Friday, July 25, 2008

{Review} Africa: A Biography of the Continent by John Reader

Reader's book is a gem. Subtitled "The Biography of a Continent", I was a bit skeptical that it would be so much of an overview as to be dull or repetitive. Instead "Africa" approaches the subject as an object. It is not a history of the people and cultures of the continent as much as it is the story of the land itself, as least for a good part of the book. The author delves into the geology of the continent, both in origin and the effect that it's unique mineral, landform and climate molded the cultures that evolved there. While this might sound a bit boring or scholarly, instead it makes for interesting reading.

A fascinating, and perhaps controversial section discusses the how the development of man's physiology was affected by Africa's climate and topography. This includes a discussion of the need for the cooling of the brain and how man's unique biped stance and movement were developed as a response to Africa's weather and flora. I found it pleasantly surprising to find that what I thought would be a simple history went so far afield yet stayed true to the subject.

He discusses the evolution of early man and the effect the land had on it. As man evolved and civilizations emerged, Reader shows how Africa's rainfall, soil and weather affected the way in which those civilizations developed. He describes the unique cultures of the different peoples, although he does not attempt to be comprehensive. Rather it is a sampling of some of the more interesting aspects.

The end of the book is a bit of a disappointment. With the beginning of the colonial era the style goes to more of an overview and while it is certainly appropriate for a single volume, it feels like a bit of a letdown compared to unusual and interesting approach Reader had taken in most of the book. Still, there's nothing bad or unreadable and for many readers it will be quite enough.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in people and history, and especially those who enjoy finding those books that take chances and succeed.

Link to LibraryThing entry for this book

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