Books I Read
This list will grow over time. If you have any suggestions for me, feel free to get in touch on the contact page or contact me through twitter at @philinthe_. If you buy a book through one of the links below, I get a small commission, which would be much appreciated.
The Marsh Arabs – I inherited this book from Chris from sahelsounds.com. It’s a great piece of travel writing. Wilfred Thesiger found peace in the marshes of southern Iraq. He doesn’t have much of an agenda, he doesn’t profess the virtues of poverty and he doesn’t embellish his experience. Simple narratives from a guy who found comfort in a wild landscape and a warm culture.
One Day I Will Write About This Place – This lived up to the hype (New York Times opened their review by saying “Harried reader, I’ll save you precious time: skip this review and head directly to the bookstore for Binyavanga Wainaina’s stand-up-and-cheer coming-of-age memoir.”)
Here is Nigerian author Teju Cole’s review:
Brilliant. What makes the book good is its impassioned account of the Africa we need to hear more about: the Africa of schools, weddings, television shows, jokes, politics, family gossip, and idiosyncratic dreams. What makes it great are Wainaina’s beautifully elastic sentences that fizz and crackle, pounce on their meanings, stretch and snap back into place, and evoke not only the self-replenishing wonders of childhood but the more complex wonders that follow. An outstanding book, bursting with life and full of love.
An Optimist’s Tour of the Future – Entertaining, readable and mostly astonishing. Stevenson discusses advances in technology, medicine, and just about everything else, exploring the incredible possibilities that lie ahead. There is a lot here that goes beyond prediction, including moral questions that we will have to deal with if some of these discoveries are made.
Relevant words from Boing Boing:
Mark Stevenson’s An Optimist’s Tour of the Future is a hilarious and inspiring romp through some of the most promising directions in technology. Stevenson, a former standup comedian, writes with enormous warmth and humor, and he fast-talks his way into the presence of some hard-to-reach scientists and theorists who really represent the cutting edge of their fields [and] does an admirable job of presenting these findings in a lay-friendly way without eliding too much important detail.
Africa since 1940: The Past of the Present – A must if you are trying to get a sense for what the colonial to post-colonial transition actually meant. Cooper does a great job avoiding one-dimensional answers. He embraces the complexity and that’s why this is great. It is particularly illuminating for the period of 1960-early 1970′s, a time when many African countries saw growth and more accessible public services. If you have questions about development in Africa and if you want some insight into how so many African states became derailed, this needs to be on your reading list.
The Shadow of the Sun – Insightful, descriptive narrative reporting from post-independence Africa. Kapuscinski, as an outsider (he is Polish), does a good job of avoiding an entirely ego-driven account, and his impressions are mostly unfiltered. His descriptions of traveling the Sahara are the most accurate translation of that experience that I’ve read. If you want quality travel writing about Africa, put down Paul Theroux and pick this up.
King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa – Read this book to get a sense for the nightmare that was King Leopold’s Congo. Rarely taught in history books, the Congo was King Leopold’s personal possession for several decades. It is estimated that 10 million Congolese died as a result of his rule. Whether or not that number is accurate (it’s an estimate; there is not concrete population data on the Congo during this time), this book reveals massive atrocities and sheds light on the human rights movement that helped to put a stop to them.