38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on 5 February 2002
This is one of the finest historical books I have ever read and would recommend it to anyone! It was a pleasure to read and my knowledge of the European involvement in Africa has gone from strength to strength. I now find myself looking at maps of the continent and knowing which country used to be ruled by what power and how this came about. The constant flow from place to place and topic to topic means you do not get bogged down in one area of the continents history. For example you read a chapter on South Africa, then move on to the Congo and then on to Egypt, before reading some more about South Africa. A fantastic piece of historical work!
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 30 March 2009
Perhaps The Scramble for Africa is not what most people would want to read about, but having read a decent amount about post colonial Africa, I thought I'd find out just how the Imperialists got their dirty little mitts on it in the first place.
Packenham's book is majestic. Some of the subject matter in the hands of someone less skilled would become unbearable. Inter-department shenanigans of various French governments? With Packenham it's fascinating!
The book covers a huge subject, from the early explorations of Livingstone through to a time where all but Ethiopia and Liberia remained unconquered. This includes the European government machinations, the 'scientific' explorations, the missions, the wars, the capitalist exploitation and everything in between.
Startlingly, Packenham brings hundreds, if not thousands, of the central characters to life in such a small space (albeit nearly 700 pages of fineprint). Not only the well-known major players like Stanley, Leopold and Rhodes of whom we'd all heard, but people like Tippu Tip, Lugard, George Goldie and King Mwanga are all leant such an incredible depth of character.
The story is fascinating, if at times farcicle, gruesome and ditressing.
I found two factors shocking. The first is the complete lack of plan the European powers had when entering into the scramble, made worse by the frivolous tit-for-tat nature of much of the division of Africa between France and Britain. I had naively thought that a reasonably serious analysis of the continent had been undertaken prior to a systematic division largely based on resources.
The second was the shocking atrocities the Imperial governments were willing to sweep under the carpet to get what they wanted. How could governments such as Salisbury's allow events such as Rhodes' massacre of Lobengula's people in Matabeleland?
This is no anti-colonial rant, I completely understand the complicity of the African Kings in in the slave trade and the terrible actions of the Arab slave traders long after the Europeans tried to stop it. But irrelevant of this, how the powers, purportedly expanding on the back of the so-called three C's (Christianity, Civilisation and Capatalism) allowed such -let's err towards understatment- ungentlemanly actions is beyond me.
In summary, Packenham takes an broad subject and brings it to life. It's so good even the boring bits are interesting!
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 17 May 2008
Pakenham gives you the detail without the drudgery; the tale without the tediousness; takes you right into the heart of history but manages to make the ride effortless. His story spans two continents, includes a myriad of characters and covers many years of imperial intrigue in Africa. Yet, he not only stays true to the facts, he also gives you a human story. You can close your eyes and see Leopold or Lobengula or any of the hundreds of actors that claimed this stage of human history. Here is a priceless account of how and why it happened; the partition of Africa in the nineteenth century by several European nations. A must read!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 27 January 2013
This is a very well written book, reads very easily. The author manages to keep a steady flow going despite the many different strands. The titles of the chapters, with dates, help the reader keep track of where she is. One of those histories that is a pleasure to read, because the author's style is fluent and uncomplicated. I find myself looking up even more detail using Google and Wiki, to see (more) pictures, or check something up, but there really is no need - it is simply a sign that my interest has been stirred. For an amateur reader a good choice of book to find out more about the amazingly messy and often incompetent scramble for Africa.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 21 February 2005
Thomas Pakenham's book is an exhaustive account of the exploration and colonisation of Africa during the 19th century. This is of course a very wide subject, but he manages to pull it off very well. Pakenham manages not to descend into a litany of dates, but really tells a proper story with all the interesting details included. My only complaint is that he does spend more time on the British activities than on some of the others which are equally worthy of attention. It's only a minor niggle however, and definitely not a reason to hold off buying the book. Overall it is a well-balanced book that doesn't try to assign blame to one or the other party.
This part of history is neglected in European history lessons, which I think is mostly because a large part of it is quite embarassing for modern readers. The arrogance and blatant disregard for the original inhabitants of the continent is breathtaking at times. On the other hand, this book left me amazed that any of the European powers had empires at all. The sheer scale of incompetence, back-stabbing and bloody-mindedness is astounding...sometimes you can't see how they managed to get anything done at all. It does make for a good story, and I'd recommend the book to anybody with an interest in African or European history.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 25 July 2001
This is that rarest of historical works.
It is excellently researched, well written and once you start reading it you will not stop.
It reads like a novel and Pakenham manages to infuse what is a serious and often grim subject with a flavour of humour with his unerring turn of phrase and wit
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 31 July 2013
When you first see this book, it looks daunting! 670 tightly printed pages! But once you get started, you can't put it Down. It tells the story from the early explores to the 1st World War, of how the European Powers explored and divided Africa between them, in a very living language, with cliff hangers at the end of chapters, and with very colorful details.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 12 February 2000
History truly comes alive in this book that reads like a novel. The story of the European powers exploration and exploitation of the African continent. Adventure and tragedy, romance and triumph, it is all here.
An enthralling read, whether you are historically minded or not.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 28 July 2004
This is a very well written book covering an often-neglected (and rarely taught) era of history and area of the world.
It covers the era at the end of the 19thC when the european powers started carving up africa and attempts to answer some of the questions about why nations did this (the answer, it seems, is to stop others getting there first), and how.
Some of the detail is wonderful and you are struck by how much research Pakenham must have done. Unfortunately, in trying to cover a whole continent, Pakenham does tend to focus on the british angle and the big events at the expense of other nations, so there's a lot about the Belgian Congo, South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan and Nigeria - but you're left wondering about the likes of Liberia, Libya, Senegal and others.
No one comes out particularly well, and towards the end there are some real horror stories. This is as much a lesson in politics as history, and essential reading about an area we should know more about already.
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 8 November 2001
A thoroughly researched, and whatsmore, an interestingly written and comprehensive history of Africa during the colonial period. As a European I was fascinated, and sometimes repelled by the political intrigues of Europeans in African affairs. Once started it is difficult to put down and helps to put this period of world history in a truer perspective.