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Scramble for Africa by Thomas Pakenham

Scramble for Africa (original 1991; edition 1992)

by Thomas Pakenham

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8651310,312 (4.23)25
Title:Scramble for Africa
Authors:Thomas Pakenham
Info:Abacus (1992), Paperback, 800 pages
Collections:Read but unowned, read in 2013

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The Scramble for Africa: White Man's Conquest of the Dark Continent from 1876-1912 by Thomas Pakenham (1991)


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There are times when this book is like a long, endless slog through dense jungle with water and food running low and the natives looking unfriendly and most of the porters giving up and going home; but still the far distant waters of some undiscovered river beckons the fevered brain. It is dense with detail. There are two whole continents involved and this astonishing thirty years changes at least one of them into something unrecognisable, and all for reasons that were, initially at least, perfectly admirable. Stamping out the scourge of slavery was a major aim, and so were commerce and education, so-called civilising influences, if we can refrain from a hollow laugh when using such a phrase. Nothing wrong with trade and nothing wrong with the free flow of information, but that's not really what happened at all, is it?

Despite the influence of Livingstone's Three Cs - commerce, Christianity and the other one - there was no real desire or drive for empire in Africa, at least not by anyone who mattered. Britain had its informal empire, trade networks up and down the coast, and they didn't want the expense of anything else.. But mad-capped hare-brained explorers charged off through the interior and fractious settlers in the south caused trouble and poor old Egypt became a luckless pawn in the maneuverings of the Great Powers and the most evil arsehole of the 19th century, King Leopold of Belgium played his long, cunning game, and suddenly countries who could not afford to go to war with each other were competing furiously for domains and dominions and protectorates and colonies they mostly didn't want or need and for which they paid vast quantities in blood and treasure, and for which the Africans who lived there paid even more.

There are a lot of ugly atrocities in this book. A lot of war and a lot of adventure and a lot of international intrigue. It makes for hair-raising reading, but Pakenham keeps a crisp even tone throughout, writing lucidly and clearly. The reader might buckle under the sheer weight of it all, but the book itself never does. There aren't many likeable figures, European or African, a bare handful of women get mentioned in passing and precious few moments of levity, though the repetition of Gordon's phrase about throwing in the sponge must surely count as a kind of running joke. Less funny is the final chapter which begins with a cautiously hopeful description of the independence ceremony of Zimbabwe in 1980. ( )
  Nigel_Quinlan | Oct 21, 2015 |
The very phrase "scramble for Africa" evokes images of late-Victorian explorers and statesmen carving up large tracts of a continent for themselves. The book itself is not a disappointment, as Pakenham injects some droll wit into the proceedings as we follow European explorers arrive, subjugate the locals, deal with the Arab slave traders from Zanzibar and surrounds and other Europeans as they grabbed as much territory as they could.

The Germans started late but still got Tanganyika and South West Africa, Leopold II of Belgium also snuck in and grabbed the Belgian Congo and the Lado Enclave, and broke all records in torture and slavery in the process. The Brits and the French got everything else, although all faced problems from the locals, who had the audacity to complain about Europeans bringing civilisation to them.

"The Scramble for Africa" is the best book I've read on Africa in the late nineteenth century. ( )
  MiaCulpa | Sep 22, 2015 |
Encyclopaedic. And readable. Although the full history of Africa is an African history, this story of European incursions into Africa and the horrors they inflicted give some context to the modern States of Africa, and the continuing cycle of poverty and violence there. I might add that this history isn't just about chronicling European avarice and exploitation. The role of the Arab world in slaving on the East coast of Africa was even more rapacious than the Atlantic slave trade, and the level of violence between African proto-States was reminiscent of the latest most extreme outrages in Saharan Africa. Sadly there is nothing much new under the Sun. This is history that needs to be told, and learnt. ( )
  nandadevi | Jul 22, 2015 |
A very thorough history of the European imperial ventures into 'Darkest Africa', focusing on the years 1876 to 1912, but giving ample background to explorations prior to those years. For those curious about the troubles of Africa, this provides excellent background. ( )
  BruceCoulson | Mar 13, 2014 |
This is everything you want to know about the background of Africa's beginnings from 1878 to 1912. In a very comprehensive and detailed prose Pakenham uncovers the early "scramble" Europeans made to conquer the unknown "dark" territory. In just under 30 years most of the continent was claimed and "civilized" by five different greedy European powers. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Jul 15, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0380719991, Paperback)

White Man's Conquest of the Dark Continent
from 1876 to 1912

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:49 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"The White Man's conquest of the Dark Continent from 1876 to 1912"--Jacket subtitle.

(summary from another edition)

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