Seeking recommendations: books about African history
June 28, 2015 8:22 PM   Subscribe

Once again, I'm reminded of everything I don't know, so it's time to start organizing my next round of what-to-read. This time: African history. Any recommendations would be very welcome.

I know there's no way I can ever expect to learn all there is, and that this is kind of like saying "what is science?" I'm just hoping to replace some of my ignorance with a general understanding of some of the most major events over, say, the last 100 or so years, focusing on the northern countries? (Or anything you think would be particularly significant.)

Thanks for your time!
posted by ElaineMc to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You want the UNESCO General History of Africa series. It's many long volumes, but very readable and thorough, and you can skip around to the parts that most interest you. Fascinating, and totally worth putting in the time. You can buy the books, or read it all for free online. Or just skip to the end and read the last volume, which covers Africa since 1935.
posted by decathecting at 8:38 PM on June 28, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: When I took an undergrad course in African history about a dozen years ago, the textbook was Kevin Shillington, The History of Africa. The most recent edition was published in 2012.
posted by obscure simpsons reference at 9:09 PM on June 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It's been a long time since I read it, but Ghandi's autobiography starts with his time in South Africa and the beginnings of the struggle for a non-violent resolution to the racist state policies there.

It's on my mind because I've been reading the Phillip Glass' autobiography and he was talking about his opera Satyagraha (based on those events).
posted by cleroy at 9:11 PM on June 28, 2015

Best answer: King Leopold's Ghost
posted by HumuloneRanger at 10:06 PM on June 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I recommend Chinua Achebe's "There Was a Country" for the Biafran War.
posted by eugenen at 4:06 AM on June 29, 2015

Best answer: Alex de Waal and Julie Flint, Darfur: A New History of a Long War
posted by lullaby at 8:17 AM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A good overview of the recent history of African countries, with a focus on their post-independence period (though with sufficient context provided in terms of their pre-colonial & colonial history) can be found in Martin Meredith's The State of Africa, rebranded as the Fate of Africa in the US market for some reason. I found it very well-written, and loved the structure of the book - one dense but readable chapter for each country, which was perfect for somebody with not much knowledge of that part of the world. Not that all countries got equal amount of treatment - I remember his focus on Algeria and other North African states being fairly extensive, for example, whereas Burkina Faso merited much fewer pages.

He has also come out with another book recently, which I have bought but not read - The Fortunes of Africa, which explores its full history of 5,000 years.

In the same vein, I can also recommend Africa: A Biography of the Continent which was beautifully written. Loved particularly his geological history of the continent.

Since you are looking for more recent history however, let me close out with one more recommendation though this is more focused on a single country -
Congo: A Epic History mixes a lot of oral history with standard history writing to produce a compulsively-readable book. Fairly good explainer of the recent wars in the Congo which saw the involvement of so many of its neighbours (Dancing in the Glory of Monsters is supposed to be a closer look at this conflict, but I have not read it yet).
posted by imon at 1:00 PM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

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