20 top books about Africa, including both fiction and nonfiction

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Within the nineteenth century, because the nations of Europe rushed to seize ever-larger expanses of territory there, Africa was often known as the Darkish Continent. That label continues to be apt, however not for a similar cause. In every single place else—Europe, Asia, the Americas—understanding of Africa and Africans is restricted, and much too usually wildly distorted. It’s time to forged somewhat gentle into the darkness. This record of the 20 prime books about Africa will assist do this.

This submit was up to date on April 16, 2022.

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Africa is richly various

Africa right this moment is a richly various place. Its ethnic combine, the greater than 1,500 languages spoken there, and even the genetic origins of its 1.2 billion persons are extra different than on some other place on Earth. Politically and economically, too, Africa is a patchwork, encompassing a variety of political techniques and financial realities. The continent—the world’s second largest by land space—homes 54 nations, from the predominantly Arab Mahgreb of the Mediterranean coast to the resource-rich lands of southern and western Africa. Half of the ten poorest international locations on the earth are African; six of the fifteen fastest-growing economies on the planet, together with the highest two, are in Africa, too. But, regardless of all this range, a stunning variety of People nonetheless consider Africa as a single nation.

Picture1The continent’s plentiful literary riches

The West has lengthy acknowledged the plentiful literary riches in Africa. South African writers have been celebrated in Europe and the US for many years, from Alan Paton, Chinua Achebe, and Nadine Gordimer to Athol Fugard and J. M. Coetzee. (Two of them—Gordimer and Coetzee—have gained the Nobel Prize for Literature.) Their Nigerian contemporaries, Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka, have acquired comparable reward; Achebe gained the Man Booker Prize and Soyinka the Nobel Prize for Literature. However extra not too long ago consideration has turned to youthful, black African authors, together with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ben Okri, and Yaa Gyasi.

Listed beneath you’ll discover titles and capsule descriptions of the 20 prime books about Africa in two lists: the ten prime nonfiction books, and the ten prime novels. I’ve not too long ago learn and reviewed almost all these books; in every such case you’ll additionally see the evaluation’s headline and a hyperlink. Every of the 2 lists is organized in alphabetical order by the authors’ final names. I’ve awarded every title I’ve reviewed a score of ★★★★☆ or ★★★★★ in every of the 2 lists. On the backside, I’ve added plenty of different books about Africa, together with some with decrease rankings.

A British perspective on writing about Africa

The large English newspaper The Telegraph publishes lists of the “greatest” books in lots of classes. One is the “10 Greatest Novels About Africa.” (It’s a terrific record, that includes each celebrated authors similar to V.S. Naipaul, Nadine Gordimer, Doris Lessing, Naguib Mahfouz, and J. M. Coetzee; acquainted up to date names similar to Alexander McCall Smith and Barbara Kingsolver; and African writers much less well-known to People.)

Prime books about Africa: nonfiction

The Looting Machine: Warlords, Oligarchs, Firms, Smugglers, and the Theft of Africa’s Wealth by Tom Burgis (2016) 354 pages ★★★★★ – Who’s liable for corruption in Africa?

Misconceptions abound within the public notion of corruption in Africa. Tom Burgis’ incisive new evaluation of corruption on the continent, The Looting Machine, dispels these harmful myths. For starters, corruption is mistakenly believed to reign supreme in each nation on the African continent. (There are 48 nations in Sub-Saharan Africa, with a mixed inhabitants of greater than 1.1 billion as of 2019.) Two Sub-Saharan African nations—Somalia and Southg Sudan—ranked lowest of the 179 international locations in Transparency Worldwide’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) as of 2019. However Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Venezuela weren’t a lot better. Learn extra.

Portfolios of the Poor: How the World’s Poor Reside on $2 a Day, by Daryl Collins, Jonathan Morduch, Stuart Rutherford, and Orlanda Ruthven (2009) 315 pages ★★★★☆ – Understanding the day-to-day actuality of worldwide poverty

Portfolios of the Poor studies the findings of a collection of detailed, year-long research of the day-to-day monetary practices of some 250 households in India, Bangladesh, and South Africa, together with each city-dwellers and villagers. The authors carried out month-to-month, face-to-face interviews with every household, specializing in cash administration and recording each penny spent, earned, or borrowed in “diaries” that shaped the principal supply for his or her observations. Within the course of, they made discoveries which will shock you. Learn extra.

