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Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  12,378 ratings  ·  846 reviews
In Dark Star Safari the wittily observant and endearingly irascible Paul Theroux takes readers the length of Africa by rattletrap bus, dugout canoe, cattle truck, armed convoy, ferry, and train. In the course of his epic and enlightening journey, he endures danger, delay, and dismaying circumstances.

Gauging the state of affairs, he talks to Africans, aid workers,
Paperback, 485 pages
Published April 5th 2004 by Mariner Books (first published 2002)
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Patrick Colgan Dear mr. Lomayani, I just would like to point out that mr. Theroux has lived in Uganda for many years and that the travel from Cairo to Cape town took…moreDear mr. Lomayani, I just would like to point out that mr. Theroux has lived in Uganda for many years and that the travel from Cairo to Cape town took him several months, not a day or a week. Travel writing tends to generalise, but I must say that this book is much harsher towards white people and westerners in general.(less)

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Average rating 3.96  · 
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Apr 21, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Caroline by: Shelley
Shelves: world, 4-star-reads
Grrrrr! Oh how this man irritates yet enthrals me!

I have just tramped down through Africa in the footsteps of Theroux, sighing and tsking, yet unable to put the book down. This man is a genius writer, yet so darn cantankerous, curmudgeonly and scathing that he made me want to throw the book on the floor and mash it. Even when he relishes a place, it often seems that it is the dirt, the stink and the squalor that inspires him. It's a kind of machismo. Proof that he isn't a tourist, but a bona
Jun 29, 2007 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: arrogant tourists who think they're "not really white"
Shelves: booksofthepast
WHY do I keep reading books by this man? For some unknown reason I assume that I'll garner some great knowledge form his books or be more amused than frustrated. Thus far: not. Instead I'm annoyed by his arrogance and his assumption that he's different from other white people in Africa because he "knows" that the aide system is faulty or because he lived there in the 60's. Just because you have a backpack and a history with Africa doesn't make you an expert, and Theroux whining about the fact ...more
Feb 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Planes, trains and automobiles

and a ferry; rickety, smelly mini-buses; a dugout canoe, taxis and a cattle truck.

I give mad props to Theroux for humping it from Cairo to Cape Town at the age of 59, but this type of transport (he only used a plane once: to fly into Khartoum) would scare away the more discerning traveler me. This makes me even more grateful for Therouxs firsthand account of Africa.

Foreshadowing book spoiler: He quotes and draws comparisons from Joseph Conrads Heart of Darkness. A
Jul 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This was my first Theroux and, on finishing it, I couldnt fully judge of the tone of a book that was written near what will likely be the end of his career, after a certain cynicism has taken root. Since then, Ive read The Great Railway Bazaar (his first travel book) and now a good chunk of Ghost Train.

First, it has to be said that this book is very NOT-P.C. (to say the least!). Theroux has what often appears to be an open and unapologetic contempt for many of the black Africans he meets and
Jul 08, 2010 rated it really liked it
Near the end of Paul Theroux's north-south journey across the African continent, from Cairo to Cape Town, he allows himself the luxury of a swanky South African train trip, a rare mode of transportation for this usually spartan traveler in this fascinating trek on board cattle trucks, minivans packed to the roof with Africans, rickety matutus, canoes and proper boats. During a train stop a child begs in a prayerful way. Theroux, from the train, can't bring himself to toss food to her. After the ...more
For me this is the best Paul Theroux that I have read.
It was better (in my opinion) that his other travel non fiction (The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia, The Old Patagonian Express, Riding the Iron Rooster: By Train Through China), and I think there are a couple of reasons.

Firstly, in Dark Star Safari the travel was not all by train. This meant there was more to write about. In his other books (which I also enjoyed - don't get me wrong), there is only so much he can describe about
Mar 10, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Theroux is a pompous ass. A just-compelling-enough pompous ass.
Aug 23, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: development
This book was a great read for a student of international development/relations. I understand the author's cynicism, admire his risktaking, and appreciate his insight into the impact of decades of foreign intervention in Africa. I didn't feel he was overly arrogant for a journey of this depth and magnitude; it certainly added to the story, for better or worse. It was an enjoyable read, full of analysis, rather than simply description.
Dec 13, 2011 rated it did not like it
Mayn! This flipping book was an endlessly patronizing, infinitely tedious rant from a burdened white man.

Perhaps the most annoying travel book I read. Gah!

Take 54 seats Paul Theroux. I'd recommend Dark Continent My Black Arse if you're looking for a Cape to Cairo travelogue. Infinitely better.


