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4.6 out of 5 stars48
4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 19 March 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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on 28 February 2014
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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on 19 January 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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on 4 May 2009
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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on 25 July 2009
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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on 10 August 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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on 15 September 2009
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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on 3 April 2014
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. I was initially turned off by his constant insistence that 'Africa is great' because I wanted to read a book that reflected my feelings and observations as a young westerner on the continent. However the chapters following his introduction are realistic, objectively written, concise yet hugely informative. This isn't a book that will fill you with hope that Africa is a rising power but it will provide you with an overview of the socio-political blunders that have hindered growth in various sub-Saharan nations.
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on 24 March 2016
I really enjoyed this book. The book is well written, well structured, and as easy to read as story book. In fact that is a good description of it: it is one man's story of his experience of Africa. In many places in the book I felt drawn right in and could almost smell the air and hear the chatter of the people and feel the sunshine on my back: wonderful!!! The author's love for Africa and its people is very evident throughout the book. Interestingly he seems to express the same feelings as I have often felt, having spent my (much too brief) childhood in some of the African countries described in the book. Love for the country and its people, and yet at the same time exasperation. The book covers a number of African countries with each chapter dealing with a different country. The story starts in Uganda where the author was a primary school teacher and then deals with Somalia, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Angola, Rwanda and Burundi, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Congo, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, and Ethiopia. The author takes a break from this in two chapters dedicated to AIDS and the influence of China. On the negative side, an important point to bear in mind is that the author writes like the very good journalist that he is: reporting what he sees. He is less good at being a historian, which is odd since he appears to have done a history degree in England before becoming a teacher. As some of the other reviewers have pointed out, his history needs to be treated with caution: he sometimes gets his facts wrong. Also his history is often very simplistically told with the typical prejudices of the European, especially when dealing with the white people of Africa. He shows no real understanding of the cause-and-effect nature of history, and he makes no attempt at historical analysis to identify causes and effects. With that note of caution, I would highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Africa: you will find it a very enjoyable and engaging read. However, please, please, be careful of his history.
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on 13 October 2009
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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