The Nice Escape: Well being, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality, by Angus Deaton (2013) 362 pages ★★★★☆ – How the inequality hole got here to be

A Nobel Prize-winning professor of economics and worldwide affairs at Princeton explores inequality — between courses and between international locations — with an in depth statistical evaluation of developments in toddler mortality, life expectancy, and revenue ranges over the previous 250 years. He concludes that the large-scale inequality that plagues policymakers and reformers alike within the current day is the results of the progress humanity has made since The Nice Divergence (between “the West and the remaining”) for the reason that introduction of the Industrial Revolution. “Financial development,” Deaton asserts, “has been the engine of worldwide revenue inequality.” (Deaton’s analysis backstops the work of right this moment’s economics celebrity, Thomas Piketty, who finds the info level to rising inequality.) Learn extra.

The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Assist the Relaxation Have Accomplished So A lot Sick and So Little Good, by William Easterly (2006) 443 pages ★★★★★

That is the perfect e-book that explores the methods and technique of selling financial growth in poor international locations, and it’s regularly included on any record of the highest books about Africa. Easterly finds most conventional strategies to be sorely missing. The writer, a former World Financial institution economist who’s now an economics professor, emphasizes grassroots growth. He writes concerning the necessity of involving individuals who can be affected by change within the means of planning and executing it — starting with the choice of what’s to be modified. A big proportion of Easterly’s expertise and of the examples he cites come from sub-Saharan Africa.

The Tyranny of Specialists: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor, by William Easterly – Why financial growth occurs (or doesn’t)

A decade after The White Man’s Burden, the writer explores the historical past of financial growth and finds that professionals within the subject have gotten all of it mistaken. They current themselves as consultants with technocratic options that suppress the rights of these they faux to assist — and nearly invariably go awry. In actual fact, he asserts, democracy, rooted in native historical past and native customs, is the important thing to profitable growth. It’s a captivating and shocking evaluation and shows nice perception. The e-book is extensively thought to be one of many seminal accounts of growth in Africa, and I agree. Nonetheless, I learn it earlier than launching this weblog so haven’t reviewed it. Learn extra.

Born in Blackness: Africa, Africans, and the Making of the Trendy World, 1471 to the Second World Struggle by Howard W. French (2021) 528 pages ★★★★★ — An eye fixed-opening account of Africa’s pivotal position in world historical past

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We’ve been taught that the trendy world dawned when Christopher Columbus arrived within the Caribbean in 1492 seeking a path to the riches of “India.” In actual fact, for hundreds of years, historians have been telling us that every little thing modified as a result of explorers from Spain and Portugal set out throughout the unknown reaches of the seas to determine new commerce routes to what we all know right this moment as China, Indonesia, and India. With out query, the following Columbian Change performed a big position in setting off the Nice Divergence between East and West. However in Born in Blackness, a compelling new revisionist historical past, Howard W. French persuasively provides another rationalization concerning the origin of the shift.

“The primary impetus for the Age of Discovery,” he writes, “was not Europe’s craving for ties with Asia, as so many people have been taught in grade faculty, however quite its centuries-old want to forge buying and selling ties with legendarily wealthy Black societies hidden away someplace within the coronary heart of ‘darkest’ West Africa.” Learn extra.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electrical energy and Hope, by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer (2009) 292 pages ★★★★★ – A younger man from Malawi factors the best way to hope for Africa

That is the astonishing story of a superb, self-taught younger Malawian man who demonstrated the huge human potential that underdevelopment leaves behind. Barely in his teenagers, Kamkwamba constructed a working windmill to generate electrical energy on his mother and father’ farm, primarily based on studying decades-old Western textbooks on physics that turned up in a tiny close by library. Learn extra.

The Shadow of the Solar, by Ryszard Kapuscinski (2001) 325 pages ★★★★★ – How Africa got here to be what it’s right this moment

The Shadow of the Solar is a treasure-chest of incisive reporting by a 27-year veteran of Africa concerning the continent’s latest previous, that includes vivid and disturbing accounts of the antecedents of Liberia’s ghastly civil wars, the origins of the Rwandan genocide, and the roots of recurring famine within the nations of the Horn. Learn extra.

The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to Finish Poverty, by Nina Munk (2013) 274 pages ★★★★★ – The hunt to finish poverty: Jeffrey Sachs unmasked

Although industrial commerce is way and away the dominant characteristic of the financial relationship between Africa and the so-called West, many of the consideration within the new media tends to deal with support — the decades-long challenge of the world’s richest nations to finish poverty on the continent. Economist Jeffrey Sachs’s ill-advised and egregiously costly Millennium Villages Challenge stands out as a logo of simply how badly mistaken these efforts have gone. Learn extra.

The Vibrant Continent: Breaking Guidelines and Making Change in Trendy Africa by Dayo Olopade (2014) 418 pages ★★★★★ — An optimistic view of financial growth in Africa

Few who observe information from overseas can fail to have seen that financial growth has accelerated in lots of sub-Saharan-African international locations lately. This e-book catalogs a formidable variety of progressive companies, social sector ventures, and even an occasional authorities initiative that contribute to the quick development of this long-underestimated area — and explains the cultural norms that make innovation so pure for Africans. Learn extra.

