The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith (2003)
This first novel in the widely acclaimed series tells the story of the delightfully cunning and enormously engaging Precious Ramotswe, who is drawn to her profession to “help people with problems in their lives.” Immediately upon setting up shop in a small storefront in Gaborone, she is hired to track down a missing husband, uncover a con man, and follow a wayward daughter. But the case that tugs at her heart, and lands her in danger, is a missing eleven-year-old boy, who may have been snatched by witchdoctors.

Cry of the Kalahari

Cry of the Kalahari by Mark & Delia Owens (1992)
This is the story of the Owens' travel and life in the Kalahari Desert. Here theses American scientists studied unique animals with dynamic characters and were confronted with danger from drought, fire, storms, and the animals they loved. Although their ideas on conservation proved to be controversial, the Owens offer an unparalleled view into the Botswana wilderness.

Okavango: Africa’s Last Eden

Okavango: Africa’s Last Eden by Frans Lanting (1995)
This photo essay captures the magnificent animals of the Kalahari Desert and their fragile environment in a highly praised collection of 125 extraordinary photographs, taken during a year-long expedition by award-winning National Geographic photographer Frans Lanting.

Whatever You Do, Don’t Run

Whatever You Do, Don’t Run by Peter Allison (2007)
At age 19, Australian-born Allison headed to Africa for challenge and adventure, planning to stay no more than a year; having found work as a safari guide, he's still there more than a decade later. In this fun, fearless memoir, Allison shares his experiences taking guests through the African wilderness. Along the way, Allison examines his fellow guides, the struggle with exhaustion, getting lost and the temptation to make frequently visiting animals into pets, as well as some poignant asides on love and death.



Shadow of Kilimanjaro: On Foot Across East Africa

Shadow of Kilimanjaro: On Foot Across East Africa by Rick Ridgeway (1998)
Explorer, adventurer, entrepreneur, Ridgeway takes the reader on an incredible journey. On foot for a month, from the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, through the plains of Tsavo, to the sea, he offers a rare ground's-eye view of east Africa as it is today, and how it once was before the incursion of European civilization.

The Challenge for Africa

The Challenge for Africa by Wangari Maathai (2010)
The troubles of Africa today are severe and wide-ranging. Yet, too often, they are portrayed by the media in extreme terms connoting poverty, dependence, and desperation. The late Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and founder of the Green Belt Movement, offers a refreshingly unique perspective on these challenges, even as she calls for a moral revolution among Africans themselves.

The Flame Trees of Thika

The Flame Trees of Thika by Elspeth Huxley (2000)
The famous autobiography of a childhood spent in Kenya. Huxley, also known for her novels and mysteries, comes to the African bush at the age of six. This is her eloquent and lively story, infused with a child's sensitivity and honesty. A wonderful glimpse of life in Kenya on the eve of World War I.

I Dreamed of Africa

I Dreamed of Africa by Kuki Gallmann (1992)
This is a very personal story, a woman's journey of love, loss and rebirth, based on a ranch in Kenya, on the edge of the Rift Valley. Gallmann fulfilled her dream by moving to Africa at 25 with her soon-to-be husband, where they established a 90,000 acre ranch. The book is a beautifully written and at times haunting memoir of what it is like to belong to the land and truly love Africa.

West with the Night

West with the Night by Beryl Markham (1983)
At the age of four, Beryl Markham was taken by her father to Kenya. She later became a bush pilot, and in 1936, became the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west. In this stylish book, Markham describes her life in Kenya so adeptly that Hemingway was prompted to say, "She has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer."

The Tree Where Man Was Born

The Tree Where Man Was Born by Peter Matthiessen (1995)
An African classic. Matthiessen exquisitely combines nature and travel writing to bring East Africa vividly to life. He magically portrays the sights, scenes, and people he observed firsthand in several trips over the course of 12 years.

The Lunatic Express

The Lunatic Express by Charles Miller (2002)
The saga of the turbulent international race for the mastery and development of an immense region of East Africa that all but visionaries thought worthless. It is the narrative of the building of the Mombasa-Nairobi-Lake Victoria Railway itself - a colossal six-year enterprise that was to cost over $7 million and countless lives, from derailments, collisions, disease, tribal raids and the assaults of wild animals. It is a diorama of an earlier Africa, of slave and ivory empires, of sultans and tribal monarchs and the vast lands that they ruled. Above all, it is the story of the white intruders whose combination of avarice, honor and tenacious courage made them a breed apart.



