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The Fortunes of Africa: A 5,000-Year History of Wealth, Greed, and Endeavor

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  695 ratings  ·  79 reviews
A sweeping history the fortune seekers, adventurers, despots, and thieves who have ruthlessly endeavored to extract gold, diamonds, and other treasures from Africa and its people.

Africa has been coveted for its rich natural resources ever since the era of the Pharaohs. In past centuries, it was the lure of gold, ivory, and slaves that drew merchant-adventurers and conquer
Hardcover, 745 pages
Published October 14th 2014 by Public Affairs
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Chris Jaffe
Mar 28, 2015 rated it liked it
I found this to be an extremely disappointing book. My disappointment partially came from how much I enjoyed and got out of the two previous books by Meredith about African history that I've read: The Fate of Africa and In the Name of Apartheid.

Actually, what I liked so much about those books helps explain why I was so disappointed in this one.

Let's look at The Fate of Africa. This was a broad overview of Africa since independence. It is a work of pop history. I don't mean that in any sort of i
Oct 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, africa
We can be confident that the Garden of Eden was in Southern Iraq and not in Africa, but we also know that there have always been people in Africa and throughout recorded history it seems they have traded in slaves, gold and ivory with the lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Black Africans have typically been represented as mysterious people without a history of their own. Now we have this superb, single volume history of Africa, providing the raw material to investigate a thousand interesti ...more
Justin Evans
Feb 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history-etc
It's important that you realize one thing about this book: it is a history of how the peoples and land of Africa have been exploited from Egypt to the present; it not a history of Africa. I'd like to read Meredith do the latter, but this isn't it.

It's important to mention this because I can easily imagine someone criticizing this book for its focus on the various peoples who have done the exploiting, whether ancient Egyptian, Muslim, African or European. There's a great deal less in here about
Ian Casey
I hope one day to find a history book with a solid overview of the broad sweeps of African history across millenia, with a workable compromise between competing aspects such as the social, cultural, economic, theological and military. Martin Meredith's The Fortunes of Africa goes some way to achieving it, but in all fairness is not trying to be that book for which I hope.

This is a synthesis of other works that aims more at regurgitating information in piecemeal manner rather than offering any co
Alex O'Connor
Feb 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
A very informative, expansive book. However, I have to knock one (if not two) stars off because this book was also very disappointing. I was hoping for a book on the Africans of Africa- their politics, culture, and societies, especially before Europeans and after the Independence movement of the 1950's. Disappointingly, this book seemed to feature primarily a European outlook, with the Africans not as individual societies, cultures, and places but instead as a single large mass that was oppresse ...more
Randall Wallace
Jan 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
Africa is larger in size than the US, China, India, Japan and most of Europe combined. At 700 pages, this one volume history of Africa is no short book, but it’s subject is vast. Africa’s early history is of warring kingdoms with two trades: slavery and ivory. Know that ivory was the plastic of it’s era. Sadly, those trying to stop the slave trade had to travel with members of the ivory trade; those trying to stop ivory poaching travelled with slavers. If you could go back in time anywhere in Af ...more
Aug 27, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, 2016
The ambition of this book is astounding. The kind of detail and narrative history that Meredith is trying to write was simply beyond his ability - the balance between excruciating detail and larger movements requires an endless stream of judgements that ultimately only allow you to glimpse a concise version of Meredith's view of Africa, partially.

Significant parts of history are simply not given the import they were due - others, again to appeal to a narrative style, are given undue space in an
Jan 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
In about 700 pages, "The Fortunes of Africa" is a well written narrative of African history. It describes in good detail a lot of events that occurred over a span of 5 millennia and provides the reader with a good context within which to situate the current state of affairs on the continent.

I found the material well referenced and as an African I learnt many things about our history that I didn't know prior to reading this book. The book provides an impressive breath of historical narrative at t
Jan 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a meaty and fascinating overview of Africa's history, from the earliest civilizations to the aftermath of colonization. The problem of any overview, of course, is that there are always parts that I'd want to read more about, but given my meager knowledge about the history of Africa, this was a great place to start. It's a reminder of how rich and complex Africa's many societies are, and that there is hope for the future of the continent despite the horrific suffering of the past and some ...more
J. Turner
Jan 18, 2021 rated it liked it
This book is extremely ambitious. It seeks to cover the millennia-long, seemingly unceasing rape and pillage of the continent of Africa. The best part of this book is its shear wealth of information. It is absolutely jam-packed with information on the different civilizations and empires that plundered Africa. The author makes clear that Africa--with an abundancy of natural resources and the perpetual availability of trade in slaves--has always been at risk of foreign domination.

