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Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles [Hardcover]

Richard Dowden
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Sep 2008
The finest living Africa correspondent delivers, after a lifetime's close observation of the miraculous continent, a landmark book on life and death in modern Africa.Dowden has now, after 35 years on the continent, written a memoiristic history of its peoples' experiences in the wake of the European withdrawal and the superpowers' arrival. He has been present at each of the continent's major crises and writes illuminatingly about them, but he is as passionate about the warmth, wisdom and joy he has encountered in peacetime, and the diversity of habits, attitudes and purposes to which he has been Britain's best witness. His book is no less than a benchmark publication on this most misunderstood and mishandled of continents.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Portobello Books Ltd; First Edition edition (1 Sep 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846271541
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846271540
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 16.6 x 5.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 456,331 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'A remarkable, ground-breaking achievement, capturing the complex texture of a rapidly changing continent. It is also terribly moving' -- Independent

'A wise, compassionate and understanding account of Africa, written by a man who has glimpsed deeper truths about the continent' -- The Times

'Dowden maintains the reader's interest by skilfully interviewing his research into stories of myriad encounters with Africans rich and poor' -- Economist

'Few journalists have travelled in Africa so widely for so long and few can match his indefatigable quest for knowledge' -- Literary Review

'This book is an inspiring gift of hope about a continent that never ceases to surprise'
-- The Times


'A remarkable, ground-breaking achievement, capturing the complex texture of a rapidly changing continent. It is also terribly moving'

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
52 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Concise introduction to a complex continent 19 Mar 2009
This book is almost 600 pages long, and still feels like an abridged account of Africa. I actually thought it was pretty bold to call the book 'Africa' - like a little boy with a toy gun calling himself a cowboy, so I approached the book expecting to disparage it immediately. Having grown up in some of the countries written about in the book, I realized Dowden had actually lived through it enough to warrant telling the tale. I believe this book far outranks many of the history books on Africa, and should be required reading for all high school kids.

Post colonial Africa evokes different types of emotions depending on which side of the railway line you grew up on, so its easy to understand why descendants of the colonialists themselves might not find this an easy read. Dowden places a great deal of the blame for Africa's woes squarely on them and other factors like foreign aid. My opinion is biased because I tend to agree.

Those without any type of bias will find the book extremely fascinating. Discovering Africa through Dowden has left me feeling that I should make the same commitment and re-discover the beautiful continent of Africa.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Africa: Altered States Ordinary Miracles 19 Jan 2009
This book should be required reading for anyone with an interest in Africa. The author has a profound understanding, through many years of experience, of what makes Africa tick. His writing is underscored by an evident personal commitment and compassion for the continent and its inhabitants. Africa is at a cross roads in its development following the momentous developments at the end of the last century and with a new, powerful influence from Asia and China in particular. The old practices which have led to rampant corruption might at last be under threat with the emergence of a new middle class who understand the need for change for the betterment of their countries. Time will tell but this book gives cause for cautious optimism although the road ahead is a long one. Don't hesitate, read it!
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A delicate balancing act 4 May 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Richard Dowden suffered the misfortune of being held responsible for an ill-advised cover of "The Economist" about a decade ago. The cover depicted a teenage African boy wielding a heavy weapon and suggested that the entire continent was a lost cause.

Dowden has redeemed himself by writing this excellent book. It does not pretend to be anything more than an introduction to a continent in which he has spent much time and knows intimately. Conscious of being accused of taking too broad a brush to a vast and very varied continent, Dowden explains in the book that his audience is not the Africa veteran; rather, it is the dismissive European who, like that stupid "The Economist" cover, thinks of Africa as a place beyond redemption.