The Caliph's House

The Caliph's House by Tahir Shah (2006)
In the tradition of A Year in Provence and Under the Tuscan Sun, acclaimed English travel writer Tahir Shah shares a highly entertaining account of making an exotic dream come true. Inspired by the Moroccan vacations of his childhood, Tahir Shah dreamed of making a home in that astonishing country. At age thirty-six he got his chance. Investing what money he and his wife, Rachana, had, Tahir packed up his growing family and bought Dar Khalifa, a crumbling ruin of a mansion by the sea in Casablanca that once belonged to the city’s caliph, or spiritual leader. By turns hilarious and harrowing, here is the story of his family’s move from the gray skies of London to the sun-drenched city of Casablanca, where Islamic tradition and African folklore converge–and nothing is as easy as it seems.

A House in Fez: Building a Life in the Ancient Heart of Morocco

A House in Fez: Building a Life in the Ancient Heart of Morocco by Suzanna Clarke (2008)
The Medina -- the Old City -- of Fez is the best-preserved, medieval walled city in the world. Inside this vibrant Moroccan community, internet cafes and mobile phones coexist with a maze of donkey-trod alleyways, thousand-year-old sewer systems, and Arab-style houses, gorgeous with intricate, if often shabby, mosaic work. While vacationing in Morocco, Suzanna Clarke and her husband, Sandy, are inspired to buy a dilapidated, centuries-old riad in Fez with the aim of restoring it to its original splendor, using only traditional craftsmen and handmade materials. So begins a remarkable adventure that is bewildering, at times hilarious, and ultimately immensely rewarding.

Dreams of Trespass

Dreams of Trespass by Fatima Mernissi (1995)
”I was born in a harem in 1940 in Fez, Morocco...” So begins Fatima Mernissi in this exotic and rich narrative of a childhood behind the iron gates of a domestic harem. In Dreams of Trespass, Mernissi weaves her own memories with the dreams and memories of the women who surrounded her in the courtyard of her youth—women who, deprived of access to the world outside, recreated it from sheer imagination. Dreams of Trespass is the provocative story of a girl confronting the mysteries of time and place, gender and sex in the recent Muslim world.

Travels with a Tangerine

Travels with a Tangerine: From Morocco to Turkey in the Footsteps of Islam's Greatest Traveler by Tim Mackintosh-Smith (2004)
In 1325, the great Arab traveler Ibn Battutah set out from his native Tangier in North Africa on pilgrimage to Mecca. By the time he returned nearly thirty years later, he had seen most of the known world, covering three times the distance allegedly traveled by the great Venetian explorer Marco Polo—some 75,000 miles in all. Captivated by Ibn Battutah’s account of his journey, the Arabic scholar and award-winning travel writer Tim Mackintosh-Smith set out to follow in the peripatetic Moroccan’s footsteps.



A Complicated War, The Harrowing of Mozambique

A Complicated War, The Harrowing of Mozambique by William Finnegan (1993)
An eyewitness historical, political and social account of Mozambique and the civil war that has ravaged the country, organized as a travelogue of sorts -- and centered around the author's own travels and interviews. Finnegan, a staff writer for the New Yorker, risked his own life as he traveled through the war-torn country, seeking first-hand accounts from the refugees whose families have been murdered by the Mozambique National Resistance. Portions of this book originally appeared in the "New Yorker."

Travels with a Tangerine

A Fish Caught in Time, The Search for the Coelacanth by Samantha Weinberg (2000)
The coelacanth (see-lo-canth) is no ordinary fish. Five feet long, with luminescent eyes and limb like fins, this bizarre creature, presumed to be extinct, was discovered in 1938 by an amateur icthyologist who recognized it from fossils dating back 400 million years. The discovery was immediately dubbed the "greatest scientific find of the century," but the excitement that ensued was even more incredible. This is the entrancing story of that most rare and precious fish -- our own great-uncle forty million times removed.



Where Fire Speaks, A Visit With The Himba

Where Fire Speaks, A Visit With The Himba by David Campion & Sandra Shields (2003)
The journalist and photographer team, funded by the International Center for Human Rights and Democratic Development, capture the challenges and life of the Himba people of northern Namibia.

