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Wonders of the African World Paperback – January 16, 2001
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-- Marion Wright Edelman
"This is more than a book about Africa. It is a study in black America's profound ambivalence about our shared ancestral continent. Caught between a distaste for Africa within his own family and his abiding love for and fascination with Africa, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., traverses the continent with a keen eye, a brilliat mind, and an ambivalent heart."
-- Ali Mazrui, State University of New York at Binghampton
"From Ethiopia to Nubia, from Swahili country to West Africa, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., takes us on a fascinating journey, teaching us about the great civilizations we do not know well enough and making us reconsider the Africa we thought we already understood."
-- Reverend Jesse Jackson
From the Inside Flap
Wonders of the African World is an exuberant, visually stunning journey across Africa and through the history of its glorious but forgotten civilizations.
Traveling by camel, by dhow, by Land Cruiser, and on foot, the renowned scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., takes us to twelve countries in search of Africa's magnificent past, the now neglected civilizations that in their day were as grand and sophisticated as any on the face of the earth. From Nubia's ancient empire, which for a time ruled Egypt and centuries before had established the earliest known African city, to the fabled town of Timbuktu, where during the medieval period there thrived a center of scholars that rivaled any in Europe and where books were as prized as gold, to Ethiopia's Christian kingdom, where the Lost Ark of the Covenant is said to reside under perpetual vigil, Gates reveals an Africa little known to Westerners. And as he shows us the achievements that exploiters o
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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.
It is a pity that Gates did not travel in central Africa, along the Congo River. That's the part of Sub-Saharan Africa with no ancient books (like Timbuktu), no lost cities of stone (like Southern Africa and Sudan), no ancient priesthood or empire (like Ethiopia). It would heve been very interesting to see what Gates would have made of it.
A full-fledged and highly recommended history of Africa is "Africa: A Biography of the Continent" by John Reader. Also see Basil Davidson's "The Black Man's Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation-State", "Modern Africa: A Social and Political History", and "Africa in History: Themes and Outlines".
The chapter Nubia: Black Gods And Kings, deals with a journey up the Nile from northern Sudan to Egypt while discussing the history of ancient Egypt's southern neighbour. It includes an account of the Kingdom of Kush, whose kings were also pharaos of Egypt between 712 and 664 BC, and also looks at Kerma, Meroë and the Kingdom of Napata.
Chapter two, Ethiopia: Holy Land And The Lost Ark Of The Covenant, looks at the history of this Christian land, including the Kingdom of Aksum. Salt, Gold And Books is the third chapter and it explores the road to Timbuktu. On the way, it deals with interesting subjects like the Griot (praise singer), the Dogon people, the Empire of Mali and the contemporary country.
The next visit is to the East Coast (which includes Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar and Pemba), with its ancient historical connections to the other cultures around the Indian Ocean. The chapter Time Of Forgetfulness focuses on West Africa, the tragic history of the slave trade, the Akan and Asante peoples, and the Kingdom of Dahomey.
The last chapter, South Africa and Zimbabwe, investigates the legends of the lost city of Monomotapa by looking at the site of Mapungubwe, at the Great Zimbabwe ruins and at the early Shona states. There is a complete map of Africa, plus a map of the area in question at the start of each chapter, all in full color. Impressive color photographs and a wealth of black and white plus color illustrations enhance the text. This gripping read ends with notes and an index.