"We are of opinion that instead of letting books grow moldy behind an iron grating, far from the vulgar gaze, it is better to let them wear out by being read." - Jules Verne
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Friday, March 2, 2012

African Kingdoms (Great Ages of Man Series) by Basil Davidson and the editors of Time-Life Books

Strong history, only limited by the fact that the book itself is practically an antique

At the time of this review, this book is 41 years old. It was published in 1966 by Time-Life books as part of a series of books entitled "The Great Ages of Man."

Of course, several of the photos of contemporary Africa are now hopelessly outdated (but you can choose to look at the book itself as a piece of history and look at those pictures as photographic evidence of historical Africa) and any references to contemporary Africa are not accurate - no mention of any of the tragedies that continent has witnessed over the last 25 years - starvation, genocide, AIDS, etc.

Fortunately, those references are few and far between. Mostly this is a well-written, accessible history that taught me more than the half-dozen or so textbooks that I read in college as part of my coursework.

Its greatest strength is in detailing the civilizations that were built from roughly 1000-1600 AD in West Africa. It does a great job of comparing them with the European explorers that were just beginning to investigate the African coastline in search of trade. Cultural comparisons are also made. So-called "strange" and "barbaric" African customs of the day look pretty run-of-the-mill when compared with the activities of their European and Middle Eastern neighbors.

Beautiful pictures and illustrations round out the book. I would love to see this book updated and re-issued for the the 21st century.

I rate this book 5 out of 5 stars.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: African Kingdoms.

Reviewed on November 22, 2007.

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