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The Fortunes of Africa: A 5000-Year History of Wealth, Greed, and Endeavor

Overview


Africa has been coveted for its riches ever since the era of the Pharaohs. In past centuries, it was the lure of gold, ivory, and slaves that drew fortune-seekers, merchant-adventurers, and conquerors from afar. In modern times, the focus of attention is on oil, diamonds, and other valuable minerals.

Land was another prize. The Romans relied on their colonies in northern Africa for vital grain shipments to feed the population of Rome. Arab invaders followed in their wake, ...

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The Fortunes of Africa: A 5000-Year History of Wealth, Greed, and Endeavor

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Overview


Africa has been coveted for its riches ever since the era of the Pharaohs. In past centuries, it was the lure of gold, ivory, and slaves that drew fortune-seekers, merchant-adventurers, and conquerors from afar. In modern times, the focus of attention is on oil, diamonds, and other valuable minerals.

Land was another prize. The Romans relied on their colonies in northern Africa for vital grain shipments to feed the population of Rome. Arab invaders followed in their wake, eventually colonizing the entire region. More recently, foreign corporations have acquired huge tracts of land to secure food supplies needed abroad, just as the Romans did.

In this vast and vivid panorama of history, Martin Meredith follows the fortunes of Africa over a period of 5,000 years. With compelling narrative, he traces the rise and fall of ancient kingdoms and empires; the spread of Christianity and Islam; the enduring quest for gold and other riches; the exploits of explorers and missionaries; and the impact of European colonization. He examines, too, the fate of modern African states and concludes with a glimpse of their future.

His cast of characters includes religious leaders, mining magnates, warlords, dictators, and many other legendary figures—among them Mansa Musa, ruler of the medieval Mali empire, said to be the richest man the world has ever known. “I speak of Africa,” Shakespeare wrote, “and of golden joys.” This is history on an epic scale.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 08/25/2014
In a mammoth tome that’s as comprehensive as a single volume on an entire continent can be, Meredith (The State of Africa) looks at Africa through the lens of its native wealth. He begins, appropriately enough, with the statement that “ever since the era of the pharaohs, Africa has been coveted for its riches.” Working his way forward from that premise, he concentrates on one geographic area after another, up to the present day. Mansa Musa, the 14th-century emperor of Mali and the richest man the world has ever seen, and King Leopold II of Belgium, “owner” of the Congo and one of the world’s most despicable despots, make their requisite appearances alongside scores of other rulers, explorers, and generals. Meredith places the Atlantic slave trade in the context of the slave trades with other markets, including the enslavement of Europeans in North Africa. Gold, ivory, diamonds, and oil also receive their due as sources of wealth and conflict. Colonialism’s arc is traced, as are the disappointments, setbacks, and outright horrors of the postcolonial era. The completist will note absences, but this is the new standard against which future histories will be considered. Maps & 16-page photo insert. Agent: Felicity Bryan, Felicity Bryan Assoc. Ltd. (U.K.). (Oct.)
From the Publisher

“Mr Meredith artfully weaves together exploration, trade and geography in a narrative that is both detailed and arresting… [he] leaves the reader bursting with a wealth of facts”—The Economist

“This is the new standard against which future histories will be considered.”—Publishers Weekly starred review

“A gripping tale of insatiable greed—personal and collective.”—Booklist, starred review

“[A] broad-ranging history of Africa from the age of the pharaohs to the present, with a solid emphasis on economics…richly detailed…a useful study.”—Kirkus Reviews

From the Publisher

“[A] broad-ranging history of Africa from the age of the pharaohs to the present, with a solid emphasis on economics…richly detailed…a useful study.”—Kirkus Reviews
Kirkus Reviews
2014-07-23
Broad-ranging history of Africa from the age of the pharaohs to the present, with a solid emphasis on economics.Former Observer correspondent and longtime Africa expert Meredith (Born in Africa: The Quest for the Origins of Human Life, 2011, etc.) delivers a richly detailed, occasionally plodding examination of a region of the world that, though central to human history, is too often overlooked, except by the economic powers that be—the World Bank estimates that 40 percent of Africa's wealth is held outside Africa. Concludes Meredith, "Africa thus remains a continent of huge potential, but limited prospects." People have always moved from place to place across the continent looking for access to its resources, sometimes in small groups, sometimes in vast waves, as when the Bantu-speaking peoples who originally lived in southern Cameroon spread across southern Africa. Yet, by Meredith's account, once those resources are in hand, they are always unevenly divided; the peasants of ancient Egypt may have had access to the water wheel and an elaborate system of irrigation, but they were also subject to an even more elaborate system of taxation "that kept them as poor as they had always been." That situation did not improve with the spread of Christianity and Islam, nor with the arrival of the colonial powers and the conversion of a vast part of the continent to a factory for the production of slaves for trans-Atlantic transport. As Meredith writes, by the 1600s, the European powers were looking far inland for slaves and had established great trading ports along Africa's west coast, "separated from one another by an average of ten miles." Small wonder that, absent so much human and natural capital, Africa has been immiserated for so long—a condition not improved by the widespread pattern of one-party or one-man rule today.A useful study, though less interesting than John Reader's Africa: A Biography of the Continent (1998).
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781610394598
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 10/14/2014
  • Pages: 784
  • Sales rank: 124,533
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 2.60 (d)

Meet the Author


Martin Meredith is a journalist, biographer, and historian who has written extensively on Africa and its recent history. His previous books include Mandela, Mugabe, Diamonds, Gold, and War, Born in Africa, and The Fate of Africa. He lives near Oxford, England.
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