What books should you read on Africa?

Chris Blattman offers up his list in two parts, here and here, the second relying on suggestions from Elliot Green.  I’ll add a few suggestions to these lists, including P.T. Bauer’s West African Trade, Stanislav Andreski’s The African Predicament, The Da Capo Guide to African Music, Martin Lynn on the palm oil trade, and Robert Klitgaard’s Tropical Gangsters

But I am forgetting lots so please help out in the comments…


How about Robert Bates' "Market and States in Tropical Africa"?

It's a novel but "A Bend In the River" by V.S. Naipaul is very good, in my opinion.

For Africa from an outsider's perspective, how about Norman Rush's Mating?

I also like Ted Craig's suggestion of _A Bend in the River_ and would add "Things Fall Apart."

Easterly's The White Man's Burden

Bend in the River is great, as is John Updike's underappreciated The Coup.

Yes, I probably should have included King Leopold's Ghost, which is a great read.

Another more recent one is Michela Wrong's I Didn't Do It for You, which is an extremely well-written history of Eritrea, with lots of fascinating anecodotes about Italian colonialism, World War II battles in Africa, the presence of the US during the Cold War and Ethiopia-Eritrea relations.

I enjoyed Untapped: The Scramble for Africa's Oil, by John Ghazvinian. The author travels to various locations in Africa and has some very interesting accounts of what oil does to the local economies.

Thanks for mentioning The Coup! Who better to tell us about African politics--as well as the marriage of Barack Obama's parents--than John Updike.

I just finished Martin Meredith's The Fate of Africa, which is a pretty good political history of the past 50 years that came out a couple years ago.

P.J. O'Rourke's bit on Zimbabwe in Eat the Rich is also amusing.

The Shackled Continent by Robert Guest

Rian Malan's My Traitor's Heart for an apocalyptic read on South Africa.

Any of the books that came out of the Sophiatown Renaissance in the late 1950s. Anthony Sampson's Drum and Mike Nicholl's A Good-Looking Corpse retell the story (Sampson was editor of Drum) but the original works are great - anything by Can Themba, Casey Motsisi, Bloke Modisani, Nat Nakasa.

For African music, I'd recommend Volume 1 of the Rough Guide to World Music, which covers Africa and the Middle East with incredible thoroughness - though be prepared to follow up by spending a fortune on CDs.

The Shadow of the Sun by Ryszard Kapuscinski is one of my favorite books. He was a correspondent for the Polish foreign service through decades of African history. I read this at the tail end of 7 months in South Africa then Ghana, though I imagine I would have loved it without my own travels.

States and Power in Africa by Jeffrey Herbst is a really great analysis of African political economy. Definitely read this too.

Basil Davidson's The Black Man's Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation-State

For a serious research read, get the Americana Encyclopedia Annual which is published each year and has a review for each country. Provides great continuity of subject.

"Who better to tell us about African politics--as well as the marriage of Barack Obama's parents--than John Updike."

Updike has an African son-in-law and an African daughter-in-law, so his knowledge is extensive and personal. Thus his uncanny foresight into what we know now about Obama's parents' marriage -- e.g., that it was illegally bigamous -- is all in The Coup.

+1 Dark Star Safari
+1 The Shadow of the Sun
Sunday by the Pool in Kigali

This is great; I am reading from Liberia at the moment.

"The State of Africa" by Martin Meredith is a really nice, recent journalistic/historical overview of political events across the continent since Independence.

And "Africa Works" by Chabal and Daloz is essential reading for anyone interested in political economy and patronage.

Dark Star Safari is amazing, and so is The Soccer War by Kapuscinzki.

If anyone reads in french, a very subversive book by Cote d
Ivoire's Axelle Kabou called "Et si l'Afrique refusait le developpement?" ("What if Africa refused development?"), is a really great read.

For "fiction" - What is the What, by Dave Eggers, is stunning. It's a first person account of one of the Lost Boys of Sudan.

I'd add '28' by Stephanie Nolan. It's 28 individual stories about AIDS in Africa

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