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Africa: A Biography of the Continent

4.5 out of 5 stars 84 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0679738695
ISBN-10: 067973869X
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Frequently Bought Together

  • Africa: A Biography of the Continent
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  • The Fate of Africa: A History of the Continent Since Independence
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"The ancestors of all humanity evolved in Africa," notes photojournalist John Reader at the beginning of this epic, panoramic overview of African history. From the formation of the continent to the present, Reader's informative narrative tells the story of the earliest dwellers and the natural obstacles of desert, jungle, and animals they faced, expertly entwining the development of humanity with the ecological and geographical evolution of the continent. He demonstrates how the physical makeup of Africa is like nowhere else on earth, both supporting and crippling human progress over time. Reader, who has lived and traveled in Africa for many years, explores the migration of humanity as early as 100,000 years ago out of Africa into Europe and South America, forming the earliest indigenous populations in these areas. At the same time he traces the effects of European settlers, slavery, and tribal warfare to the present day's independent states that have suffered through chronic disease, famine, and brutal conflict. Reader's passion for this continent is evident throughout the text, bringing to life his scrupulous research which explores in fascinating detail, the intricate and complex history of Africa. --Jeremy Storey --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Africa's collision with the Eurasian landmass 30 million years ago; the emergence of upright, bipedal human ancestors four million years ago; the migration of anatomically modern nomads out of Africa a mere 100,000 years ago; the rise of Africa's first literate indigenous civilization, Aksum (ancient Ethiopia) in the first century A.D.?these are signposts in a continent's evolution in Reader's unusual, enthralling survey. A British photojournalist who has spent most of his adult life in Africa, he writes with sweeping historical perspective and an engaging familiarity with the continent and its people. Ranging from the earliest known evidence of life on earth?6.6-billion-year-old fossilized bacteria?to recent upheavals in Rwanda and South Africa, this immensely rewarding synthesis is amplified by the author's deeply lyrical, quietly stunning photographs that evoke Africa's beauty and ancient roots. Reader refutes the notion of the Egyptian Nile region as a fulcrum that conveyed civilization to sub-Saharan Africa; instead, he argues, the relationship was one of pillager and pillaged. Blaming European colonizers' near-genocidal slaughter, exploitation and imposition of artificial nation-states for much of contemporary Africa's malaise, he maintains that the "dark continent" has been woefully misunderstood and misused throughout history. His eye-opening chronicle will change the way many think about Africa. Photos.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 816 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (September 7, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067973869X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679738695
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #50,088 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Considering the magnitude of his undertaking, Mr Reader did a superb job of covering his subject in nearly every aspect possible. Almost anyone with an interest in geology, geography, anthropology, ancient and recent history, political science or ethnography will find this book of interest in some aspect. Personally I enjoyed the first half of the volume more than the last half, as the later chapters are a depressing compendium of the inhumanity of mankind to its brethern. The unfortunate effects of foreign involvement in African affairs has a long history, and Mr. Reader dealt with the subject fully and fairly; nor did he entirely absolve native African involvement in the down fall of some of its own cultures. The author seems to have a feel for the complexity of the events that occurred through time and of the reprocussions--the almost dominoe effect--of actions and decisions made, often times outside of Continental Africa itself. (A case of 20-20 hindsight, perhaps). In all a very readable book for anyone desiring a broad overview of Africa.
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Format: Paperback
In this excellent well written fast paced narrative the author takes us on a whirlwind tour of African history from the dawn of man to the present. He gives us small snippets of African history, wonderful tales and illuminating anecdotes. From the Diamond trade to the Slave trade, the to formation of modern states, tribal infighting, the arrival of Europeans and the failed states of today this book is a rip roaring wonderful account of Africa. Beautiful portraits are given of African kingdoms and the colonial world as well as the independence movements, this books catches the culture and feelings of a continent.

However there is one major hole in this book, one that exists throughout African historical narrative, the complete ignoring of the Islamic slave trade in Africa. According to this read Slavery was endemic to Africa, Africans practiced slavery, slaves were sold at Zanzibar, the Europeans refined the slave trade and then England fought slavery. But there is one thing missing. Who was running Zanzibar, why is there a city in Tanzania called Dar es Salaam. The book almost completely ignores 1000 years of Arab and Islamic penetration, subjugation, slavery and trade that took place all throughout the Sahara and East Africa. The anti-slavery campaign of the British was primarily aimed at ending Arab slave trade in East Africa, since the European slave trade in west Africa had been ended by the 1860s. Arab slave traders were so common and powerful that much of Tanzania and Kenya were depopulated of Africans and the slavers had to reach as far as the Congo for their human cargo(Tipoo Tip was the trader in question). It was the Arab thirst for slaves that propelled Africans into the slave trade.
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Format: Paperback
A good introduction to Africa and full of eye-opening facts, perhaps because it's written by a journalist. Also, extraordinary photos, all taken by Reader. But it has some problems. He's best at telling a story, so the later part of the book, dealing with historical incidents, is much better than the earlier part, where he has to rely on archeology. The discussion of the slave trade is probably the strongest and most detailed part of the book. Also, the book is more of a representative sample of parts of African history than a complete survey. That choice may make sense, because Africa is very big, but some of the omissions are too bad. For instance, Reader barely mentions the role of Islam in Africa. I have no political problem with that, but it is somewhat misleading and some readers may not find what they were looking for. Another point: Reader is determined to demonstrate that Europeans and Americans don't give Africans enough credit for their accomplishments. That's fair, but his direct statements of opinion seem out of place in a history. Finally, the maps are totally inadequate.
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Format: Hardcover
Here is a clear, concise, and extremely well-written book. A model, IMHO, of how authors should write history. If you were ever curious about why Hutus kill Tutsi's, why Zaire is such a mess, or how DeBeers came to practically run the South African government, this book's for you. If you haven't been curious, you should be. Read it anyway.
The book covers African history from archaeology and anthropology through present era. (It stops at the 1994 Rwanda crisis and Mandela's election in South Africa).
I picked up the book after reading an excellent review in The Economist. I knew very little about African history and reckoned I should know more. I was not disappointed.
John Reader writes clear and concise prose and chooses his words carefully. Each chapter is fairly "portable" and can be read indpendently and, as a bonus, has an abstract at the beginning which help clarify the author's ideas and direction.
The two shortfalls I found were trivial:
1) I find the archaeology and anthropology less interesting than portions which dealt with the Portugese on. That said, I found the subject matter of the first 200 pages a bit dry.
2) It needs more maps inserted in the body of the book, i.e. detailed enough to support some of the texts. The Appendix in the back contains some interesting maps, not in the level of detail necessary to follow some discussions. (E.g. the Congo headwaters and locations of Brazzaville/Leopoldville.)
That said, I found the book worthwhile and have given it to two friends moving to Kenya. They liked it also.
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