This is one heck of a display of learning-in-depth. Professor Nugent is a man well in command of this complex and much-disputed arena. The material is organised in themes: 'Modernity and tradition, power and prestige', 'African socialism and home-grown capitalism' for example. This makes for interesting comparisons between countries, and Prof Nugent treads a well-judged line between looking for generalisations and acknowledging differences of circumstance.
He mixes broad brush with fine detail, and in this he is perhaps less successful. At times it is too easy to lose the thread as he dives off into close examination of conflicting ideas on a topic, suddenly resurfacing into the bigger picture a little further downstream in the narrative. That's good stuff for the historian who's interested in who's said what about event X, but harder for the general reader who loses track. The 11 pages of abbreviations which follow the preface warn of the complexity and the detail of national party politics described later on.
Martin Merediths ' State of Africa' is a more compelling read for the non-specialist, but of course ends up simplifying the 'whys' of such a turbulent and multi-factorial history. Prof Nugent's book is a better reflection of reality, but as a non-historian I'm glad I read Meredith first