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10 Incredible Books to Inspire You to Visit Africa

Africa is everything. It’s beautiful, cruel, nurturing, heartbreaking, and often a contradiction of everything you’ve ever seen in the mainstream media.

During the last few years, I’ve read some amazing books about Africa, that have given me a valuable insight into this fascinating, misunderstood and often misrepresented continent.

Some will make you weep, others will fill you with joy and compassion – others will just make you question humanity.


An African Love Story: Love, Life and Elephants by Daphne Sheldrick

“Life is for the living, not the dead, who belong to the past and are at peace and beyond all further pain and suffering ‘somewhere in the great somewhere.”

I read this book on my recent trip to Tanzania and Kenya and it very quickly became one on my favourite books of all time, helping me to get through some arduous bus journeys. It’s the extraordinary story of the life of Dame Daphne Sheldrick and her husband David, a warden of Tsavo National Park. Together they were a formidable pair, soul mates, protecting Kenya’s wildlife.

The way she describes Africa is simply breathtaking but be warned, this book had me in tears. Very embarrassing during a very crowded (and bumpy) bus journey between Dar es Salaam and Arusha.


A Long Way Gone: The True Story of a Child Soldier by Ishmael Beah

Some nights the sky wept stars that quickly floated and disappeared into the darkness before our wishes could meet them.

Ishmael Beah was a normal boy, from a normal village before he was forced to be a child soldier during the civil war in Sierra Leone. The book is written from the perspective of his 12-year-old self which makes it even more poignant. It follows his journey from the time his childhood was ripped away from him, to his subsequent rehabilitation back into society. Some of the things he did in order to survive are unthinkable for most people, let alone a child. Another painful read, but if you want to get a true insight into some of the issues that are affecting modern day Africa, I suggest you read this powerful story.

 


The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

I went to sleep dreaming of Malawi, and all the things made possible when your dreams are powered by your heart.

Willam Kamkwamba was born in a village in Malawi. He had the idea to construct a windmill which later brought electricity and water to his village, transforming the lives of those around him. The book explains the culture and politics of Malawi at the time, and takes us on William’s personal journey of adversity, through famine, poverty and corruption.

This is one of those inspirational, humbling, against all the odds books that everyone should read once in a while to remind ourselves that it is possible. Or as they would say in Malawi ‘Ndizotheka‘! 

 


Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

You can’t write a script in your mind and then force yourself to follow it. You have to let yourself be.”

Set in 1960’s, this is a novel about intertwining lives during the Nigerian Civil War.  It’s a very powerful book, beautifully written but harrowing in places.

 

 

 


We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch

“What distinguishes genocide from murder, and even from acts of political murder that claim as many victims, is the intent. The crime is wanting to make a people extinct. The idea is the crime.”

A book about the slaughter of almost a million people is never going to be easy reading, but it is incredibly important that we understand what happened. The book looks at the why people did what they did and failings of the international community in the run up to and during the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. I was deeply affected by my experience visiting the Rwanda Genocide Memorial in Kigali.

 

 


Out of Africa by Karen Blixen (aka Isak Dineson)

“You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions.”

I constantly quote Karen Blixen, I just love her poetic writing. This is her account of when she ran a coffee plantation in Ngong Hills. Out of Africa gives a wonderful insight into what life was like in colonial times. Whilst things are somewhat different now, the affects of colonial rule still very much impact and influence modern Africa, especially Kenya, and the way in which foreigners such as myself are perceived.

 

 


Long Walk To Freedom by Nelson Mandela

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

I remember when I first heard that Nelson Mandela had passed away. I was in my kitchen scrolling through my phone when the news popped up. I rushed in to tell my husband and my voice just broke and I began to cry. Nelson Mandela was a freedom fighter, South Africa’s first black president, and is arguably the greatest leader of modern times. I couldn’t put The Long Walk to Freedom down, riveted by the story of this extraordinary man and those who fought with him against apartheid. This book teaches us many lessons about the strength of the human spirit and standing up for equality. Inspirational and humbling.

 


The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony

“They taught me that all life forms are important to each other in our common quest for happiness and survival. That there is more to life than just yourself, your own family, or your own kind.”

This is the true story of South African conservationist Lawrence Anthony. Like An African Love Story: Love, Life and Elephants, it’s a book that will give you amazing insight into elephant behaviour, it will make you laugh at times, but also bring a little tear to your eye. His love of his elephants and wildlife is truly inspirational and I can’t wait to read his other book, “>The Last Rhinos.

