Picture of author.

François-Xavier Fauvelle-Aymar

Author of The Golden Rhinoceros: Histories of the African Middle Ages

18+ Works 237 Members 5 Reviews

About the Author

Image credit: From Wikipedia

Works by François-Xavier Fauvelle-Aymar

Associated Works

Histoire mondiale de la France (2017) — Contributor — 126 copies


Common Knowledge




As someone with a limited knowledge of pre colonial African history, I found this an engaging and entertaining place to start. Yes, its true that this is more a series of vignettes, or snapshots, than a narrative history but the fact is that there just aren't that many records in Africa, from what Europeans would call "The Middle Ages" - although whether that term has much relevance to Africa, I doubt. But the amount of trade across the continent is surprising, particularly the massive caravans traversing the Sahara. Given that most extant records come from the (Arab) traders, it is not surprising that there is a fascination with the massive quantities of gold some rulers appear to have - and the mystery of where it was all coming from. In this context the eponymous Golden Rhinoceros - sadly, only a miniature - puts in an appearance around page 140.

So I enjoyed it - particularly the chapters on the Great Zimbabwe, Vasco de Gama and the Kingdom of Mali - and recommend it. But don't expect depth
… (more)
Opinionated | 4 other reviews | Jan 31, 2022 |
There is a dearth of information about the Africa's history before European colonization. François-Xavier Fauvelle's "The Golden Rhinoceros: Histories of the African Middle Ages" tries to fill that gap with 34 vignettes. Unfortunately, the book's focus is too narrow and the writing often meandering.

With only a few exceptions, each chapter is about either European trade through the Sahara or Arab trade along the east coast. Readers hoping to find information about sub-Saharan or West African history will be disappointed. One vignette deals with the entire history of Great Zimbabwe and three deal with Mali, all in the context of trade to Europe via the Sahara. There are several chapters on Christian Ethiopia and the Moroccan coast.

Because Arab scholars and traders were so active during this time, it's no surprise that Fauvelle should use their writing to make the point that African civilization at the time was dynamic, powerful, and economically important. Unfortunately, he leaves out nearly everything else. He is able to go on tangents about Italian traders paying taxes for not being Muslim, but is unable to write anything about the kingdoms of Kongo or the Sao civilizations that existed well into traditional Medieval times? Perhaps this is because Fauvelle is more interested in making the point that Africa existed within the wider world, within the world of trade with other civilizations. While that is true, it's also true that African civilizations were economically independent. A reviewer on Amazon observed that this book is more series of stories about people who went to Africa to trade, rather than people who lived there.

Within the vignettes, there is a tendency to meander. Fauvelle makes mention of interesting topics, sometimes going down rabbit holes, sometimes leaving the reader to wonder what he is talking about. In the end, each topic is given a very cursory look. With 34 chapters, I should have expected that.

The translation is a bit stilted. I don't know if this is because the translator is going word-for-word from the author's original writing or whether there is a lot of dressing added to the prose with little effect. The book does include a solid index. Because this book is translated from French, most of the scant sources are French.
… (more)
mvblair | 4 other reviews | May 18, 2021 |
I understand why someone might not like this book. It's less than 250 pages long, and has 34 discrete chapters. So, you don't get a whole lot of depth on anything, and you could easily find that frustrating.

If, on the other hand, you find your own ignorance of African history frustrating (as I do), and also find the astonishing lack of good writing about pre-colonial African history frustrating, this is a charming place to start. A very reviewer wrote that 'maps would have helped.' There are maps following page 118.

In short, it's a bit like those 'History of X in 100 objects' books, but with more scholarly chops, less fancy design, and a far more neglected subject. It's a higher-brow version of Henry Louis Gates' PBS series (which is solid!) And, best of all, it encourages one to search out more knowledge.
… (more)
stillatim | 4 other reviews | Oct 23, 2020 |
This is very fragmentary, because of the limited sources, but enjoyable to read. I'm not sure I really retained much, though.
MarthaJeanne | 4 other reviews | Oct 8, 2020 |


You May Also Like

Associated Authors


Also by

Charts & Graphs