It’s Our Flip to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistle-Blower, by Michaela Unsuitable (2009) 372 pages ★★★★☆

No view of latest sub-Saharan Africa is full with out taking official corruption under consideration. This story, which focuses on one brave Kenyan man who tried to reveal among the most blatant examples of embezzlement by senior authorities officers, brings to gentle the complexity of the difficulty and its influence on African society. It’s a profoundly discouraging story for anybody like me, who has identified and cherished Kenya and Kenyans and regarded it as one of many vibrant spots in a darkish neighborhood.(Be aware: I learn this e-book earlier than launching this weblog and thus haven’t reviewed it right here.

Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Homicide and an African Regime Gone Dangerous by Michela Unsuitable (2021) 464 pages ★★★★★ – Why does the West help an African regime gone dangerous?

A era of diplomats, worldwide bureaucrats, support officers, and philanthropists have poured billions into the regime of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, usually characterizing him as a “benevolent dictator.” However Kagame is not any thinker king. The financial statistics are inflated. And the 250,000 our bodies within the Kigali Genocide Memorial are all Tutsis just like the President and almost everybody else in his regime. They don’t embody any of the a whole bunch of hundreds of Hutus that Kagame’s military murdered in revenge once they liberated the nation from the génocidaires. All of it involves gentle in veteran international correspondent Michela Unsuitable’s stunning exposé, Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Homicide and an African Regime Gone Dangerous. Learn extra.

Prime books about Africa: novels

Half of a Yellow Solar, by Chimanada Ngozi Adichie (2008) 562 pages ★★★★★ – Love, loss, and warfare in post-independence Africa

Half of a Yellow Solar movingly recounts the occasions of the Sixties that culminated within the lopsided Biafran warfare of independence (1967-70) that pitted the ill-equipped Igbo (Ibo) folks of southeastern Nigeria in opposition to the huge forces of their nationwide authorities, actively backed by the British. Learn extra.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2014) 610 pages ★★★★★ – Race, with out blinders on

Following up her extraordinary novel concerning the Biafran warfare of independence, Half of a Yellow Solar (reviewed right here), with an much more private story, Adichie tells the story of Ifemelu, a younger Nigerian who emigrates to the US to finish her schooling and returns to Nigeria 13 years later. Americanah — the phrase seems to be Nigerian slang for an individual like Ifemelu who returns dwelling with American habits and expectations — is, above all, a love story. The main focus all through is on her relationships with males — from her highschool sweetheart to the “wealthy white hunk” to the African-American professor. Learn extra.

Radiance of Tomorrow by Ishmael Beah (2014) 257 pages ★★★★★ – Hope lives on within the depths of hell

Beah tells the story of a number of inhabitants of a small city referred to as Imperi within the African nation of Lion Mountain (Sierra Leone) after they return dwelling following an extended, horrific civil warfare that has taken so lots of the members of their household, their neighbors, and mates. This novel encompasses a variety of African experiences throughout the interval following decolonization, conveying the fear, the injustice, and the frustration in addition to the optimism that swept all through the area beneath the Sahara over the previous half-century. Learn this e-book, and also you’ll acquire a foothold on understanding life in Sub-Saharan Africa. Learn extra.

Operating the Rift, by Naomi Benaron (2012) 400 pages ★★★★★ – An excellent novel of affection, hope, and the Rwanda genocide

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The Rwanda genocide is the central occasion in Operating the Rift, a exceptional novel that tells the story of a younger Tutsi man, Nkuba Jean Patrick, a supremely proficient runner who aspires to compete within the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Learn extra.

The Loss of life of Rex Nhongo by C. B. George (2016) 321 pages ★★★★☆ – A satisfying thriller set in Zimbabwe

A posh plot lies on the coronary heart of The Loss of life of Rex Nhongo. The complement of principal characters consists of two expatriate households, one British, the opposite American, in addition to an prolonged Zimbabwean household and a thug who works for the Central Intelligence Group that terrifies the populace. The writer skillfully attracts collectively their quite a few particular person tales in a collection of intersections that climax in a satisfying conclusion. The motion takes place after the loss of life famous within the e-book’s title, although the story manages to return full circle ultimately. Naturally, the plot is contrived, nevertheless it’s a satisfying learn. Learn extra.

Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi (2016) 313 pages ★★★★★ – African Roots by African eyes

Yaa Gyasi’s extraordinary debut novel, Homegoing, traces the story of a Ghanaian household over greater than two centuries by the lives of two branches of its descendants, one in Ghana, the opposite in the US. The e-book opens within the mid-eighteenth century, when the slave commerce was at its peak, follows the rollercoaster fortunes of the household by the turbulent years of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and concludes in present-day Ghana. Learn extra.