The Burning Shore

The Burning Shore by Wilbur Smith (2007)
An epic tale of romance, survival, etc. set in Southwestern Africa (aka Namibia) by the master of South African pulp fiction. Besides being excellent airplane reading, the book, about the adventures of a British flying ace, conveys a good sense of the landscape, wildlife and history of Namibia.

The Elephants Secret Sense, The Hidden Life of the Wild Herds of Africa

The Elephants Secret Sense, The Hidden Life of the Wild Herds of Africa by Caitlin O’Connell (2008)
Southern Africa was once regarded as a worthless jumble of British colonies, Boer republics, and African chiefdoms, a troublesome region of little interest to the outside world. But then prospectors chanced upon the world’s richest deposits of diamonds and gold, setting off a titanic struggle between the British and the Boers for control of the land. The result was the costliest, bloodiest, and most humiliating war that Britain had waged in nearly a century, and the devastation of the Boer republics.

Africa, A Biography of the Continent

Africa, A Biography of the Continent by John Reader (1999)
With the ease of a practiced journalist, Reader weaves a masterful tale of the continent in this lively history of Africa, from ancient cultures to modern times. Both authoritative and informal, this is a splendid introduction to all of Africa.


Rwanda & Uganda

Gorillas in the Mist

Gorillas in the Mist by Dian Fossey (2000)
Fossey's highly personal, detailed account of the ecology and behavior of the mountain gorilla based on her 13 years among "the greatest of the great apes." These highly endangered gorillas are restricted to just six extinct volcanoes in the Virunga mountains, an area 25 miles long and only 6-12 miles wide. She describes habituating her study group. Having named the animals, she follows the life history, diet and sex life of each, offering insight into both the study animals and researcher. Originally published in 1983.

The Year of the Gorilla

The Year of the Gorilla by George Schaller (2010)
A vividly written tale of adventures among the gorillas of the Virunga volcanoes of Rwanda and Uganda. This book is a wonderful, accessible account of field work under difficult and sometimes dangerous circumstances by one of the great wildlife biologists. In this classic, Schaller tells of the gorillas, the excitement of tracking animals in the jungle bureaucratic pitfalls and very real trouble with poachers. Illustrated with photographs and line drawings by the author.

Land of a Thousand Hills, My Life in Rwanda

Land of a Thousand Hills, My Life in Rwanda by Rosamond Halsey Carr (2000)
Carr's chronicle of a remarkable life and her 50-year love affair with Africa. In 1949, Rosamond Halsey Carr, a young fashion illustrator living in New York City, accompanied her dashing hunter-explorer husband to what was then the Belgian Congo. When the marriage fell apart, she decided to stay on in neighboring Rwanda, as the manager of a flower plantation. She has experienced everything from stalking leopards to rampaging elephants, drought, the mysterious murder of her friend Dian Fossey, and near-bankruptcy. She has chugged up the Congo River on a paddle-wheel steamboat, been serenaded by pygmies, and witnessed firsthand the collapse of colonialism. Following 1994's Hutu-Tutsi genocide, Carr turned her plantation into a shelter for the lost and orphaned children.

Our Lady of the Nile

Our Lady of the Nile by Scholastique Mukasonga (2014, Rwanda)
A debut novel that quickly rose through France's best-seller list. Set behind the closed doors of an upper-crust girls' school, just before the Rwandan genocide of the early 1970s, the novel follows rising political tensions, broken friendships and growing animosities as incitements to racial violence and secret desires are kindled. Winner of the Prix Renaudot and the Grand Prix of the French Voices.

A School for My Village

A School for My Village by Kaguri Twesigye Jackson (2011, Uganda)
Director of development at Michigan State University and a visiting scholar at Columbia University, Kaguri returns home to found the Nyaka and Kutamba AIDS Orphans Schools in his native Uganda.

Our Lady of the Nile

The White Nile by Alan Moorehead (2000, Uganda)
A lively history of the Victorian search for the source of the Nile including the extraordinary tales of Richard Burton and John Speke, not to mention the famous meeting of Livingstone and Stanley. A classic, originally published in 1960. With vivid descriptions of Zanzibar, the last days of Khartoum and the building of the Suez Canal.


South Africa

Long Walk to Freedom

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela (1994)
This is a truly remarkable book, a fabulous reading experience, so important that it transcends geography and genre. Everyone should read it! Inspirational, emotional and educational.

