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A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa
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A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa

3.86 of 5 stars 3.86  ·  rating details  ·  516 ratings  ·  46 reviews
In A Continent for the Taking Howard W. French, a veteran correspondent for The New York Times, gives a compelling firsthand account of some of Africa’s most devastating recent history–from the fall of Mobutu Sese Seko, to Charles Taylor’s arrival in Monrovia, to the genocide in Rwanda and the Congo that left millions dead. Blending eyewitness reportage with rich historica ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published April 12th 2005 by Vintage (first published 2004)
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Having recently been powerfully moved by Uwem Akpan's short stories about suffering in different parts of Africa, and feeling guilty that I didn't know enough about some of the political struggles that ravaged that continent in the 1990s (the contexts, the varying perspectives, the cultural traditions and influences, the key players), when this book was recommended to me by a friend planning a trip to Ethiopia, I gladly borrowed it. Before I began the book I had a general sense of the devastatin ...more
Unlike some of the other African travel writing and reportage on my African shelf, French's book is uncompromisingly fact-laden and dense. There are a few moments when the history that he lived through gathers enough speed around certain imperiled individuals or groups to make the book gripping and fast-paced; but, on average, it requires careful attention that borders on note-taking to keep track of the motivations and backgrounds of the different players in French's account (unless you have al ...more
A very insightful and informative account of a journalist's experiences covering critical events in West Africa during the 1990's. French's chronicle of Mobutu's downfall in Zaire is especially riveting. Heavy on the tragedy and light on hope, this is a book that forces its reader to confront and contemplate human suffering on a very large scale. It's not an easy read for that reason, although the writing is superb. Only two downsides: 1) Written in the late 1990's, it is a bit dated. French hol ...more
I found this a difficult book to read, for several reasons. The content was disturbing, and I felt definite moments of shame at the complacency of the West. It is hard not to feel guilty for the role that my own culture has played, both in creating the circumstances for atrocities and ruthless dictatorships, and for doing little to remedy them. I also admired the courage of French and the local people.

My other difficulty was the writing. While French's style is very elegant and engaging, I found
Haunting, depressing, one must look very deep to see the "Hope" side of this book.

After having the privilege of spending two years of my life in Mali, this book has placed an explanation point on the significance and very unique qualities that is "Malian Culture".

Toward the book, I admire Mr. French's pursuit of the un-whitewashed truth, even when it revealed my own country (USA) to hold partial responsibility for the senseless killing and crimes that have taken place in several countries on a
I've just finished both of French's books on Africa, the other one being "China's Second Continent" and they have, in their very different ways, changed the way I think about Africa forever.

I came away from them with an increased realization that the one thing that can be said about the human race - the white ones, the brown ones, the yellow ones and the black ones - is that we persist in behaving about as idiotically as its possible to behave. History has apparently taught us nothing and almos
I must say, this book is nothing I expected it to be. I thought it would be a pan-African account of modern history. It was more of an autobiographic experience of French in Liberia, DR Congo, and few other countries.

I enjoyed the way he writes. French takes material that could've been very boring and confusing and lays it out in a way that it's easy for someone who has very little familiarity with politics and history of certain countries to understand.
A good review of the chaotic 1990's, but only about central and west Africa. also, there's nothing more in depth as to the root causes of the ongoing cycle of violence beyond "European colonization made us this way". Contrary to the subtitle,there is no indication of hope.
The author seems to think that America should step in at every opportunity, and if it doesn't, it is to blame wholly for any succeeding violence. Also, the author's holier -than-thou attitude got to me a few times (granted, it
This book is not about the entire continent of Africa, or at least not explicitly about the entire continent, French implies there are a lot of similar themes throughout Africa. It is more about central Africa, and most specifically it's about the DRC, formally known as Zaire. While it covers a few things, the main subject is the end of DRC's time as Zaire and the forces that were behind that. It mostly gets into other countries because of how they contributed to that- Rwanda Tutsi forces were t ...more
I have been reading books about Africa lately. This was available from my public library in Kindle format, so apparently some (slightly) older works are being re-released in that format.

There isn't anything I would add to the summary from Goodreads except that the writing itself is very good and kept me engaged. I have a tendency lately to read one book for a few days, then pick up something else and then finish the other book later, if at all. That didn't happen with this - I read this over a p
Too anecdotal, considering the incredibly self-important title. Interesting stories of his experience as a journalist in Congo and Cote D'Ivoire but he overgeneralizes on what he sees as the problems that constrain African development and backs those points up with specific and sometimes isolated incidents.
This book was interesting. I say this because while it held a lot of information about the history and goings-on in Africa that normally, American citizens are not privy to, the author, towards the end, tended to blame American politics for the raggedy environments of African states. Yes, America is partially to blame, but France and Belgium played their parts as well. Yet these African states and the reporter writing the book tended to look solely to the United States to repair the immense amou ...more
Jamie Deal
An excellent first-person account of 1990s sub-Saharan African politics, this book is filled with insight both passionate and enlightening from Howard French, the NY Times Africa bureau chief from that period. His exploration of the Congolese Wars and their relationship with the Rwandan genocide is the most profound part of the book, although he discusses nearly everything of significance from this period. Keep in mind once again, however, that his scope is limited to those parts of Africa he pe ...more
Sandy J
Despite the horror and devastation described in this book, French always finds cause for hope in democracy movements and brave outspoken individuals. His insights into power dynamics, politics and ethnic divisions help make (a little bit more) sense of the unfolding tragedies. I did take away a new awareness of how much a journalists understanding of a situation depends on their personal experience. Gourevitch could never get past the horror of the Rwandan genocide and therefore overlooked the e ...more
Horribly titled, this book documents journalist French's tales of reporting in Western and Central Africa in the 1980's and 1990's, particularly in Zaire (now known as Congo), Nigeria, and Liberia. I enjoyed his writing style but overall, didn't feel the stories were completely conducive to one another, although they are compelling in and of themselves.
The content was great - the problems of Africa, as deep rooted as they are and frustrating and discouraging as they can be, tend to be something we (in the "Western World") tend to look away from. Not that we ignore them, but I think we tend to close our eyes and try not to think about them. French gives a compelling first-hand account from the ground, and while discouraging and frustrating I think it is an important book for anyone to read.

