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4.5 out of 5 stars
Africa: A Biography of the Continent
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 14 October 2002
I found this book rather heavy going, but that is partly because a lot of the more distant history stuff is of little interest to me. I did, however, also find the writing style a little dull.

To be fair, it is very ambitious in scope and provides a breadth of coverage, not just in terms of timescale, but also subjects e.g. linguistics, economics, anthropology etc that is not available in any other texts that I've seen. It is also extensively referenced. For these reasons, I've given 4 stars, despite having not particularly enjoyed reading it.

I am primarily interested in more recent history and, fortunately for me, this is delivered to near perfection in the fantastic 'State of Africa' by Martin Meredith.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on 21 January 2005
For a very thick book I read this in a week and a half. Very well written and easy to read but researched in such a way to add serious credibility. The environmental, historical and anthropological detail that Reader employs is very effective. It helps banish to history the stereotypes and false impressions about Africa that have prevailed for centuries.

Some of the information about African languages, the migration from Africa to the rest of the world, the development of iron and why the established western understanding of the development of civilisations and ancient cities just doesn't apply to Africa are really fascinating.

This should be read by everybody who has lived, travelled or worked in Africa. Brilliant Book.
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on 6 May 2001
I bought this book to please a friend of mine who recommended it. Knowing little about Africa and having little interest in the place, I had no expectations of enjoying the book. However, it turned out to be one of the most memorable books I have ever read and I would recommend it to anyone who has any care for or interest in mankind.
The book is brilliantly researched and could almost be described as an encyclopaedia in terms of the huge range of subjects that it covers. This is not just a history of the African continent, but a history of mankind from primeval times to the present, through various stages and periods of civilization. The book describes the exodus of early man from the African continent 100,000 years ago and the disastrous effects of his eventual return over the last 1000 years. Most poignant perhaps is Mr Reader's descriptions of slave trading, European colonization and later decolonization, and he argues strongly how these disastrous events are still responsible for ongoing suffering amongst the inhabitants of the continent.
I would strongly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in human history - and not least to anyone like myself who knew little about the subject before reading Mr Reader's wonderful book.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 22 September 2003
They aren't kidding when they say 'Biography'! The book literally starts with the birth of the continents and ends with recent history. In between those two points the development of Africa is explained using geology, climate, evolutionary changes, and Western influences. It is clearly and interestingly written. If you want to know why the situation in Africa is what it is today this is an excellent one-stop resource. (If you want information about a specific country or area I wouldn't recommmend this book. Although it goes into a bit more detail on some subjects, it mainly consists of broad information.)
The only reason I didn't give it 5 stars is because the author quotes quite a lot of statistics, which aren't always strictly necessary.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 19 July 2001
I enjoyed the clear, flowing style, packed with facts that are well referenced. If you have an interest in geology, anthropology, history, politics, evolution, in fact anything....... its all here.
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on 5 April 2015
John Reader's magisterial, sympathetic survey of this most misunderstood continent is listed as a history, but it's so much more than that. In its hefty, densley packed 678 page span it covers geology, biology, anthropology, zoology and sociology among dozens of other topics. We don't even get introduced to the first recognizable civilization (the nile valley civilizations) until about 150 pages. It is a testament to Reader's immense skills as a writer of popular history that you don't care at all. As it's title suggests, this isn't a book just about Africans; it's a book about Africa, in its multitudinous vibrancy. If there is one problem, it's that its ever so slightly eurocentric. For example, when discussing de Gama's voyage around the cape, we are abruptly introduced to Arab traders on the Swahili coast. How did they get there, and what societies did they form? How did they interact with native populations? We are not told. As soon as Europe appears on the scene, it is African history through European eyes. This is to a degree understandable; European influence on Africa is colossal, destructive, and crucial in understanding how the continent came to be what it is today. But there is plenty of material on the slave trade, and the imperial scramble, and colonialism. It would have been nice to have got into some of the less well known corners of Africa's history. The same can be said for reader's glossing over of indigineous kingdoms. The songhay emprie gets a single mention (perhaps reflective of the book's emphasis on sub-saharan Africa - but then again, the saharan states were hardly continuous with Arabic north africa), the Ife none at all, and Ethiopia is dealt with occasionally but hardly enough to be reflective of its pre-eminent position as sub-saharan Africa's mightiest civic society.

Despite this, it's by far the best general introduction to Africa I've read. Reader is a masterful, sympthatic storyteller offering up an immensely readable treasure horde of fascinating natural and human history.
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on 25 February 2010
Lives up to its title. It starts in geological time and then shifts up through the gears. We get evolution and man's emergence uniquely here. We see slavery established well before first Arabian and then European opportunists move into trafficking humans from Africa.

Africa is a continent the study of which builds our universal consciousness. The author unsentimentally contrasts romantic ideas of Africa against the vast, ancient continent itself. As Europeans we need to understand the turmoil caused by our 19th Century race to grab African land, and the post World War Two decolonisation that followed.

I read this while travelling in Africa and passed it on to companions, who were soon hooked. Such is this book. It is a feast.

P.S. Thoroughly sets the scene for these Africa classics: Congo Journey,Heart of Darkness,The Tree Where Man Was Born,The Shadow of the Sun: My African Life,Exterminate All the Brutes,Cry of the Kalahari
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 26 April 2001
This is an excellent book that covers the history of Africa in one book. Although most of it is probably at a rather superficial level this keeps the books progress over time moving along and this maintains the interest. References are given for more detailed books on particular aspects. It is even better because of Readers personal involvement with the continent and this makes it more than just a dry research subject.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 25 February 2006
If you have lived or worked in Africa and you need to be confident of what you are talking about when you are in discussions about this amazing and beautiful continent - then you need to have read this book. It is not light reading, but it is absorbing and absolutely crammed with factual, well-researched detail. The Bibliography alone is 43 pages. A real book of reference.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 21 April 2009
I just thought I'd provide the book's actual synopsis because I think it's more helpful than the product description up there ^

"The roots of our ancestry lie in Africa. John Reader's brilliant, panoramic survey traces the development of this huge continent from its earliest geological formation and the beginnings of life, through to the civil wars and genocide that mark it today. He explores the complex, widely differing societies from the great inland estuaries of the Niger and the Okavango, to the rain forests of the Equator and the deserts of the North, the devastating impact of European exploitation on those societies and the recent emergence of independent nations. Challenging many widely held misconceptions, his illuminating account will change the way many people think about Africa."
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