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The Scramble for Africa: 1876–1912 (1991)

by Thomas Pakenham

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1,1611612,720 (4.19)30
The Scramble for Africa astonished everyone. In 1880 most of the continent was ruled by Africans, and barely explored. By 1902, five European Powers (and one extraordinary individual) had grabbed almost the whole continent, giving themselves 30 new colonies and protectorates and 10 million square miles of new territory, and 110 million bewildered new subjects. Thomas Pakenham¿s story of the conquest of Africa is recognised as one of the finest narrative histories of the last few decades. We are given arresting vignettes of the main players. Lord Derby, protesting at ¿this absurd scramble¿; the Belgian Emperor King Leopold II grabbing and ruthlessly exploiting the rubber deposits in the Congo; and Prince Otto von Bismarck casually munching on prawns at the Congress of Berlin while determining the fate of millions.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
The first book to read on the transformation of Africa in the late 19th century. There are penetrating character portraits, and a good deal of political conditions in /europe to which the cutting up of Africa seemed some kind of answer. the prose is quite readable, and the chronology of the material at the end of the book is quite illustrative. This book is relatively entertaining given the material. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Feb 15, 2020 |
Zambia
  oirm42 | May 21, 2018 |
This is an excellent and highly recommended book - it is informative, educational and brilliantly written with a good amount of humour. Would recommend this in a second. It shows that history books can be written well and in an enjoyable manner and not in a boring and dull fashion ( )
  NikNak1 | Mar 17, 2016 |
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. ( )
1 vote 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 |
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The Scramble for Africa astonished everyone. In 1880 most of the continent was ruled by Africans, and barely explored. By 1902, five European Powers (and one extraordinary individual) had grabbed almost the whole continent, giving themselves 30 new colonies and protectorates and 10 million square miles of new territory, and 110 million bewildered new subjects. Thomas Pakenham¿s story of the conquest of Africa is recognised as one of the finest narrative histories of the last few decades. We are given arresting vignettes of the main players. Lord Derby, protesting at ¿this absurd scramble¿; the Belgian Emperor King Leopold II grabbing and ruthlessly exploiting the rubber deposits in the Congo; and Prince Otto von Bismarck casually munching on prawns at the Congress of Berlin while determining the fate of millions.

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