I am a history and travel buff, as people who read this blog have probably already guessed. This book came up on my list ages ago as a quintessential book on Africa. I never bought it (it was expensive!) until Penguin Australia, bless their hearts, reprinted it as part of the Popular Penguins series and sold it for $10 as part of their anniversary.
Ryszard Kapuściński was a Polish journalist who was sent all over the world to cover events. He spent a lot of time in Africa, from the 50s onwards, and covered everything from their initial independence to civil wars, revolutions and everything in between.
Part travelogue, part behind the scenes look, this book provides a good introduction to Africa, showing its history and many of its problems that still exist today. More than anything, this book is about people. The many vignettes detailing the author’s encounters with different peoples and his descriptions of the tribal nuances and intricacies make for interesting reading.
Given that this was published over a decade ago, it still remains relevant, if only for the fact that the same poverty and issues still exist, sometimes in the same places. Even some of the wars are the same, only the people’s names change.
Even if you do not like history or usually find it dry, I would recommend this insightful classic, as the stories unfold more like bedtime tales, albeit not always happy ones. While the topics of poverty, warlords and dictatorship are not always pleasant, Kapuscinski has a way of discussing them that is unapologetic but also matter-of-fact. You are drawn to the stories of the everyday African, and while you may feel for them, you are not made to pity them but instead invited to appreciate their lives for what they are—their daily hardships, the disasters that are a normal part of their lives, and the triumph and hope that they feel whether it was long ago or sometime closer to today.
Where you can buy this book
(Note: The international and online stores don’t have the cheaper Popular Penguin version available.)