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Book 1

  1. Meredith, Martin — The State of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence (736 pages)

Page count: 736.

Finally! Okay, so I finished it about 3 weeks ago, thereabouts, but still— I'm a bit embarrassed that it took me till March to finish my first book of the year. But this book was worth every second I spent on it!

I've had The State of Africa for a couple of years, long before I knew I was going to Africa. I even read the first 30+ pages back when I bought it and meant to read it piecemeal over the course of the year, because I am fascinated by the subject. It didn't happen, for various reasons.

Of course, when I knew I'd be going to Kenya, I realized this was the perfect opportunity. Additionally, I'd had a (rather large) book by a Kenyan novelist on my shelves for almost as long, and I decided that the time had come to read that book as well but that, before I read that book (or any other book by an African or set in Africa), I needed to arm myself with background information.

I knew practically nothing about Africa, as it gets hardly any mention in American schools. I wanted a general and comprehensive introduction to the continent, and Meredith's book couldn't have been better suited to the task. The focus is post-colonial Africa, with just enough background to have a sense of what preceded independence. The approach is semi-chronological, beginning with Ghana's independence, but each chapter focuses on a different region. Meredith explains in depth the various events and trends — cultural, political, sociological, economic, historical, linguistic, etc. — that shaped each story. There is certainly no lack of information, the textual information enhanced with maps and photos; I won't remember all the specifics — data overload! — but all the information serves to give a very complete impression of the different regions, regimes, and conflicts.

I know I've just scratched the surface, but I feel like I've gone from knowing nothing to attaining (a bit of) expertise. In Kenya I felt comfortable talking about Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi, about the Kikuyu and the Mau-Mau revolution. I feel I can talk semi-intelligently about Kwame Nkrumah, Léopold Senghor, or Nelson Mandela. I better understand the controversies surrounding Ken Saro-Wiwa or Robert Mugabe, the depravity of a Charles Taylor, the depths of corruption all over Africa and especially how it exacerbated the famines in Ethiopia, the extent of tragedy in the Rwandan and Congolese genocides, how clan traditions in Somalia and Cold War politics in Angola fueled those conflicts, the effects of the AIDS epidemic on policy in the region, and so much more.

This is not a cheerful book, but it is an extremely important book. I recommend it without the least reservation to anyone interested in Africa. No, more than that. I urge you to read it, because I think it's important we all understand Africa a little better.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 31st, 2010 01:53 pm (UTC)
Most people, having seen one of the movies titled "King Solomon's Mines" (or having read the Hagard book, a much smaller number), consider themselves experts on the subject. As do those who've watched Tarzan movies (or the much smaller number who've read the Tarzan books), also portraying East Africa. But then most people fail to distinguish between East Africa, West Africa, North Africa and South Africa.

I watched with amusement the Emmett Smith episode of "Who Do You Think Your Are?". Should it surprise anybody that the slave trade hasn't ended in the places where it flourished?
Apr. 12th, 2010 04:38 pm (UTC)
Re: Africa
I just noticed this comment. I never received a notification for it. Strange.
Apr. 12th, 2010 05:43 pm (UTC)
Re: Africa
It looks strange to me. I never entered the "Re:" and it isn't the kind of thing you do. It's more like an email reply than a LJ comment reply. I have to make my comments directly on LJ sites because my system won't allow me to reply via email.

Anyway, the program, various episodes, is available on the Internet and is well worth watching.
Apr. 12th, 2010 08:35 pm (UTC)
Re: Africa
No, no, no, the LJ code automatically adds the “Re: ” to any followup comment in a thread where the previous comment has a title. (You're one of the very few that bothers with titles.) That's not the least bit strange and has nothing to do with e-mail. I also post all my comments directly on LJ. I just usually get notified when someone leaves me a comment and never received a notification for this one.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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