A History of South Africa

A History of South Africa by Leonard Thompson (1992)
A revised edition of a history of South Africa which focuses on the experiences of the black inhabitants from the earliest known human settlement through to the present day. Includes a new chapter on South Africa's transition from a racist political order to a democratic one.

Beyond the Miracle, Inside the New South Africa

Beyond the Miracle, Inside the New South Africa by Allister Sparks (2009)
A follow-up to the South African journalist's Tomorrow is Another Country (1996), here is the story of the political and social transformation of South Africa over the last ten years, including its accomplishments, failures and present day challenges.

Diamonds, Gold, and War: The British, the Boers, and the Making of South Africa

Diamonds, Gold, and War: The British, the Boers, and the Making of South Africa by Martin Meredith (2008)
Southern Africa was once regarded as a worthless jumble of British colonies, Boer republics, and African chiefdoms, a troublesome region of little interest to the outside world. But then prospectors chanced upon the world’s richest deposits of diamonds and gold, setting off a titanic struggle between the British and the Boers for control of the land. The result was the costliest, bloodiest, and most humiliating war that Britain had waged in nearly a century, and the devastation of the Boer republics.

Every Secret Thing

Every Secret Thing by Gillian Slovo (1997)
A passionate witness to the colossal upheaval that has transformed her native South Africa, Gillian Slovo has written a memoir that is far more than a story of her own life. For she is the daughter of Joe Slovo and Ruth First, South Africa's pioneering anti-apartheid white activists, a daughter who always had to come second to political commitment.


Spud by John van de Ruit (2008)
John “Spud” Milton takes his first hilarious steps toward manhood in this delicious, laugh-out-loud boarding school romp, full of midnight swims, raging hormones, and catastrophic holidays. A wonderful read, this book also has great insight into the uniquely South African boarding school childhood.

The Elephant Whisperer

The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony (2012)
When South African conservationist Lawrence Anthony was asked to accept a herd of "rogue" wild elephants on his Thula Thula game reserve in Zululand, his common sense told him to refuse. But he was the herd's last chance of survival: they would be killed if he wouldn't take them. In order to save their lives, Anthony took them in. In the years that followed he became a part of their family. And as he battled to create a bond with the elephants, he came to realize that they had a great deal to teach him about life, loyalty, and freedom.

The Last Rhinos

The Last Rhinos by Lawrence Anthony (2012)
When one of Lawrence Anthony’s rhinos was brutally slaughtered for her horn, he didn't hesitate to lead an armed response against the poachers. Then he learned that there were only a handful of northern white rhinos left in the wild, living in an area of the Congo controlled by the infamous Lord's Resistance Army and soon to be hunted into extinction. What followed was an extraordinary adventure, as he headed into the jungle to negotiate with the rebels, while battling to save his own animals from terrible drought and to save the eyesight of his beloved elephant matriarch Nana.



Among the Elephants

Among the Elephants by Iain and Oria Douglas Hamilton (1978)
Although the Douglas Hamilton family are these days much more connected with elephant conservation in Kenya, this wonderful book tells the story of their early years spent living and researching in the area around Lake Manyara in Northern Tanzania. It is an inspiring and heart-warming book of family adventure and includes a particularly touching photo of their daughter Saba, now a well-known wildlife television presenter, up close and personal with the elephants with which she grew up. A great read, especially if you are passing through this way on safari.

Serengeti Shall Not Die

Serengeti Shall Not Die by Bernhard Grzimek (1973)
This is the landmark book on conservation in East Africa and the message is even more important now, nearly 40 years after the book was first written.

Through the Dark Continent: Vol 1 & 2

Through the Dark Continent: Vol 1 & 2 by Henry Morton Stanley (1899)
This reprint of Stanley's original texts recount in vivid detail his amazing expedition of 1871 when he traversed Africa from Zanzibar in the east to the mouth of the Congo in the west, including the immortal words "David Livingstone I presume". Although it is undeniably quite heavy and old fashioned, the writing is incredibly evocative of the period and full of the kind of tales that preoccupied the minds of small boys for generations. The first volume covers the traverse of modern day Tanzania from Zanzibar to Lake Tanganyika, the second picking up the story and finishing off in Tanzania before heading off into the jungles of the Congo basin.