 

 


Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles by Richard Dowden

“I hope Africans will recognize their continent and themselves in these pages, but I write chiefly for outsiders, those who have not been to Africa but would like to know more about it. The best way to find out is to go, not as a tourist in a bubble of Western luxury and safety, but as a traveller to meet people and engage with them. It is easily done. But beware. Africa can be addictive. Les fous d’Afrique, the French call them, those who become mad about Africa.

This is probably my favourite of all the more general African history books. Richard Dowden has worked in Africa for the last 40 years as a teacher, journalist and documentary film maker. He expertly intertwines his own journey with the turbulent history of the continent.

His views are reflective of my own, from when I arrived on the continent, slightly naive, to the way I see things now. The book is an incredible and insightful read and displays much compassion for Africa and Africans. A must read for anyone interested in Africa and her history.


The State of Africa: A History of the Continent Since Independence by Martin Meredith

“What has always impressed me over the years is the resilience and humour with which ordinary Africans confront their many adversities. This book is intended as testimony to their fortitude.”

I read this book my on my first African overland in 2009 and it has really helped me to understand why somethings are as they are. This book explains the history of many of the African nations from the time they began to gain independence from Europe in the mid 20th century, and the lead up to it. The book is both optimistic and realistic, taking the reader on a journey through the continent, and the people and circumstances that have shaped it. The subject matter is huge, dictators, war, famine and corruption, however Martin Meredith manages to cover it very well in relatively few pages, without being patronizing or preachy.

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About Author

I'm a travel blogger and tour operator with a passion for Africa travel. I love the great outdoors, going on epic trips around the world and helping others travel!

24 Comments

  • Colleen Brynn
    February 23, 2015 at 12:26 am

    Have you read the Poisonwood Bible? I’m not sure if you would consider that mainstream but it is an excellent read.
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    Reply
    • Helen
      February 24, 2015 at 11:02 pm

      No I haven’t read it Colleen! Will look it up! By mainstream media, I just mean news channels and the newspapers. They don’t always show the full story, and they definitely don’t show enough of the good side of Africa – mind you, what major news channel does show good stuff?

      This quote from Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles kind of sums up what I mean “The ordinary gets ignored in Africa as it does in Asia or South America. Normality is nice but it does not – as they say – sell newspapers.”

      I guess that’s why I write, to show a different side to Africa too. 🙂

      Thanks for the book recommendation!

      Reply
  • TammyOnTheMove
    February 23, 2015 at 1:55 pm

    I read The State of Africa just before I moved to Ghana about a month ago. I agree, it is an excellent book to really understand why certain things are the way they are, why a lot of countries are so troubled, and why it is so difficult to have peace in certain countries.

    I can also highly recommend the book Shake hands with the devil – The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda. It was written by Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire, the Force Commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda in 1993-1994, during which he witnessed the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. It explains why the genocide happened, how the hands of the UN were tied, and why Western countries didn’t intervene. It is a fascinating and sobering read.
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    Reply
    • Helen
      February 24, 2015 at 11:05 pm

      How are you getting on in Ghana? I would love to visit Ghana someday! Hope you are enjoying it!

      Shake Hands with the Devil – I’ve head of that! Definitely a book I need to read! I visited the Genocide Museum in Kigali and it left me devastated.

      Reply
  • Alyssa
    February 23, 2015 at 6:15 pm

    Great suggestions! I’ve been meaning to read Half of a Yellow Sun. When I was in Martinique I did read a few books by authors from there and it really brings their words alive! Now that I’m in Morocco I’m reading The Sand Child by Tahar Ben Jalloun — it’s pretty intense postcolonial lit!
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    Reply
    • Helen
      February 24, 2015 at 10:52 pm

      Thanks Alyssa!

      Couldn’t agree more! Great to read books about the places you are visiting!

      Hope you are having a great time in Morocco. How long are you there for? I’m going in May!!!! Will read the book you suggest! xx

      Reply
  • kami
    February 25, 2015 at 12:29 pm

    I love all the books by Kapuściński, he was one of the best Polish non-fiction writers ever!! you should check other works by him too, not only those about Africa!
    kami recently posted…Impressions from AlbaniaMy Profile

    Reply
    • Helen
      March 2, 2015 at 6:28 pm

      I haven’t read The Shadow of the Sun yet! I have it, and need to read it! I am sure I will be adding it to the list as soon as I have. Will definitely check out his other works! If you like them, I’m sure I will too! 🙂 x

      Reply
  • Sarah
    February 26, 2015 at 8:44 pm

    I’m currently reading Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux, pictured on your photo but not in the list. I’ve also been wanting to read The State of Africa for a long time but somehow I never get around to it. I haven’t read any of the books on your list, so thanks for suggesting some great reads, I never know what to start reading!
    Sarah recently posted…Desert Oasis of your Dreams: Garmeh, IranMy Profile

    Reply
    • Helen
      March 2, 2015 at 6:37 pm

      No worries Sarah!

