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Crazy River: Exploration and Folly in East Africa Paperback – October 25, 2011

4.4 out of 5 stars 53 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Armchair explorers, rejoice! Richard Grant has gone where we dare not and brought back the news in all its rich, harrowing and lucid detail. The best book about Africa since Paul Theroux's Dark Star Safari.” --T.C. Boyle, author of The Women and When the Killing’s Done

“Heading for Tanzania, intent on exploration- a first descent of the Malagarasi River-, Richard Grant instead finds himself in the shadow of Burton and Speke, Stanley and Livingston on an altogether unexpected frontier of the unknown- the reality of contemporary Africa. The result is a kaleidoscopic romp through chaos, contradiction, madness and wonder. A fierce account, honestly told, and refreshingly frank.” –Wade Davis, author of One River and Into the Silence

“In his last book when he was being chased by killers in Mexico for a couple days I questioned Richard Grant’s sanity in trying to be the first to travel the length of Tanzania’s Malagarasi River. The hippos and crocodiles are the problem, also the dreadful diseases that daily afflict you. This is a truly wonderful book about East Africa.” –Jim Harrison, author of Returning to Earth

“Way back when, we crawled out of the Great Rift in Africa. Richard Grant explains that this ancient womb is the theater of our future. This coming world will have a lot of people fighting over dwindling piles of junk. This future will looks a lot like murder. This time we are all going down Crazy River and forget the damn life jackets. They belong to the past we devoured. Let Richard Grant take you to your new home. But let me warn you: we will not get home before dark.” —Charles Bowden, author of Murder City

“As he did in God's Middle Finger, Grant takes us into a world where few willingly venture. His feverish journey from Zanzibar, down an uncharted river and into the broken heart of 21st century Africa is by turns funny, poignant, frightening and deeply disturbing. The future Grant shows us with such lucidity and compassion is one his predecessors, Stanley, Livingstone and Burton could never have envisioned.” –John Vaillant, author of The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival

Fear and loathing in East Africa as travel writer Grant traverses the ravaged continent in search of a mysterious river and the source of the Nile...Dyspeptic, disturbing and brilliantly realized, Grant’s account of Africa is literally unforgettable." --Kirkus Reviews

"A mixture of offbeat characters and travelogue, an entertaining and informative first-person account of a man who’s very much out of his element but very keen to learn everything he can." --Booklist

"Grant’s gift for getting detoured...makes this one of the year’s most surprising adventure books, taking us well beyond jungle and river..part sociologist, part journalist, and “more interested in what happened along the way than achieving goals or reaching destinations.” --Men's Journal

"as detailed in this thoroughly engrossing new book, Crazy River: Exploration and Folly in East Africa, Grant's quest for adventure and discovery didn't go unrewarded." --Tucson Weekly

"This is Grant’s third travel book, and he strikes a wonderful balance between evoking the sepia-toned, blood-stained, imperialist past and the hungry, gritty independent realism of modern East Africa. Never one to focus on his own accomplishments, and slow to judge others, he manages to serve up equal portions of humility and pathos." --Lonely Planet

"To discover Africa is a quest that has burned away at the European soul since Ptolemy. Richard Grant goes on his own by bus, boat and foot to reach the source of the (White) Nile and find out what really drives Africa." --San Francisco Book Review

About the Author

Richard Grant is an award-winning author, journalist, and television host. His books include Crazy River, the adventure classic God’s Middle Finger, and American Nomads, which has since been made into a BBC documentary of the same name.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; Original edition (October 25, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439154147
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439154144
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #103,474 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am a solo backpacking traveler--more than 24 third-world countries on four continents. Two of my sojourns have been to Africa and so I understood well the trials and tribulations of Grant--the reasons for his choosing his route and destinations and the inevitable discombobulated nature of his trip. I know full well that no travel in Africa is ever linear, coherent or predictable no matter how well thought out or planned. For some unfathomable reason it is the nature of Africa, as no other place in the world, to confound those who visit and stymy those who search for answers there to grand questions and attempts to glean its soul.
What happened to Grant also happened to me and countless others. Prior to going there, after extensive research on my intended route, I thought I knew what to expect but once there I immediately found myself adrift in a completely alien world with no direction and no way home. My mind was constantly enveloped in a fog as if I were in a dream-- I was unable to think clearly and found myself always trapped in the present with no consciousness of past or future--and so I drifted from one event to the next-- never knew where I would find myself next--never knew where I should go or what I should do. I might have been there forever but as all dreams end, so too did my stay there. How I managed to hang onto enough sanity, reason and strength to do what I had to do to leave I do not know. Grant's experience seemed to mirror mine in all respects--incoherent, discombobulated and without direction. Any third world vagabond would enjoy and identify with his account and recognize it as authentic.
The quote I most liked was Grant's reference to Raymond Aron's thought that "Optimism is usually the effect of an intellectual error." How true--particularly in Africa.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Okay, now that I've gone on record on Amazon about how actively I disliked Julian Smith's Crossing the Heart of Africa — an award winner? really ? — I feel it only right to explain exactly WHY I enjoyed Crazy River so much. Comparing the two, to me, is like comparing Paul Theroux with a college undergraduate essaying his way through first-year creative writing.

Grant is acerbic, witty and a keen observer of human nature. I have traveled extensively in Tanzania and on Zanzibar; Grant got Zanzibar spot on. And not a romanticized, 19th century version of Zanzibar, either, but Zanzibar as it is in 2015.

Grant has an expedition in mind — he's quite up-front about how quickly his plans fall apart, and his own shortcomings as a would-be explorer. Even though his plans fall apart, though, he stays on a linear course. Crazy River has a genuine beginning, middle and a real end. That ending, in Rwanda, following a face-to-face sit-down interview with Rwandan president Paul Kagame, immediately after being overwhelmed at the genocide memorial in Kigali, reads both true and profound, and is not at all what you might expect.

I cannot overemphasize how much I enjoyed Crazy River, and how much I appreciated being taken on Grant's journey with him. And make no mistake: This book is so sharp, so keenly observed, so well-written, so fascinating in every respect, that as a reader you are genuinely there with him, every step of the way.

I know a little bit of Africa. Not much, just what I've seen with my own eyes and experienced myself. I know people — expats and locals both — who live in Tanzania, Kenya and other countries, and have either chosen to make East and Central Africa their home, or have lived there all their lives.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Actually, despite the title of my review, I did enjoy this book considerably, it is just that there wasn't actually that much of the book that was truly about the river. It was a mostly enjoyable and entertaining read, though at times I got annoyed with the author or with his portrayals of the various characters he met along the way. I am a resident of Tanzania and have traveled in Burundi and Rwanda as well, therefore I feel competent to say there were times that his reflections were spot on, but other times, he seemed to rely on stereotypes and hearsay. It is true that in the few months he was on the road, it would be impossible for him to have a "complete" experience (if anyone ever can?!?), but sometimes he presented himself as a bit of an authority in things of which he has a pretty limited view.

The last irksome bit was the way in which he expressed such relief at being back in America- hah- he was only there a couple of months- how can you get so worn out by Africa in only a couple of months??

All that said, I have no trouble recommending this book for anyone about to embark on an African adventure, especially one in East Africa, or anyone who knows someone there. It is a pleasant way to spend an autumn weekend, curled up by a nice fire with a cup of hot cocoa, or in the hotter climate of Dar es Salaam- on the beach with a cold gin and tonic.

PS I read the kindle version which did not have a map. If don't know if the hard copy version of the book has a map of Grant's route in it, but it would have been a nice thing to have.
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