This article? This article right here is The Truth. While the review is about The Last Train to Zona Verde: My Ultimate African Safari, it might as well have been reviewing this book.


David Sarkies
Apr 27, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who like travel diarys
Recommended to David by: Saw it in a bookshop
Shelves: adventure
A trek through the heart of Modern Africa
16 May 2015

Well, I have already written three blogposts worth of thoughts on this really interesting book, however I will simply touch on a few more important points for those of you who don't have the time (or the inclination) to read through what I have written elsewhere (and the links to those posts are below). Anyway, this is the diary of a journey that the author took from Cairo, across the African continent, to Cape Town. His original intention was
Aug 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: africa reality readers
"Safari," in Swahili means "journey," and is Therouxs reason for returning to Africa: to escape a life usurped by schedules, appointments, e-mails and cell phones. After 40 years, Paul Theroux returns to Africa where he began writing. At 60, no one has so conquered the genre like Theroux.

But this return to Africa is more rumination than entertainment, and it is depressing. His first years in Africaas Peace Corps volunteer and University teachersaw a continent full of hope and promise. Today,
Jan 06, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: travel-natl-hist
A reasonably well written and interesting book about Africa.
There are very interesting bits about places rarely visited by Westerners (such as Sudan) that are surprising and vividly narrated by the author.
Quite heartbreaking is the terrible condition in which many countries in Africa still find themselves in, and the author's cynicism is very understandable, considering the history and the realities which Africa must face. His insight into the impact of decades of foreign intervention in
Chris Steeden
Apr 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
At Elephantine Island near Aswan an Italian priest talking about Sudan says Wonderful people. Terrible government. The African story.

Theroux goes back to Africa 40 years after being there as a schoolteacher. He says that Africa is materially more decrepit than it was when I first knew it hungrier, poorer, less educated, more pessimistic, more corrupt and you cant tell the politicians from the witch-doctors. You know what you are going to get from Theroux. Yes, he can be a little grumpy but his
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Jul 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Funny. I had a Paul Theroux on my shelf for years, untouched, and finally decided to take it with me to the Chicago Book Festival last summer where I released it. Theroux was speaking so I thought it would be cool to release one of his books just outside the tent where he was speaking. I left the book next to one of the tent stakes and went inside to hear him talk. He was a fabulous storyteller and I immediately regretted that I had given away his book. I went out to try to retrieve the book, ...more
Apr 08, 2014 added it
What an arrogant, hypocritical dick! One picks up this book hoping for an armchair traveling voyage through East Africa. What one gets is a self-righteous White Man who describes himself as grizzled and wise at the ripe age of 70-something, pointing out numerous times that many Africans guess he's in his 40s because they are so unused to seeing old men. He paints himself as impervious to the dangers of Africa because he's Been There Before, and can speak to natives in their own language. He ...more
A Man Called Ove
May 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travelogue
3.5/5 "Pessimistic Globetrotter wins d Nobel"
On reading this headline during this trip, Theroux's hopes went up that maybe he had hit d jackpot. He did not, Naipaul did :)
The word "pessimistic" is a little too harsh on Theroux but he is blunt, has a caustic wit at times, but like Naipaul he is observant and has empathy and hence is readable.
The dust, antiquity and fundamentalism of Egypt, the complete anarchy and poverty in war-struck Sudan, Kenya, the utter despair of Malawi, Mozambique and the
Jun 29, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In Dark Star Safari, Paul Theroux travels from Cairo to Capetown over land. His journey takes him through Egypt, the Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. As much as Hans Rosling (of fame) urges his audience to see these countries as unique, I suspect that for many readers these countries are all just parts of a hazy mental map titled "Somewhere in Africa." On the legend might be the following notes:
Blood Diamond was a good movie set in Africa.
JHC was this a slog. I've heard the name Paul Theroux bopped around as a great travel writer for quite some time, and picked this guy up because it fit with my read all the Africa books from this year. And it's a cool topic, too- an "overland safari" from Cairo to Capetown. But truth be told, do not start here.