While the book d
Sue Flynn
Sep 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
I found this to be a very interesting and fascinating history of Africa. I learned a lot about the various countries that were involved in trying to control the various tribes. If one reads this book it will help you to understand the plight and frustration of all the peoples of Africa and why it bleeds out into the rest of the world. For a people to always be treated as subservient and never given an opportunity to either continue with their religions and traditions it makes sense why there is ...more
Mar 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: african-history
If this were clickbait, it ought to read "Europeans act like dicks over an entire continent for several hundred years. You'll never guess what happened next."

This year I decided I wanted to read the history of places that are not often told in the west (but should be). I was more or less familiar with the Europeans acting like dicks in Africa narrative from European history classes. (I wasn't aware the Belgians had been as incredibly awful as they were.) I was hoping for more nuance. In reality
Smooth Via
Sep 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Utterly fascinating.
This was my bathroom book, so it took me over a year to complete it, but that doesn't mean it was boring. Quite the opposite: it was fascinating and informative. I will say that there were times when I wanted more detail about certain events, people, or time periods. Likewise, there were other times when the sheer amount of details that Meredith included felt entirely unnecessary.

Nevertheless, the book flows quite well and is a much easier and enjoyable read than you would an
Todd Stockslager
Review title: This is the mess

Meredith has written a sprawling narrative survey of the whole African continent in a book nearly as big as the topic. It is a valiant effort and a good introduction to a continent that is often given short shrift and little attention, and yet the book still feels like it has barely scratched the surface. Just like Mercator projection maps that I recently learned substantially undersize the African continent at the center to show the continents and oceans surroundin
Daniel Polansky
I am that peculiar sort of person for whom a single-volume, political/military history of some fair swathe of the planet is about the most enjoyable form of literature. I LOVE these sorts of things, I could eat them up like candy. This is a very good example of the form, detailing African history from Ancient Egypt to the modern-age, with a primary focus on the exploitation of its resources, which essentially ends up being the interplay between 'foreign' and native African forces. At eight or ni ...more
Lois Plale
Jan 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Easy-to-understand history of the exploitation of Africa.
Aug 18, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: half-finished
Very detailed account of African civilized history. Very little is known and hence written about the history of the African tribes in the south.Quite a long read.
Jul 28, 2020 rated it liked it
This is a decent general survey of the history of Africa such as is known from the most accessible historical and travelers accounts and a fairly good though not particularly thorough history of decolonization and the fate of Africa since independence. I suppose I should rate it more highly because it really is a decent general history if you don't know anything about Africa to begin with, but I was hoping for something more. This is not in fact a 5,000 year history of the whole of Africa, but r ...more
Dave Schoettinger
Jun 14, 2017 rated it liked it
Three years ago I read a book by Nigerian-American journalist Dayo Olopade called The Bright Continent. This was an upbeat and optimistic account of the author's experiences in Africa and gave the perception that the African people were up to the challenges facing them. Professor Meredith has, in this volume, described those challenges in detail. Without the perspective provided by Ms. Olopade, I would have found Meredith's efforts even more disheartening. From the pharaohs to Robert Mugabe and ...more
Ajay Palekar
Oct 23, 2019 rated it it was ok
The book has a broad scope, at 5,000 years of history for an entire content. It is way too broad. This book has 71 chapters and the first 4,500 years are just 9 out of the 71 chapters. That's a severe lack of balance in the historical narrative. More over the book is highly focused on European activity in Africa and on European actors as driving the historical narrative.

The recurring theme of the book is that the people of Africa have been exploited by the pursuits for wealth, greed, and conque
May 02, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2021
A very well written and engrossing book. However, it suffers from a few significant flaws and shortcomings.