      I have Dark Star safari, but not gotten past the first chapter yet, so I couldn’t include it! What do you think of it so far?

      The State of Africa is a really good one! Altered States, Ordinary Miracles is also amazing!

      Reply
  • Ella
    March 1, 2015 at 4:32 pm

    I’m really glad you’ve compiled this list 🙂 I’ve been wanting to understand Africa and the history of different regions better, especially because we don’t get taught anything about it in our parts of the world. I’m a bit scared to read about the Rwanda Genocide because I’m not sure I’ll be able to handle it. But I feel like if I want to be a good global citizen, then I really need to educate myself on these topics and be aware of them. Thank you for this! Xx
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    Reply
    • Helen
      March 2, 2015 at 6:48 pm

      Thanks Ella! Get reading! There are loads of great books out there I’m sure, but these are just the few I’ve read! There needs to be more hours in the day!

      Any books about genocide are difficult, so just read when you feel ready. xx

      Reply
  • hassan
    March 15, 2015 at 3:33 am

    Great Helen. you suggested good books. The (Real) Lion King in the Serengeti post was very interesting and exciting. bravooooo.

    Reply
    • Helen
      March 15, 2015 at 10:47 am

      Thanks Hassan!

      Glad you liked the Lion King post! 🙂 It was a great few days!!

      Reply
  • iveta
    April 30, 2015 at 10:30 pm

    I can only recommend this one, very charming story based on true experience of writer..

    “Karibu means welcome”

    Unfortunately can not find english version
    http://www.amazon.com/Karibu-hei%C3%9Ft-willkommen-Roman-Afrika/dp/3596152453/ref=sr_1_43?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1430432941&sr=1-43&keywords=Stefanie+Zweig

    Reply
    • Helen
      May 17, 2015 at 11:58 am

      Thanks Iveta! I’ll keep an eye out for an English translation! 🙂

      Reply
  • Lance
    February 18, 2017 at 6:41 pm

    Paul Theroux’s recent book The Last Train to Zona Verde was magical. You should look into it. It’s not about pretty pictures and elephants. It’s the deeper, richer, darker Africa we’ve all come to know and love.
    Lance recently posted…Getting to Know Saint MartinMy Profile

    Reply
  • Emily Luxton
    February 19, 2017 at 8:10 am

    I loved The Shadow of the Sun by KapuÅ›ciÅ„ski. It was the first travel book I ever read, and one of the reasons I wanted to become a travel writer! It’s a great book ?

    Reply
    • Helen
      February 19, 2017 at 10:29 am

      Thanks Em! I actually have that book, I just haven’t read it yet! 🙂 Wow, that is a big statement! I will start reading tonight!

      Hope your travels are going well my love! xx

      Reply
  • Zoe
    May 26, 2017 at 1:22 am

    If you are still looking for interesting Africa books then for non-fiction I recommend Infidel by Ayaan Hisri Ali, Desert Flower and Desert Dawn by Waris Dire.
    In fiction I recommend The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer, Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih and So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba.

    Reply
    • Helen
      May 26, 2017 at 9:20 am

      Thank you Zoe!!! 🙂

      Reply
  • Bongo
    March 13, 2018 at 2:41 pm

    Eating the Flowers of Paradise – Kevin Rushby
    Shadow of the Sun – Ryszard Kapuscinski
    White Pumpkin – Denis Hills
    Facing the Congo – Jeffrey Taylor
    Mountain People – Colin Turnbull
    Dark star safari – Paul Theroux
    King Leopold’s Ghost – Adam Hochschild
    Red Nile – Robert Twigger
    Caliph’s House – Tahir Shah
    The Pale Abyssinian – Miles Bredin

    Reply
    • Helen
      March 13, 2018 at 2:44 pm

      Thanks for all the suggestions! 🙂

      Reply
  • Tom
    January 12, 2019 at 5:07 pm

    I love the Green City in the Sun from Barbara Wood. It takes place in Kenya in the 20th century
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    Reply

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