54 countries, 1 billion people, a lot of ignorance - ISO books on Africa
September 22, 2020 12:34 AM   Subscribe

I know very little about contemporary Africa and looking for books to plug that gap. Specific detail requests below the fold.

I am looking for *non-fiction* books about African countries/regions, published since 2000. African authors preferred, but not essential. Scholarly works are okay, but prefer books for non-academic readers. Must be written in English or available in English translation.
I have seen this post, and there are some great recommendations I am going to follow up. Anything published since then is great, and anything that is more focussed on Africa today rather than 'just' history is also good.
I am looking for both books like Peter Frankopan's 'The Silk Roads' but for Africa - an explanation of the past and how it lead to the current situation, preferably with a bit of analysis. Specifically interested in current politics, economics and security, but if you have a good book about a region or country in Africa that fits the paragraph above I am happy for the recommendation.
I have read, and enjoyed, Blood River: A Journey to Africa's Broken Heart
by Tim Butcher. I have read a few books about the Rwandan genocide, from both Rwandan and foreign viewpoints, so probably don't need books set in that area. And I am not looking for fiction.
posted by Megami to Society & Culture (13 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
The Five Books series often have good recommendations. Here are two of theirs on Africa: https://fivebooks.com/best-books/africa-michela-wrong/

They have other ones on specific topics and countries.
posted by TheRaven at 12:48 AM on September 22, 2020 [4 favorites]

Somalia: Economy without State by Peter Little

It's focused on a very particular topic, but well-written and thought-provoking. Especially to recommend if you have an interest in anarchist ideas.

Local Politics and the Dynamics of Property in Africa by Christian Lund

It's dense and definitely written by an academic; gives a detailed look at land use conflict and law in Ghana. You'll learn along the way about earthpriests and their contested role in land use rights.
posted by bertran at 1:34 AM on September 22, 2020

Some of the books from Daraja Press look at African matters from a lefty perspective. The recent one on decolonization and feminism is good (full disclosure: I copyedited it).
posted by zadcat at 5:19 AM on September 22, 2020

The Monkey Cage, Washington Post's political column, has an African Politics Summer Reading group lead by African Studies/Political Science professors Kim Yi Dionne and Laura Seay. Books span academic and non-academic, with a sprinkling of fiction, but they are all quite recent and come with additional commentary/interviews with authors, etc. This is the seventh summer it's been running, so if you click around you can find other recommendations.
posted by ChuraChura at 6:10 AM on September 22, 2020 [4 favorites]

Dancing in the Glory of Monsters is about the DRC and one of the biggest wars you've never learned about. Super accessible and engaging.
posted by quadrilaterals at 6:22 AM on September 22, 2020

Seconding Dancing in the Glory of Monsters. The Bright Continent was good and also very accessible, though not without its own issues.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 6:25 AM on September 22, 2020

Africa: An Encyclopedia of Culture and Society. Expensive textbook but your library may have a copy.
posted by girlmightlive at 6:54 AM on September 22, 2020

Martin Meredith’s The Fate of Africa is an excellent and very readable account of the tragic history of post-colonial Africa. Also great is The Fortunes of Africa, an an overview of 5,000 years of pre-colonial history, which I for one learned next to nothing about in school.
posted by ottereroticist at 7:07 AM on September 22, 2020

Not a book, but I get tons of reliable news about Africa every day from the English language feed of France 24, a 24 hour news channel based in you-can-probably-guess-where. It is also surprisingly centrist, defying my expectations of a French national media outlet. The feed is streamed continuously on Youtube, and probably other places, too. It's one of the few sources of comprehensive news about Africa, and they tend to cover more science and environment stories than a comparable US media service. It has become a real favorite of mine in the last three years. Also, they get actual Africans to talk about Africa, not some Western Talking Head. Their network of local reporters is unmatched by any other organization. Highly recommended.
posted by seasparrow at 8:09 AM on September 22, 2020 [3 favorites]

At first I thought your headline was about there being ignorance in all of Africa, but then I realized you probably meant your own ignorance about the continent. Sorry about that. Maybe you might want to make it more clear?
posted by dum spiro spero at 9:19 AM on September 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

The Washington Post publishes an African booklist every year.
posted by shoesietart at 9:51 AM on September 22, 2020

Anything by Alex De Waal is going to be worth checking out; he usually focuses on Sudan and the Horn of Africa
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 11:54 AM on September 23, 2020

As you know, Africa is a continent with dozens of countries with varying histories, cultures, languages, influences, etc.. While reading books about "Africa" is a reasonable place to begin, be aware that these books, out of the necessity of combining a vast and diverse continent into a manageable volume will tend to smooth over many of the rough edges. So I recommend only spending a little while on continent-wide books.

Some that come to mind: Once you have a broad understanding of what happened in the continent, I recommend picking a set of countries (Say, DRC and Rwanda since you already read a few books about them) or regions (Francophone West Africa, Anglophone East Africa, Anglophone West Africa, Central Africa, etc.) you care about and going deep. I am a big fan of the "Context" section of the Rough Guide series of travel guides. Especially the Books, Film and Music sub-sections. Pick up a recent copy of Rough Guide for the countries (or countries in the regions you are interested in) from your public library. Look at the books recommended in that sub-section and dive in from there.

Here are ones about DRC and Rwanda that I found to be good: Since Rwanda and the DRC are inextricably linked by the multi-national war in Central Africa, you can then expand into reading up on the involvement of neighboring countries in this conflict. Tanzania, Uganda, Angola, Zambia,....
posted by thaths at 11:30 AM on September 24, 2020

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