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Africa : A Biography of the Continent

4.13 (1,160 ratings on Goodreads)
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Description

Drawing on many years of African experience, John Reader has written a book of startling grandeur and scope that recreates the great panorama of African history, from the primeval cataclysms that formed the continent to the political upheavals facing much of the continent today. Reader tells the extraordinary story of humankind's adaptation to the ferocious obstacles of forest, river and desert, and to the threat of debilitating parasites, bacteria and viruses unmatched elsewhere in the world. He also shows how the world's richest assortment of animals and plants has helped - or hindered - human progress in Africa.show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 816 pages
  • 128 x 196 x 40mm | 557.92g
  • Penguin Books Ltd
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • Ill.
  • 0140266755
  • 9780140266757
  • 359,037

About John Reader

John Reader is a writer and photojournalist with more than forty years professional experience, much of it in Africa. Born in London in 1937, he currently holds an Honorary Research Fellowship in the Department of Anthropology at University CollegeLondon, and is a fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute and the Royal Geographical Society. He is the author of Pyramids of Life, Missing Links: The Hunt for Earliest Man; Kilimanjaro; The Rise of Life; Mount Kenya and Man on Earth.show more

Review Text

A grand attempt to illuminate the history of the "dark continent," using an almost stunning blend of disciplines from geology to anthropology to agronomy. Despite the breadth of the title, Reader (Missing Links, 1981, etc.) largely ignores Africa north of the Sahara - a significant lacuna. Still, any attempt to cover billions of years of history (never mind 50-plus countries), will always result in gaps, elisions, and exclusions. One can quibble with his extremely detailed treatment of human evolution - a subject he has written about extensively - or the relative short shrift he gives to modern African history, but it all comes down to a question of balance, and for the most part Reader does an admirable job of keeping his story rolling along. He begins right at the beginning with the formation of Earth and the primitive stirrings of life. Through an impressive mustering of scientific data, he recounts how changing conditions on the savanna opened a narrow niche that favored the evolution of hominids and eventually, through the relentless process of survival of the fittest, Homo sapiens. Reader is not so much a historian of dates and personalities, but of mass events and movements. He regards competition for resources, climatic shifts, geology and geography as infinitely more important in shaping history than any number of "great men" and their ideologies. For example, he sees slavery as a continent-wide catastrophe that drove everything from the rise of African kingdoms to the loss of the labor - and all that it could have created - of 11 million people, to the great South African diaspora that is usually attributed to the predations of Shaka Zulu. Once Africa entered the realm of formal, written history, the results have been almost unremittingly bleak. It's an old mantra, but the price of European civilization has been enormously high. And the postcolonial era hasn't been much better. That hairless hominid who spread out across the world has changed everything except his essential, animal self. Formidably researched, always readable, but necessarily incomplete. (Kirkus Reviews)show more
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