and is, both to Africans and to all of us." That imperative led Harvard professor Gates (Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man) on a journey through a dozen countries in an attempt to learn "who 'the African people' were and what, in fact, they had contributed to civilization." Its fruitAa thoughtful, copiously illustrated survey of 22 outstanding sites that is the companion book to an upcoming PBS seriesAwill open a new world to readers of all stripes. In Ethiopia, Gates visits Axum, where the practice of Christianity is older than in any Western European country and where the Ark of the Covenant may reside. In Mali, Gates explores Timbuktu, which was once "the site of black Africa's most important center of scholarship and learning... rivaling Europe's emerging universities." His excursions into Ghana and Benin provide the backdrop for an unflinching look at the role Africans played in the slave trade. In South Africa, he refutes the main tenet of apartheid's "counterfeit" historyAthat the land was uninhabited until the first white settler arrived in 1652Aby journeying to the lost cities of the Shona kingdom. The author scrupulously distinguishes proven facts from hopeful conjecture, and the text is lightened by numerous humorous anecdotes. Though the book's rapid switches between present and past are occasionally awkward, the structure allows Gates to fuse his scholarship with candid accounts of his own longing for, and later discovery of, the richness of African history. The result is a marvel all its own: a book that celebrates the continent's neglected achievements. BOMC and Doubleday Natural Science Book Club selections. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

No African society depended upon slave labor as a mode of production.
Wonders of The African World is one of the best, fascinating and interesting books l have read on African history and its past.
Joseph O. Asagba
Can scholars trust Gates not to be a biased eurocentric,nor a manaiac Afrocentric.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Terrill Tripp on November 10, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Henry Louis Gates book "Wonders of the African World is beautifully illustrated and is an excellent example of Africa's rich cultural and intellectual history. I was especially impressed with his representation of Africa's intellectual traditions. I found Dr. Gates book to be an interesting complement to "Intellectual Traditions of Pre-Colonial Africa" by Dr. Constance Hilliard, which provides an indepth investigation into these traditions (both oral and intellectual).
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Ein Kunde on August 6, 2000
Format: Hardcover
"Wonders of the African World" by Henry Louis Gates is an interesting illustrated introduction to Africa, or more precisely, to ancient Nubia and modern Sudan; Ethiopia; Mali and Timbuktu; the Swahili East Coast; the historic Slave Coast and Gold Coast and modern Benin and Ghana; and South Africa and Zimbabwe. The book is a combination of personal essay, travelogue, and history. Much of the criticism of the "Wonders of the African World" TV/book production focused on Gates' sometimes goofy (to the point of insulting, think some) behavior vis-a-vis Africans; in print, Gates is more in his element and the book reads well.
This is no comprehensive history of Africa; rather, Gates explores something of interest in each of the countries he visits (the relations between ancient Nubia and Egypt, Christianity in Ethiopia; the ancient library at Timbuktu; the Eastern slave trade and African/Arab lineage of the Swahili; the Western slave trade and the Asante Kingdom; and megalithic ruins in Southern Africa). Gates writes a middle course between two opposing camps: the outmoded "Africa has no history" and the extreme "All civilization originated in Africa". Gates is no scholar of the history of Africa (and he makes this clear in the opening of the book). Readers who know little about Africa will certainly find much of interest here and will enjoy learning about Africa along with Gates. Students of African history might wonder what all the fuss is about. Everyone will admire the beautiful sepia-toned photographs by Lynn Davis. The book is filled out with well-chosen quotations from a variety of historic writers as well as vintage illustrations. Notes on sources are provided.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Martin on December 7, 2000
Format: Hardcover
West Africa Review (2000)
ISSN: 1525-4488
Molefi Kete Asante
I have tried to delay further commentary on the Gates' project until several articles I am writing come out in other venues. However, Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka's comment greatly disturbed me because of its personal nature toward Ali Mazrui. Like all of us, both have flaws, but it is not Mazrui's project that is under scrutiny here, but Henry Gates.' We all confronted Ali during his time on the video stage. Now let us look carefully at the nature of the negativity that is included in the Gates project. The beautiful African coastline in Ghana is studded with the haunted vestiges of slave fortresses built by European nations over a period of four hundred years. It is not unlike the history of the European Slave Trade in other parts of West Africa, from Mauritania to Angola, where more than six hundred slave ports were constructed by Europeans to support the rape of Africa. If one listens closely to Henry Louis Gates, the entire project of slavery would not have occurred if it had not been for African involvement. Blaming the victim for the predicament of enslavement is neither historically correct nor morally valid.
"The Wonders of Africa" television series sponsored by the BBC and the PBS and hosted by Professor Gates is one more attempt to rewrite the history of slavery. Despite the magnificence of the African landscape and the vitality of its modern cities, Gates finds opportunity almost at every turn to reduce the history of Africa to petty warfare and the history of the enslavement of millions of Africans to African culpability.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By icebergslims on October 22, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I think Gates meant well by producing this piece,but his mind is no different from Eurocentrics who constantly degrade Africa and it's culture. I Have been on a crusade to justify Africa's existence in the broad history of the world. Gates Fails to do even this. I am a white person by the way. I recommend Gates instead of trying to displace Egypt from Africa you should look for connections. The connections between Egyptain relgion and African traditions is in there and worth a look. Dubois had said in his books constantly about the african features of ancient egypt. I heard Gates is making a documentary of Egypt,and I wonder if it will be insulting like this book and video set. Can scholars trust Gates not to be a biased eurocentric,nor a manaiac Afrocentric. I enjoyed parts of Africana,but found this book was offesive to African people and their culture. If you want to learn more about pre colonial West Africa check out Basil Davidson,a white historian of Africa,but a whole lot better choice on African history. Gates has no knowleadge of Africa either and it not an expert. He is just a pseudo anthropologist/african historian/book critic. TOny Brown also exposed his envolvment of the jewish coverup of the trans Atlantic slave trade. I shall discuss that on another post
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