First of all, the book has a fatal deficiency in the maps. There is roughly one map per part, but they are not very detailed. Thus, without looking things up from other sources, the reader has no way of knowing what happened where, and how places mentioned relate to each other or the general geography of Africa.

Secondly, this "5000-year history of" Africa sums up the first 4500 years in abo
Miroku Nemeth
Feb 15, 2021 rated it liked it
If you are looking for an objective book on African history free of European imperialist and colonial bias, this is definitely not a book for you. It is also nothing like an actual 5,000 year history of Africa. Most of it focuses on the periods after European exploitation of Africa and Africans, blaming much of that exploitation on Africans themselves. In that sense, it is part of a long tradition of European writings on Africa that makes you wonder as a reader how such discourse is still around ...more
Igor Mendonça
Oct 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
This audio book was very difficult to understand. Not because it is confusing, but because I lacked even the basic knowledge of Africa's geography and history. The author cites locations, such as cities, regions and even countries that I simply never heard before, so I had to pause and check it out several times. Get at least one map before starting it.

The content is pretty fascinating. It seems like hearing a story about a fictional world, because of the many many completely new history info I
Pavlo Tverdokhlib
Nov 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Meredith's work is a fundamental overview of the history of the African continent. By virtue of being an overview, it's not a particularly deep book- if it was, it'd have to be much, much thicker.

Still, as an overview, it works fairly nicely. In general, it goes through different historical eras, tracing the separate development of North, West, East and Southern African lands. While certain areas of Africa engender a continuous narrative, others appear in the story only when it's felt they beca
Sep 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics
I read Meredith's "The Fortunes of Africa" & Reader's "Africa: The Biography of the Continent" at the same time & found remarkable similarities in the two works so I will review them together. Both are large volumes covering the history, geography, people, & colonization of the continent. Probably 90% or even more of the material covered overlaps and very few instances are found where the authors contradict each other in their conclusions. Readers' work covers more detail of the prehuman history ...more
Gavin Haughton
Feb 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was a very interesting book to introduce African history to a complete newbie. It is mainly a tour of powerful men and changing empires throughout Africa. I had hoped for a bit more about the cultures and how they changed, eg music, language, art and the such. There was a lot of discussion about how different governmental systems changed and how the imperial era affected the country. I was glad to hear the slave trade discussed in its entirety. The book also strikes me as being very imparti ...more
Dirk  G. Van Waelderen
Despite the author’s predisposition and lack of scientific depth in many parts of the book, it is a good book refreshing existing research and knowledge. However, readers need to be aware of the author repeating sometimes hardly accurate and over the top viewpoints of old research. Especially disappointing are the chapters on last decades.
Still, the author’s attempt to bring such a history in one book needs to be applauded and it is a recommendable and interesting holiday lecture (but definitel
Oct 04, 2019 marked it as did-not-finish  ·  review of another edition
Only read a 100 or so pages but what I read was very surface level, which I should have expected given the length of the time period covered and the breadth of the geographical region covered, but I felt like I was reading stuff I already knew. It was also kind of disorganized in how it was written? The first chapter jumped from Tutankhamun to Hatshepsut to Akhnaten without attempting to clarify the chronology there; I felt like once I started hitting chapters where I didn't come into them with ...more
Kathy Brown
Deeply disturbing. A litany of assaults and disasters, which I read as a way to at least hold space in honor of the people. Little to no historical analysis, so the dreadful facts pile up, higher and higher. A long book, of course, but actually a cursory review of the historic record. And more a history of people doing things to Africa, a eurocentric gaze, rather than information about the cultures of indigenous peoples of Africa.
Drasko Kovrlija
Mar 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Probably the only 675-page book I would describe as "concise." The author took on a project of astronomical scope and tried to capture 5000+ years of history of a vast and very diverse continent. The result is a well-written and very readable set of narratives, perfect for someone with little familiarity with African history. ...more
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Martin Meredith is a historian, journalist and biographer, and author of many acclaimed books on Africa.

Meredith first worked as a foreign correspondent in Africa for the Observer and Sunday Times, then as a research fellow at St Antony’s College, Oxford. Residing near Oxford, he is now an independent commentator and author.

Meredith’s writing has been described as authoritative and well-documented

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