Mimi and Toutou Go Forth: The Bizarre Battle of Lake Tanganyika

Mimi and Toutou Go Forth: The Bizarre Battle of Lake Tanganyika by Giles Foden (2005)
This light-hearted book from the author of The Last Kind of Scotland tells the tale of how, during the First World War, a British expedition carried two small collapsible boats from Cape Town to Lake Tanganyika in order to confront the western flank of German East Africa. A bizarre and amusing story, accessible to a wider audience.

Tip and Run

Tip and Run by Edward Paice (2008)
This fantastic book comprehensively recounts the events of the First World War in Africa and most specifically in Tanganyika. A 'small war', consisting of a few 'local affairs', was all that was expected in August 1914 as Britain moved to eliminate the threat to the high seas of German naval bases in Africa. This is a rather dense but enthralling historical account.

Memoirs of an Arabian Princess from Zanzibar

Memoirs of an Arabian Princess from Zanzibar by Emily Ruete (2009)
Born Princess Salme in the Sultan's court on Zanzibar, the author wrote this book for her children in the 1800s as a tribute to the island. It is rich in details of a long-lost way of life, recalling the time when the sultans reigned on Zanzibar. In the last chapter she tells of her visit home after 19 years in Germany. Originally published in 1907.



The Eye of the Elephant: An Epic Adventure in the African Wilderness

The Eye of the Elephant: An Epic Adventure in the African Wilderness by Mark & Delia Owens (1992)
Each year from 1973 to 1985, an estimated 1000 elephants were slaughtered in Zambia's Luangwa Valley for their ivory tusks, skin, tails and feet; in 1991, only 12 were killed in this fashion. No little credit for saving the elephants is due to the Owenses (Cry of the Kalahari), biologists who set out to research animal behavior but stayed to persuade villagers that rather than shooting elephants, they could gain more in food, jobs and money by letting the animals live and attracting tourists to see them.

The Zambesi Expedition, To the Zambesi River and Its Tributaries

The Zambesi Expedition, To the Zambesi River and Its Tributaries by David Livingstone (2001)
The original account of Livingstone's journey on the Zambezi. It's a sympathetic portrait of African peoples, rich in nature, culture and politics. Subtitled "Dr. Livingstone's Expedition to the Zambesi River and Its Tributaries: and of the Discovery of the Lakes Shirwa and Nyassa.

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller (2012)
In this sequel to Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight (see the Zimbabwe reading list), Alexandra Fuller returns to memoir to retell her parents' story of tragedy and renewal through a journey that takes them from Kenya and Rhodesia to Zambia.



A History of Zimbabwe

A History of Zimbabwe by Alois S. Mlambo (2014)
An unprecedented single volume coverage of the country from pre-colonial times to the present. Includes the San hunter-gather societies, British imperial rule and exploitation, the struggle for independence and the violent political and economic struggles that reign today. Especially geared toward students of Zimbabwean history but a good primer for anyone curious about the region.

Zenzele, A Letter for My Daughter

Zenzele, A Letter for My Daughter by J. Nozipo Maraire (1997)
A richly textured novel of Zimbabwe, taking the form of a letter from a mother to her daughter, who will leave Africa for Harvard University. In spinning these tales, the ailing narrator recalls her life story, the history of Zimbabwe and the fight for independence. Each chapter is a lesson, warning Zenzele of the challenges ahead as a black African woman. Born in Harare in 1966, Maraire (a neurosurgeon who studied at Harvard, Columbia and Yale) came of age during Rhodesia's struggle for independence. For this autobiographical work, she draws on the wisdom, folktales and stories told by her grandmother, mother and aunt.

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood by Alexandra Fuller (2003)
A affecting and candid coming-of-age memoir set during the Rhodesian Civil War. Fuller's parents moved from England to Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe) in the early 1970s. She's a gifted writer with a remarkable voice, capturing the realities of an ugly war and its racism from a unique point of view.

Mukiwa, A White Boy in Africa

Mukiwa, A White Boy in Africa by Peter Godwin (2003)
An unsentimental tale of coming-of-age in Rhodesia in the 1960s in three parts: boyhood, the war and post-independence. A participant on the losing side in the savage civil war, Godwin flees the country, returning after independence as a journalist and supporter of black Zimbabwe. Mukiwa provides a rare perspective on the consequences of colonialism.


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