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Customer reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars

on 8 January 2016
Great general overview of history of Africa. I can't comment on its partiality (or impartiality?) but I thought the book for a great reference tool that I wish was available for all regional/country histories.

My pro's of the book:
- VERY easy to navigate - chapters and sub-sections very clearly marked to navigate all periods of African history by region. As such you can quickly refer to a particular time or ruler without having to skim the entire book
- Lots of illustrations and maps, which are particularly handy (wish this was available in historical overviews)
- The book is very concise, especially given the length of history covered and diversity of the subject. In terms of narrative there isn't too much superfluous descriptions with more focus on chronology and description of events

- The flip side of some of the above pro's is that this is not a book with a narrative or a story. It's a great reference tool for understanding the basics / refreshing your knowledge of BASIC facts. However, it doesn't really bring history to life. In my experience, it's good to use this as a starting point, supplemented by other works. For example, I was reading this together with "Fortunes of Africa: A 5,000 Year History of Wealth, Greed and Endeavour" by Martin Meredith (still a survey of history), which was sometimes difficult to follow given the amount of information covered without illustrations or sub-sections. It was a great balance, with Shillington's books serving as a reference guide and the other as a more compelling story
- Given that this book is very concise (esp. because there are so many maps and illustrations) the timelines, context, etc tend to get over simplified and open to misinterpretation. A good example is at the very beginning when the author describes the pre-historic context and the types of species of the homo genus that inhabited Africa. It's not wrong per-se but it sort of gives an incorrect picture if you don't know the full story. As such, it's fine if you have more detail, but one wonders how much of the book may be misrepresented.

Despite some of these cons, I really liked the book. I've struggled to find something so handy and useful for other history topics.
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on 25 April 2005
A remarkable book about Africa that takes you into time, written by an author who has a balanced judgment of the land, its past, its people , their strength and their weaknesses as well as the irrepressible forces that are the continent's future.Also recommended: Shake Zulu, Disciples of fortune, Africans and Their History, Triple Agent Double Cross, The usurper and Other stories, Hannibal
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on 24 November 2011
Shillington's tome races through the whole tale of Africa, sketching the big picture, but often with little time for more than names and dates. At many points, such as the 1960 crisis in the newly independent Congo, he exposes the bias of previously prevailing accounts. The emphasis is deliberately positive, emphasizing people's accomplishments or heroic struggles against adversity. But I couldn't help but be freshly shocked by the longstanding traditions of businesspeople or politicians treating their customers with naked contempt.

For example, we have this typical item concerning Sudan in the mid-1800s: "The European, Egyptian and Sudanese merchants based in Khartoum ... found it more profitable to raid than to trade and the Egyptian government placed no restrictions on their activities on the upper Nile" (p. 281).

Across Africa, the companies and governments of the both colonial and post-colonial eras launched massive schemes, supposedly for the development of Africa: "But in practice the system was widely open to abuse, mainly because it was motivated purely by short-term private profit ... the companies concentrated on the violent expropriation of the people and their natural resources" (pp. 332-333).

The armies and police forces evicted farmers from their land, enforced economic and political monopolies, and crushed any customers who protested. Instead of trying to earn their customers' patronage, these business and political leaders commonly took whatever they wanted by violence.

Shillington does offer glimpses of a different emerging reality, where businesses and governments have to earn rather than enforce support from the customers. We catch sight of community-based development and women's initiative in places like Botswana, Kenya, or Burkina Faso.

The whole story has both hopeful and disturbing implications for the global future of corporate and political power. How does a "for profit" system work when the leaders of great institutions have little but contempt for their workers and customers? And how does that change?
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on 13 November 2013
An excellent general overview of the history of Africa. Very concise but well explained and developed. Highly recommended for anyone seeking an introduction into the history of the continent.
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