Customer Review

Reviewed in the United States on May 21, 2015
This book stunned me, and its effects will be with me for the rest of my life. I’ve read very widely, including many books that would and should be considered must reads for educated people, but for me, this is the most important book I’ve ever read.

Africa is long, detailed and complex, and the serious reader has to read attentively so that the many names of both people and places don’t get hopelessly confused.

Unfortunately, in this regard, Africa’s glaring flaw is its total lack of maps -- beyond a few of little use in the back of the book, having with no geographic or political information. I doubt many people can point out Timbuktu, the inland Niger Delta, Senegal or Botswana on an outline map of Africa, yet Reader refers to them -- and other far more obscure ones freely and casually as though they were corners in your hometown. Beyond that, many of the place names refer to geological formations – e.g., rivers, valleys, plateaus, mountain ranges – and they require specialized maps, not just your atlas. Finally, many names changed over the time period Reader covers, making some all but impossible to find. He should have supplied them.

However, Africa isn’t about places, other than being restricted to sub-Saharan Africa. It tells the hard tale of people who throughout the millennia have shown remarkable resilience, adaptability, and, for the most part, great humanity toward their fellows. With few exceptions, they scratched out a subsistence living in very challenging environments. People lived in small groups with high mortality rates and short lives. Very few escaped natural catastrophes in a lifetime, including prolonged drought, famine and disease. Yet they persevered. I gained immense respect and empathy for these people as I read deeper into their history.

By contrast, I gained a visceral animosity for the European savages who invaded the subcontinent in the late 15th century, enslaving, pillaging and raping the people for over five centuries. Despite the theory that only Americans are racists, Africa proves that the European invaders were not only racist but also barbaric. From the 15th century through half of the 20th century, sub-Saharan Africa suffered a 550-year holocaust of unparalleled immensity. As I read, I could only wonder at the daily existence of the people already under the thumb of the Europeans, and of those not yet captured but terrified that they soon would be.

(Incidentally, I too agree with other reviewers who’ve criticized Reader’s all but ignoring the Islamic slave trade. The Atlantic slave traders took approximately 11 million Africans to the Western Hemisphere (1 million went to the United States). By contrast, 14 million Africans were taken across the Sahara to the Eastern Mediterranean and Arabia by Islamic slavers. Why Reader omitted these facts is anyone’s guess.)

Colonialism brought its own type of hell to Africa. The worldwide slavery that Britain went to such great lengths to end in the first half of the 19th century, made a roaring comeback once King Leopold II of Belgium discovered Africa’s wealth of natural resources. A “gold rush” followed, one that makes the rush to Sutter’s Mill less than puny by comparison. From forced labor to company towns surrounded by carefully guarded wire fences to sweeping land theft, displacing thousands from their homes, Europeans treated Africans like draught animals. European arrogance knew no bounds: when World War I began, both sides even forced Africans to fight for “their” teams. Ironically, some of these same nations had the unbelievable gall to put themselves up as judges of "crimes against humanity" in the Nuremburg Trials, just 37 years after WWI ended -- even before all the colonies were freed.

After the war, Africans were declared human though they still required some additional European “parenting” before they were awarded independence. As a final parting gift, the ever wise British carved out sprawling wild animal refuges, using the most fertile farming and hunting lands while leaving the African people the dregs on which to support themselves.

Although generational guilt is nonsense, generational harm isn’t. Africa is the richest continent in the world in terms of natural resources, but it’s the poorest in terms of GDP. Generations of Africans have suffered every type of deprivation – this is Europe’s legacy. They have monuments to their all other achievements. They oughta raise a big one to this achievement.
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