The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu (2015) 200 pages ★★★★★ – Zimbabwe by the eyes of a single mom

You’ll be able to learn a dozen nonfiction books about Zimbabwe underneath Robert Mugabe’s kleptocracy and fail to get a extra vivid sense of what life is de facto like there than from this latest novel by Tendai Huchu. In a single brief work of fiction, Huchu conjures up the unhappy actuality of day-to-day existence in that beleaguered nation: the 90 p.c unemployment, the ever-present corruption, the hyperinflation, the ever-present shortages, the hardly useful electrical energy service, the vicious eviction of white Africans from their farms and companies, the rabid homophobia. Learn extra.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (1998) 579 pages ★★★★★ — An excellent novel explores the legacy of colonialism within the Congo

A number of the biggest works of literature within the twentieth century addressed the theme of colonialism. Issues Fall Aside by China Achebe. Joseph Conrad’s Coronary heart of Darkness. The Wretched of the Earth by Franz Fanon. And E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India. There are numerous extra. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver isn’t routinely listed amongst them. But it surely must be. Though a lot of the motion takes place after the Belgians have granted independence to the nation, the e-book is all concerning the horrible, lingering results of colonialism within the Congo. Written in attractive prose and firmly rooted within the tragic occasions of the early Sixties, the novel stands in testimony to the value paid by thousands and thousands for the greed and racism of the white Europeans who plundered their land.

The story begins as Baptist missionary Nathan Value, his spouse, Orleanna, and their 4 daughters settle in a Congolese village in 1959. Value has come to avoid wasting souls, however the folks of Kilanga alternately discover his preaching to be both insulting or not possible to know. They’ve their very own faith, in spite of everything. In rotating chapters, the 5 girls of the household narrate the motion that unfolds over the following years. As they wrestle to outlive within the unfamiliar and harmful setting of tropical Africa, occasions shortly spin uncontrolled within the enormous, rich nation round them. Learn extra.

A Bend within the River by V. S. Naipaul (1979) 290 pages ★★★★☆ — Nobel Prizewinner paints an unflattering image of Africa

In 1960, the chief of workers of the military within the not too long ago impartial Belgian Congo led a coup that toppled the democratically elected authorities of Patrice Lumumba. 5 years later he ousted the boys he had put in in energy and have become the nation’s dictator. His title was Mobutu Sese Seko. He remained in energy till 1997, diverting someplace between $4 billion and $15 billion in authorities funds into offshore accounts. His regime was infamous for corruption and human rights abuses. And that unflattering image of Africa supplies the backdrop to Nobel Prizewinner V. S. Naipaul’s celebrated story of the continent within the wake of colonization, A Bend within the River. Learn extra.

The Seersucker Whipsaw by Ross Thomas (1992) 208 pages ★★★★★ – A terrific novel for political junkies about Africa

An American marketing campaign supervisor receives an excessive sum of cash to assist elect a Huge Man as president of a rustic resembling Nigeria. He’s a genius at soiled methods—and the candidate’s advisers show to be equally versatile about marketing campaign ethics. For anybody with even probably the most informal expertise in electoral politics, the following marketing campaign is a marvel to behold. Learn extra.

Extra prime books about Africa

Along with these prime 20 books about Africa, listed here are a number of others, together with each nonfiction and fiction. I’ve inserted hyperlinks to my critiques for these I learn not too long ago sufficient.

  • In Their Personal Fingers: How Financial savings Teams Are Revolutionizing Growth, by Jeffrey Ashe with Kyla Jagger Neilan
  • My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
  • A Farewell to Alms: A Transient Financial Historical past of the World, by Gregory Clark
  • Embassy Spouse by Katie Crouch
  • The African Equation, by Yasmina Khadra
  • A Treacherous Paradise, by Henning Mankell
  • The Lacking American (Emma Djan #1) by Kwei Quartey
  • Sleep Nicely, My Woman – Emma Djan #2 by Kwei Quartey
  • Spouse of the Gods (Darko Dawson #1) by Kwei Quartey
  • Kids of the Road (Darko Dawson #2) by Kwei Quartey
  • Valuable and Grace (No. 1 Women Detective Company #17) by Alexander McCall Smith
  • Nairobi Warmth by Mukoma Wa Ngugi
  • Assegai by Wilbur Smith
  • Lifeless Assist: Why Assist is Not Working and How There Is a Higher Method for Africa, by Dambisa Moyo

For additional studying

After viewing this record of 20 prime books about Africa, you may also be all in favour of:

  • 20 prime nonfiction books about historical past;
  • Prime 10 historic mysteries and thrillers reviewed right here; and
  • 20 most enlightening historic novels.

And you’ll all the time discover all the newest books I’ve learn and reviewed, in addition to my hottest posts, on the House Web page.

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