This was a very difficult balancing act to perform and I congratulate Mr Dowden on having done a marvellous job. Now what he must do is a Winston Churchill: break it all up and write every last detail, there's a good chap, Richard!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful 10 Aug 2009
Dowden does understand the nature of Africa and you can really sense his passion for the continent. I must admit learning the politics and history of some countries can be muddled and often irrelevent, looking at wikipedia can be helpful but doesn't exactly evoke integrity? Dowden gives snippets of personal stories, history and importantly his own assessments of past and future Africa. It is a long book but in a sense it could be longer, the treasure of it all is how he manages to inform you so well in so little time!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping and Insightful 25 July 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is simply gripping and illuminates both the miseries and joy of the wonderful continent of Africa: all its ambiguities and complexities. Having travelled many times, its a perfect account and explanation of all the unseen political and socioeconomic things that effect what you observe, but have no real explanation for when in any country there. For me it gives great hope that eventually African countries will be able to break away from the colonialism of the past and make there own peace in the their own African way.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Original, well written, refreshing. 20 Aug 2011
By gwaan
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Why 5 stars?

1. Because it is one of those rare books on Africa that portrays its peoples with empathy and understanding. The usual negative stereotypes are refreshingly absent, and instead the wider picture, which is far from all doom and gloom, emerges to present a Complex, Varied, Energetic continent.

2. The depth of first hand information is very interesting, and again devoid of the usual Vertical approach of "I was in Africa and i saw this and this and therefore this and that happens. Oh, and the solution would be..." This book is the contrary, it opens more questions that it even tries to answer, and leaves the reader well intrigued into the mechanisms of Africa's very different societies.

3. Related to point 2, the insight into rarely discussed aspects of Social Africa are superb. I can attest this from his portrait of Somalis (i have lived and worked in Somaliland), a wonderfully intricate society that is so much more than the usual stereotypes. In fact, it was so refreshingly accurate that it simply makes you fall in love with this country. Superb writing. But it goes further, his portrait of the Senegalese Muslim brotherhoods, their economic and theological influence on the country. At last a book on Africa that actually celebrates Africa for what it really is, and it does so while at the same time admitting and mentioning in fair detail its many problems. Having read dozens and dozens of books on the country (my speciality being Ethiopian Studies and the horn of Africa), i would without hesitation recommend this one as the single & introductory book of choice.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly accurate political and social overview of various African...
I bought this book when I was living West Africa. Mr Dowden starts his book with an almost-too-happy account of his time as a naive young educator in Uganda. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Scott Barlow
5.0 out of 5 stars The book deserves an award
As an African myself, I found this book very brutal and honest. Richard managed to give a brief straight to the point summary on every chapter, allowing the reader to understand... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Marie Lefebvre
5.0 out of 5 stars The real thing
Having no experience of Africa before the trip to Uganda which prompted me to read this book beforehand, I can't give an authoritative review; but it has the resounding ring of... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Dick_Wynne
5.0 out of 5 stars Good
I got this as a gift for someone and had it delivered to him outside the UK. He loved it so I guess it must have been a good book.
Published 6 months ago by Helen
4.0 out of 5 stars Accurate description of this continent
A must read for any Africa watcher, visitor, citizen of this amazing continent that should hopefully break all chains that are holding it back from developing its full potential.
Published 8 months ago by Kindle Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing insight into Africa
One of the most educational, yet enthralling books I have read in a long time.

Dowden provides both the factual and physiological overview of each sub Saharan country to... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Kara Hurry
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic book
This was a perfect Christmas gift for a loved family member - and was thoroughly enjoyed giving a real insight into life in Africa
Published 13 months ago by Sarah Bryant
5.0 out of 5 stars Learnt so much!
Having grown up in South Africa I was shielded from a lot of the reality of what was going on in Africa. This book has made me want to read more about the history of the continent.
Published 13 months ago by Alan Mcgilvray
1.0 out of 5 stars a masterpiece?
I'm puzzled by this book's reception. It has some excellent reviews from critics and Amazon and I thought it began well. But I soon got really irritated by it. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Charles Clifford
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
This book introduces you to Africa in a way very few books can! It is a 'tour de force', taking you through sub-Saharan Africa, almost on a country-by-country basis. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Faleti, A.
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