French's writing style is not always easy to follow, bu
Kathleen McRae
this book goes into great detail about Africa's struggle for democracy.the author spent some years in various countries in Africa covering conflicts and as it happens was very interesting but hard to follow at times because the story not only jumped country to country but timeline to timeline.And in the end it is a story of such overwhelming greed not only by Africans but also by the many countries that ' colonized on that continent ' but also by the world institutions today that will ...more
Colin Williams
Readable and informative.
With the Congo being in the news again, I am so glad I read this book. Not only was it highly readable -- but now I feel like I have a way better understanding of what is happening in some parts of Africa. He is not offering a lot of solutions -- and in Africa history does have a way of repeating itself -- so the book does start to feel a little bit like "did I already read this part?" by the end -- but I reccommend it to anyone looking to get the basics of the African issues we often hear about ...more
I found this book to be extremely informative about modern-day African history post colonialism to someone knowing little about African politics. What was eye-opening is that the political borders those created by the former European colonists with little regard to the different ethnic/religious/tribal groups occupying these artificially created nations. I am troubled that news from and about Africa faces limited coverage by traditional US media outlets-especially the catastrophes in Zaire/the C ...more
I was disappointed in this book. I was hoping for more historical perspective, and perhaps more hope for the future. Instead we get several years of colonial occupation in one chapter, and then the rest of the book is essentially a who's who of despots, coups, tribal warfare and genocide focused on the 90s. This is the tragedy, but where is the hope? What few political successes in post colonial Africa there are barely touched on, and as for hope for the future? I didn't find in here.
I find most nonfiction about Africa to be difficult for me to get through, not because they aren't interesting or written well, but because there are just so many names and things happening and countries involved -- so much to absorb and keep track of. This one, thus, was also a slower read for me, but very insightful, tragic and a great insiders perspective on a lot of history there.
Anne-marie Coonan
A little preachy for my tastes but gets better as the book progresses. Some very good points on the history of colonialism and post-colonial support for "big men". Most of it's been said before and really a history book would have been better to cover a lot of issues. It's well written and a good length. More importantly it was available in Nairobi airport.
Excellent record of West Africa in the 1990s. Very depressing and very well written - it is not difficult to read at all. Shocking to realise what I have lived through and basically not been aware of. And yet again how the developed countries' (this book focuses mainly on the US) foreign policies have totally screwed this continent.
Greg Parlane
A great book, but very sobering. This is by far the best I've read in the way of books on Africa. The way French takes you through the never ending nightmare of a content that continues to self destruct both economically and politically, left me wondering if there is any hope for this beautiful continent of my birth.
Mar 07, 2011 Megan added it
The most interesting book I've read on West Africa thus far. Howard French's honesty and frankness about his days as a journalist covering some of the largest changes in contemporary Africa is utterly refreshing. This book will keep me thinking for a long while to come, and I plan to read it again.
The subtitle suggested (to me) that the book would present relatively equal measures of tragedy and hope. But true to reality, the overwhelming sadness of current affairs dominates the narrative. The author is justifiably and effectively angry. The hope lives in actions taken after reading this.
I hadn't realized the book was written in 2004, focusing on events witnessed by the journalist author several years earlier; so, yes, it qualifies as "dated". Worthwhile for those with a strong interest in African affairs, others will likely find it bogged down and tedious.
Feb 13, 2008 Theresa rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: EVERYONE
Recommended to Theresa by: Personal Curiosity
A FANTASTIC book if you are curious about African politics from the 1800s to the 1990s. This book will make you realize how little we Americans know about the African continent and what people there are truly dealing with all because of American business. Unbelieveable.
Oct 03, 2007 Heather rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Adults
Written by an African American. Discusses many different African countries. Is very critical of author Phillip Gourevitch, who wrote a book about Rwanda. I found parts hard to understand, maybe because it took me so long to read.
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Howard W. French is an associate professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where he has taught both journalism and photography since 2008. For many years, he was a Senior Writer for The New York Times, where he spent most of a nearly 23 year career as a foreign correspondent, working in and traveling to over 100 countries on five continents.

From 1979 to 1986, he lived in
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“To my eyes, the presence of a few families like these only brought into sharper relief the ambiguous morality of the evacuation. The marines were doing their job with typical efficiency and even dignity, but there was no escaping the ugly fact that America was swooping into this country once again to conduct a triage, neglecting precisely those who were least able to fend for themselves. Ordinary Liberians were being relegated to a category of subhuman existence whose intimate workings I had first learned about as a young reporter covering police headquarters in New York. There, I quickly deduced how certain murders were automatically classified as nickel-and-dime cases—‘jobs’ that required little follow-up by detectives, and by inference, by the press as well. It was another insidious form of triage, and it took only a few days on the assignment to understand that the ‘garbage’ cases almost invariably involved people of color” 1 likes
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