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4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
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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!
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on 18 February 2016
You can't deny the ambition of this excellent book. It's a very engaging read and I found the subject matter to be very interesting. However it is also quite a daunting read, and I feel it would have benefited from some editing. There are so many place names and characters to absorb that I often found it overwhelming, particularly as the chapters are not organised in an entirely chronological sequence. The maps are quite poor as well. These gripes aside, this book is well worth your time if you have any interest in colonialism or the history of Africa. The reader will be astonished just how much of a change was brought to the continent of Africa by the European powers in such a short space of time.
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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!
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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.
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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.
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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
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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.
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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!
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on 14 January 2011
As an informal reader of history, I found this book to be absolutely brilliant. Having watched a few films, read a few things on wikipedia and realizing I knew nothing at all about those countries I've been staring at on a globe for so long, Google and Amazon told me that this was the book I had to read as an introduction to the history of Africa.

The focus of the story is the approx 30 year period of history when Europe ended up grabbing virtually all the land of africa and divided it up into pretty much the boundaries that we see today when we look at the map. And for me - this was the main draw of the book. I was fascinated as to how and why africa looks the way it does today and in that respect the book is fantastic.

It is a story with plenty of great characters - just to name a few - the politicans, Kings and Queens in the offices and palaces of Europe. Individual explorers cutting their way through the jungle, dragging themselves through the deserts and hauling themselves upstream on the great rivers. Money grabbing pioneers turning over the land, pure hearted missionaries looking to give redemption and last but not least the African tribes... well mainly being f****d over.
Personally, my favourite chapters were that regarding today's Democratic Republic of Congo. In King Leopold II, Henry Morton Stanley, the River Congo and its rainforest and the cannabalistic tribes there are surely some unforgettable episodes.

Furthermore, the story of the Arab and Muslim world, and how its own seeds have been sewn into African history adds to the mix of stories told.

As a reference to another comment which suggests that this story is told a two horse race between France and England, I do agree to some extent. However, almost from the title of the book itself, you have to go in understanding that to even try and provide a complete picture on the topic, from every perspective, would be nearly impossible. It is eurocentric, and ultimately I feel that the book's focus on each of the European powers probably reflects the amount the proportion of land they ended up with. That is except Portugal (Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bisseau) about which there is virtually no mention either about the homeland politics or the annexation of the african land, which was dissapointing.

Nonethless, I have still given the book 5 stars which says a lot about what is written. A period of history that comes between the Africa of today and the Africa that was is a story that is well worth the read and in this book has been told in an utterly compelling way.
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on 8 June 2002
If you are interested in the epic of European colonial history in Africa, vividly narrated and full of facts - don't miss this one. It is a book difficult to put down and what is more - the amount of information is well balanced, it is scolarly written, has got all the notes and references one might expect but you will read it like a compelling novel. A great achievement that can only be rated by 5 stars.
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