I'm gonna be real mean now so I sure hope that Paul Theroux never reads his goodreads reviews (given the general state of misanthropy towards all things new in his book, I think this is a
Aug 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Although Paul Therouxs The Great Railway Bazaar is one of my all-time favorite books, I stopped reading him when he fell into what seemed to me to be an interminable bad mood--somewhat ironically, along about Happy Isles of Oceania, I think, in 1993, so its been quite a while since I picked up a Theroux travel narrative. But a friend recommended his Dark Star Safari (Houghton, 2004), and, ever trusting (and, as always, looking for a good book to read), I tried it, and was immediately hooked. It ...more
Don Becher
May 05, 2015 rated it it was ok
Well either the entire continent is headed to hell in a hand basket, or Paul Theroux is one of the bigger pessimists I know. His theme seems to be in part that Europeans kept the place up and when it was handed over to those of African lineage corruption and incompetence took over. He heaps great blame on the NGO programs in Sub-Saharan countries-- essentially articulating that they have removed from citizens of many Africans nations any incentive to fend for themselves. He also has no respect ...more
Feb 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I like to experience travel with a little grit and Paul Theroux certainly is of like mind. While traveling from Cairo to Cape Town, crossing the African continent from north to south, he suffers discomfort, uncertainty, hostility, and life threatening situations. There is no public transportation through many of the countries he traversed. He hitched rides in rickety overloaded trucks and buses traveling on roads strewn with potholes and boulders. He freely expresses his disdain for aid ...more
Jeanette (Again)
Curmudgeonly cogitator creeps curiously from Cairo to Cape Town. Crazy old coot!

Travel writer + several months of free time = Egypt--->Sudan--->Ethiopia--->Kenya--->Uganda--->Tanzania--->Malawi--->
Mozambique--->Zimbabwe--->South Africa--->Mozambique--->South Africa

Rearrange the letters in "Paul Theroux" and you get "Heat Up, Luxor!"
I feel it's my duty to point these things out. Make of them what you will.
Jun 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: travel, africa
Paul Theroux does not admire foreign aid workers or the work they do. The first 200 pages of Dark Star Safari contain several accounts of rude, obnoxious, self-important aid workers, often depicted as roaring through blighted communities in expensive Land Rovers, refusing to give rides. Two aid workers tell him they are on their way to supervise a wet-feeding, an outreach effort that Theroux characterizes as going to a village to dump [corn-soy blend] in a trough for people to eat. He gets into ...more
Dec 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: 'real' adventure travellers
Renowned travel writer, Paul Theroux's, account of a solitary journey from Cairo to Cape Town in 2001. If you do not appreciate nostalgic, and often quite opinionated ramblings, then give the book a skip. You may enjoy a glossy safari lodge brochure better. I enjoyed his narrative because of its individualistic tone and Theroux's often contentious rantings against foreign aid workers and African governments' inability to put their people first.

His nostalgia is quite evident when he writes about
I got this mainly because:

1. Paul Theroux is Louis Theroux's father and I like Louis Theroux.

2. It was a Kindle bargain.

And No.3 (maybe ought to have mentioned this first) I have a bit of a fascination with that vast continent that can be glimpsed from my terrace.

Bearing in mind this is a good 10 years out of date I thought it was nevertheless a good way of seeing the real Africa as PT tends to go off the beaten track and retains a dry scorn for the touristy-type tours which in his opinion miss
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Enjoyed it as much as the first time through.

I would love to be the traveler Theroux is.
Nov 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Dark Star Safari is a superb travelogue written in 2002 by one of the genre's finest writers, Paul Theroux. Eschewing game parks and sight seeing, and travelling the "hard way" through Africa by train, bus, truck and matatu, Theroux delivers an enthralling story of his journeys through Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Travelling the hard way, ensures a journey down the road less travelled, especially when the road turns out to be the
Aug 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Paul Theroux is aggravating at times. He is holier than thou, than I and than all the rest of us, so there is no other expat worthy of being in the developing world except for someone like him. This is the flaw in some of his books.

But what is enjoyable about this book is how much he enjoys the adventure and the simple act of getting from one place to another in places where doing that is never easy or comfortable, and he chooses the uncomfortable routes and modes of travel.

I read this as I
Apr 18, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"To me, travel was not about rest and relaxation. It was action, exertion, motion, and the built-in delays were longueurs necessitated by the inevitable problem-solving of forward movement. "(p. 53)

This quote from Dark Star Safari is Theroux's mission statement and the reason why I enjoy reading his travel books. To me, travel isn't about rest and relaxation either, it's about discovery. Although I never would go to extremes as Theroux and I am satisfied with solving forward movement in
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Paul Edward Theroux is an American travel writer and novelist, whose best known work is The Great Railway Bazaar (1975), a travelogue about a trip he made by train from Great Britain through Western and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, through South Asia, then South-East Asia, up through East Asia, as far east as Japan, and then back across Russia to his point of origin. Although perhaps best ...more

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