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The Golden Rhinoceros: Histories of the…
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The Golden Rhinoceros: Histories of the African Middle Ages (edition 2021)

by François-Xavier Fauvelle (Author), Troy Tice (Translator)

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1044203,703 (3.95)1
From the birth of Islam in the seventh century to the voyages of European exploration in the fifteenth, Africa was at the center of a vibrant exchange of goods and ideas. It was an African golden age in which places like Ghana, Nubia, and Zimbabwe became the crossroads of civilizations, and where African royals, thinkers, and artists played celebrated roles in the globalized world of the Middle Ages. The Golden Rhinoceros brings this unsung era marvelously to life, taking readers from the Sahara and the Nile River Valley to the Ethiopian highlands and southern Africa. Drawing on fragmented written sources as well as his many years of experience as an archaeologist, Fran ois-Xavier Fauvelle painstakingly reconstructs an African past that is too often denied its place in history--but no longer. He looks at ruined cities found in the mangrove, exquisite pieces of art, rare artifacts like the golden rhinoceros of Mapungubwe, ancient maps, and accounts left by geographers and travelers--remarkable discoveries that shed critical light on political and architectural achievements, trade, religious beliefs, diplomatic episodes, and individual lives. A book that finally recognizes Africa's important role in the Middle Ages, The Golden Rhinoceros also provides a window into the historian's craft. Fauvelle carefully pieces together the written and archaeological evidence to tell an unforgettable story that is at once sensitive to Africa's rich social diversity and alert to the trajectories that connected Africa with the wider Muslim and Christian worlds.… (more)
Member:mvblair
Title:The Golden Rhinoceros: Histories of the African Middle Ages
Authors:François-Xavier Fauvelle (Author)
Other authors:Troy Tice (Translator)
Info:Princeton University Press (2021), Edition: Reprint, 288 pages
Collections:Non-Fiction
Rating:**
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The Golden Rhinoceros: Histories of the African Middle Ages by François-Xavier Fauvelle

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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. ( )
  mvblair | 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. ( )
  stillatim | 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 | Oct 8, 2020 |
L’historien et archéologue François-Xavier Fauvelle raconte des histoires de l'Afrique précoloniale en 34 courts chapitres et rend accessible aux non-spécialistes une période qui est malconnue dans le monde occidental. Le Moyen Âge africain, dit Fauvelle, c'est la période entre l'Antiquité tardive et le fin du XVe siècle à cause de l'absence générale de sources écrites. Donc, Fauvelle utilise d'autres sources africaines—les sources orales, les rapports de fouilles archéologiques, les objets—et par nécessité les textes externes (européennes, arabes) pour évoquer les empires du Mali et Grand Zimbabwe. Le Rhinocéros d'Or comble un vide dans l'histoire populaire de l'Afrique, et fournit aussi une bibliographie très utile pour les chercheurs. ( )
1 vote siriaeve | Apr 16, 2018 |
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From the birth of Islam in the seventh century to the voyages of European exploration in the fifteenth, Africa was at the center of a vibrant exchange of goods and ideas. It was an African golden age in which places like Ghana, Nubia, and Zimbabwe became the crossroads of civilizations, and where African royals, thinkers, and artists played celebrated roles in the globalized world of the Middle Ages. The Golden Rhinoceros brings this unsung era marvelously to life, taking readers from the Sahara and the Nile River Valley to the Ethiopian highlands and southern Africa. Drawing on fragmented written sources as well as his many years of experience as an archaeologist, Fran ois-Xavier Fauvelle painstakingly reconstructs an African past that is too often denied its place in history--but no longer. He looks at ruined cities found in the mangrove, exquisite pieces of art, rare artifacts like the golden rhinoceros of Mapungubwe, ancient maps, and accounts left by geographers and travelers--remarkable discoveries that shed critical light on political and architectural achievements, trade, religious beliefs, diplomatic episodes, and individual lives. A book that finally recognizes Africa's important role in the Middle Ages, The Golden Rhinoceros also provides a window into the historian's craft. Fauvelle carefully pieces together the written and archaeological evidence to tell an unforgettable story that is at once sensitive to Africa's rich social diversity and alert to the trajectories that connected Africa with the wider Muslim and Christian worlds.

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