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53 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Concise introduction to a complex continent
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...
Published on 19 Mar 2009 by David Kobia

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3.0 out of 5 stars Exposure!
A revealing account of the political sleaze in Africa. Richard Dowden attempts to show how the political and economic chaos has panned out as a consequence of the actions and inactions of both African and European interests. A must read for anyone who wants an objective view of Africa's current situation.
Published on 19 July 2011 by JAM


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53 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Concise introduction to a complex continent, 19 Mar 2009
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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
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Peter Mills (hook, hampshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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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
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Gitau Githinji (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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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
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A. Taylor (Harrogate, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles (Paperback)
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
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This review is from: Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles (Paperback)
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
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This review is from: Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles (Paperback)
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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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ... until one day Achebe's house is open to all, 15 Sep 2009
This review is from: Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles (Paperback)
Richard Dowden, before taking up the post for the Economist, has been for many years the Africa Editor of the Independent. I was very curious to read his work and I have found, first of all, the immense love he feels for the continent! According to me this is important... he can transmit passion to the reader. I believe the author has a profound and intimate understanding of the topics he writes about thanks to the many years he has spent in Africa... some of his points are arguable but for sure give rise to your brain to think.

I would recommend this book as it is updated, easy to read and very positive! After reading it, you will have a very different picture of Africa, compared to what you generally see on the media (often portrayed, sometimes by some aid agencies, as a pitiable place of poverty). It is a message of hope, optimism (but not the blind one!) and richness. Anyway I was expecting more on the "ordinary miracles" stated on the title! However, in general, I really like it... I have found some parts very moving, and loved the chapter on the "positive positive women".
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The book deserves an award, 28 Feb 2014
This review is from: Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles (Paperback)
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 fully the past and present issues affecting different parts of Africa. Richard takes the reader through his African journey exactly how he saw things happening in the last 30 years working in Africa. Sometimes I felt angry reading the book but I agreed on almost everything written he wrote. I highly recommend the book for those who wants to understand of what Africa is all about: from famine, war, music, faith, strong communities, witchcraft to corrupted leaders with billions dollars, this book is a must have.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The real thing, 22 Jan 2014
This review is from: Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles (Paperback)
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 experience and authenticity, and ultimately with hope and belief that the indigenous peoples can overcome the injustices foisted upon them by the West.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Please buy..., 13 Oct 2009
By 
Nicholas Walton (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles (Paperback)
Mr Dowden has been as good as it gets with African analysis for years - this is him making that expertise public.

The book is written in a journalistic way (in the best sense), in that it's superbly well written, carrying all of its insights lightly, woven into the narrative. You'll find yourself unable to devour less than an entire chapter of thirty to fifty pages at a time, unless hit by an asteroid or medium sized earthquake.

For someone who knows a lot about Africa, some of what was within was a revelation - the insights from the Zimbabwe, Angola and Sierra Leone chapters in particular had me gasping for extra oxygen.

The gripes are slight, minor and petty. In fact, there's only one worthy of mention - in the RSA chapter he repeatedly compares apartheid to Nazism. For all of what it was, that's a wrong headed comparison, suggesting that Mr Dowden's European scholarship is understandably less well digested than his African.

This isn't a debating forum so I won't go into details - the key thing is that it was one small detail in a book that couldn't be more enticing or seductive if it dressed itself up in stockings and a flimsy dress. I'd particularly welcome seeing it in the pockets of the Bonos and similar of this world, in amongst the trite and insensible arguments.

By buying and reading and digesting this book, you'll make the world a better place than by giving ten times the amount to your favourite charity.
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Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles
Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles by Richard Dowden (Paperback - 4 May 2009)
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