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The Fortunes of Africa: A 5000-Year History of Wealth, Greed, and Endeavor Paperback – Illustrated, March 22, 2016
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Africa has been coveted for its rich natural resources ever since the era of the Pharaohs. In past centuries, it was the lure of gold, ivory, and slaves that drew merchant-adventurers and conquerors from afar. In modern times, the focus of attention is on oil, diamonds, and other rare earth minerals.
In this vast and vivid panorama of history, Martin Meredith follows the fortunes of Africa over a period of 5,000 years. With compelling narrative, he traces the rise and fall of ancient kingdoms and empires; the spread of Christianity and Islam; the enduring quest for gold and other riches; the exploits of explorers and missionaries; and the impact of European colonization. He examines, too, the fate of modern African states and concludes with a glimpse of their future.
His cast of characters includes religious leaders, mining magnates, warlords, dictators, and many other legendary figures-among them Mansa Musa, ruler of the medieval Mali empire, said to be the richest man the world has ever known.
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"Even the longtime specialist is likely to learn lots of things because of the extraordinary amount of ground the author covers."
―Howard French, Wall Street Journal
"This is the new standard against which future histories will be considered."
―Publishers Weekly, starred review
"A gripping tale of insatiable greed-personal and collective."
―Booklist, starred review
"[A] broad-ranging history of Africa from the age of the pharaohs to the present, with a solid emphasis on economics...richly detailed...a useful study."
About the Author
- Publisher : PublicAffairs; Illustrated edition (March 22, 2016)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 784 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1610396359
- ISBN-13 : 978-1610396356
- Item Weight : 2 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.15 x 2.4 x 8.95 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #176,997 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Top reviews from the United States
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I found the material well referenced and as an African I learnt many things about our history that I didn't know prior to reading this book. The book provides an impressive breath of historical narrative at the expense depth. I thought that the author skimmed over the details of many historic events, understandably so as that would be unachievable in one book. For this reason, I consider this work an "abstract" of the history of Africa that will motivate an interested reader to delve more into the history of this fascinating continent.
I liked that the author took a very clinical approach to the topic. He didn't seem to take sides but focused on what happened. He let the facts speak for themselves. The book covers such a long timeline and such a vast area that he touches on the main events of a period and moves forward. At the end of the book, though, the author spends many pages on references and points to other more in depth works.
I came away from this book understanding the different groups in Africa and why the map of the continent looks like it does today. The stories got pretty depressing at times, especially reading about the slave trade and how cruel the European and African leaders were to workers to maximize their profits in the slave, ivory, and mineral trades.
It is a European focused history and I wish there was more information centered more on the African nations themselves, but it is an ambition undertaking as it is already. He gave me the information I need to know where to look if I want to become more familiar with African themselves.
Top reviews from other countries
Meredith's book is tackling a mammoth task, giving a overview of 5,000 years of African history. He starts pre-European involvement, touching on North Africa and particularly concentrating on Egypt in detail. He shows Africa as a massive place rich in resources and the home of countless peoples, tribes, ethnic groups and languages. Of course, Africa wasn't unknown to the Europeans. Ancient Rome got its grain from north Africa and found its worst nemesis there. However, when the likes of imperial Portugal & Spain started to take to the seas en-masse and trade with the Arabs in North Africa (the book also covers the Arab settlement of Africa) they quickly wanted to know where all these riches were coming from. There followed 100s of years of European empires competing with each other for African wealth. Its pretty ridiculous to imagine British & French racing to get some African chief or other to sign their treaty first , especially given that neither side might stick to it.
Its interesting to note that the British had a habit of diplomacy, of in-direct control (perhaps borrowed from Rome?) and were more interested in stopping the French from gaining supremacy than actually seeking to maximise the potential Africa presented. They weren't even interested in the Suez canal, at first anyway. Not all Empires were as inclined. Belgium in particular seemed to be extremely brutal in Africa and all the result of one mans greed. Still, Meredith, to his credit, doesn't present Africa as a unspoiled peaceful place prior to the intrusion of European empires. Its a land of deep divisions along ethnic and tribal grounds. In fact, this goes some way to explaining why it is that Africa has suffered some many dictators. As Meredith relates, when most African countries gained independence they ended up with one party rule/dictatorships. Meredith puts across the important point that political parties were set along ethnic and tribal lines which made democracy a very hard sell. It was thought that if one person had all authority it got around the problem of preferential treatment to your group. That was the thinking anyway. Meredith goes on to list the rather depressing reigns of 'big men' who ruled through fear, were corrupt and lived as Kings while the vast multitudes lived in abject poverty.
There is so much to learn from this book its really impossible to write about it all here. I will say that this book is recommended to anyone who immediately dismisses empires as being bad & evil. Its true that the empires that entered Africa carved it up and made their own borders, squeezing people with no common culture, language etc together and thus creating a lot of issues. But, it isn't that simple. The story of the land prior and the fate of the countries after independence is not as straight forward as this. Here's a startling point: its estimated about 11.3 million slaves were transported via the trans-Atlantic route between 1450-1900. You don't hear about the 7.2 million that were transported via the trans-Saharan route between 800-1900.
As for the issue of famine, it does seem complicated however here again Meredith explains the mismanagement of funds, the corruptions of government, the disruptive civil wars and the weather itself as all playing a role.
Although sub-Saharan Africa is very different from the northern coast of Africa, which is part of the Mediterranean world, looking at both in the same book is interesting, particularly to see the impact which North Africa had on sub-Saharan Africa via overland trade routes.
The book is more detailed on the history of English-speaking southern Africa, but is also a useful introduction to the history of Portuguese and French activity in Africa, which is probably less familiar to English-speaking readers. For example, it is very interesting to understand that the North African peoples were acquiring gold and slaves in sub-Saharan Africa before the Europeans got there, and that the Portuguese were active in West Africa quite some time before Columbus made it to the West Indies.
Although this book is not aimed at an academic audience, if you are interested in finding out more about specific aspects, it does have useful references to further reading at the end of the book. This provides a guide to more detailed and more academic works. For example, on the subject of African slavery it points to Paul Lovejoy's authoritative and well written academic work, Transformations in Slavery - A History of Slavery in Africa.
Mainly describes the Arab and European takeover of Africa with little reference to development of Africans themselves.
Not at all what I was looking for. To me a waste of money.