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Mistaking Africa: Curiosities and Inventions of the American Mind, Second Edition 2nd Edition

3.4 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0813343860
ISBN-10: 0813343860
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Editorial Reviews


"With this new edition, Professor Keim has updated and expanded an important book for the teaching of Africa in the West. This book does the intellectual heavy-lifting of deconstructing our notions of Africa, but does it in a way accessible and meaningful to students and non-students alike."
—Jeffrey Fleisher,  Rice University


"This book strikes a perfect pitch. Keim takes a serious subject and presents it in a thoughtful, concise, and highly engaging manner. He mixes humorous observations with sophisticated anthropological and historical concepts to make them easily accessible to generalist audiences. As a result, Mistaking Africa contains valuable insights for the novice and experienced Africanist alike. It is a great book for introductory courses on Africa, across a range of disciplines, as well as more specialized courses such as US foreign policy toward Africa."
—Scott D. Taylor, Georgetown University

"This is essential reading for the current generation of otherwise sophisticated young social entrepreneurs who little realize how their ideas about Africa have been shaped. This welcome update includes expansions of the discussion on development, information on US military interests in the continent, an assessment of celebrity activities and recent representations of Africa in feature films, a chapter on the enduring western fascination with African animals, help for finding African materials on the Internet, and analysis of new images drawn from recent ad campaigns."
—Edna Bay, Emory University

About the Author

Curtis Keim is professor of history and political science at Moravian College. The recipient of the college’s Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching, he is (with Enid Schildkrout) the author of The Scramble for Art in Central Africa and African Reflections: Art from Northeastern Zaire.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Westview Press; 2 edition (August 5, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0813343860
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813343860
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #442,619 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I picked this book up as a curiosity, to see what myths there are concerning Africa and if I might harbor a few of my own. For the most part, its successful in stating the many fabrications about the continent, the people on it, and how it all started. These points not withstanding, Mistaking Africa lacked much. To begin with, the author loses his objectivety in many points which seem to point to a tendency to placate rather than teach. In an effort to make the book non-controversial, he doesn't touch African history, glosses over modern racism involving black culture, and makes unsupportable assumptions as to African American views concerning Africa. He is a fence straddler and fence straddling leads to poor scholarship. He debunks some myths, but leaves enough to still make the subject seem inferior. I would suggest before reading this book, read more on Afican history. Introduction to African Civilizations is an excellent primer. Keim makes parts of this book laughable, such as when he does go briefly into history. He talks of the first people to populate the earth. He does state that they began in Africa, but says that they were not black Africans, but a very light people. This is one part of the book that he should state is opinion, since he doesn't give a resource for that particular information. As I stated earlier, please read up on African history before reading this book.
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Format: Paperback
Africa is a continent of great contrasts and poignant ironies; a place and its people simultaneously idealized and vilified in America's popular imagination. On one hand, Americans' views of Africa are characterized by media-driven images of a debased Hobbesian existence. Images of the fleeting post-colonial optimism and promise once surrounding Africa have been replaced with news bites depicting famine, corruption, and seemingly intractable patterns of violence. Neo-Malthusians believe that uncontrolled population growth, rapid environmental degradation, and increasing resource scarcity consign Africa to this miserable fate. On the other hand, Americans envision Africa as a land of idyllic beauty, replete with images of exotic animals, the mythology of the big game safari, and Disney-inspired images. For Westerners, the lack of dissonance from these inconsistent stereotypes underscores our collective ignorance. Ironically, Africa occupies a large part of the American subconscious, though we know little about the continent and are indelibly connected.

In Mistaking Africa, renowned Africanist Dr. Curtis Keim attempts to elucidate the deeply rooted stereotypes that refract and distort our understanding of Africa. In this relatively short monograph, Keim examines both the evolution of a hegemonic racist Western ideology used to justify centuries of colonial and post-colonial exploitive behavior and the way contemporary media images perpetuate and refract this fundamental misunderstanding of Africa and its myriad cultures. Currently the dean of faculty at Moravian College, Dr. Keim is a professor of history and political science who specializes in African art.
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Format: Paperback
This is an annoying, but thought-provoking book. It raises a number of important issues that merit discussion, but typically fails to resolve them. He is ignorant of anthropology. Anthropologists and National Geographic, he says, both do ethnography; ethnography is the study of rural Africa; and rural Africa is not the "real Africa." Yet Keim never says where this "real Africa" is to be found. His message seems to be "everything you know about Africa is wrong." I try to get my students to laugh at his rants, but they seem to have lost all patience with him.
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If you want to feel bad about yourself every time you think of anything relating to the African continent, do yourself a favor and read this book. The author makes several good points, namely that different cultures tend to evolve in parallel as an adaptation to their respective contexts, but meticulously points out flaws in Western stereotypes and casts a lot of blame. He basically calls out any reference to the rural or wild parts of Africa, arguing that advertisements and popular culture should instead depict only ordinary urban culture because that's what life is like for most Africans. The book was based on a good premise, but ends up hyper-critical, hyper-PC, and totally unrealistic. For example, he argues that the word "tribe" came to be used during colonial times as a demeaning term that facilitated the artificial organization of Africans into easily-controlled groups. Even if this entirely true, I don't follow his reasoning to the conclusion that even though many Africans commonly refer to their own "tribe" on legal documents and in casual conversation (food, family history, inherited stories), the word should never be used. Yes, Americans are painfully uneducated about most places in Africa. Yes, the majority of popular references to Africa are mostly biased an inaccurate. I've known this since I first came here. But this book takes it to the extreme of making me feel self-conscious about traveling here, buying anything here, or even thinking about here. I guess it did make me think, but this is a poorly written and frustrating bundle of pages.
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