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A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and…

A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa (original 2004; edition 2004)

by Howard W. French

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196560,038 (3.99)3
Title:A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa
Authors:Howard W. French
Info:Knopf (2004), Hardcover
Collections:Your library
Tags:nonfiction, africa

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A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa by Howard W. French (2004)



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Showing 5 of 5
A NY Times' journalist's musings on the nightmare of war and greed in West Africa. ( )
  mpho3 | Apr 12, 2012 |
Howard French's portrayal of Africa is both professional and passionate. He is scholarly and sentimental. There is a deep knowledge about, and an undeniable kinship with, this continent yet French is able to objectively portray it all. He takes the reader through the events of horrific genocide as well as the equally deadly outbreaks of AIDS and Ebola diseases. French skillfully demonstrates how political infrastructures prove to be volatile and fragile yet Africa's deep seeded cultural roots remain unfailing.

For me, this was a hard read. I simply couldn't wrap my brain around the threat of senseless violence everyone, regardless of race, age, caste, or sex, had to endure. When these attacks rained down no one was safe. Survival depended on the ability to outwit, outrun, outhide the attacker. ( )
1 vote SeriousGrace | Apr 9, 2009 |
Unlike much of the other African travel writing and reportage that I have read, French's book is uncompromisingly fact-laden and dense. There are a few moments when the history that he lived through gathers enough speed around certain imperiled individuals or groups to make the book gripping and fast-paced; but, on average, it requires careful attention that borders on note-taking to keep track of the motivations and backgrounds of the different players in French's account (unless you have already committed the recent history of Central Africa to memory).

The pace of the book is not helped by the random, loosely structured way that it leaps across decades and continents from one chapter to another. It could definitely have used smoother transitions and it would have benefited from a more thought out structure; it is really a collection of essays and an opportunity for French to air some of the grievances and experiences that (I imagine) he was not allowed to share with readers of The New York Times, for which he worked.

I also got the sense that because he was granted such unparalleled journalistic access and because he was always aware of representing the New York Times, he didn't engage as much with African people and African culture as authors like Aidan Hartley or Paul Theroux. French seemed, at times, to be above the real situations and distanced from the real people, constantly hopping onto safe transport for a timely exit--and, more importantly, while he remained on the ground, he seemed more likely to spend his time at the hotels that served as the nexus of western reporting or to lounge about with various privileged people who wished to appear in his writings than to fraternize with random, non-influential Africans for the sake of better understanding their culture and ways.

That said, I feel like I understand the last two decades in Central Africa MUCH better than I did before this book, especially as regards the wars in Congo and the appallingly two-faced and negligent foreign policy decisions of the Clinton Administration, which has somehow escaped prominent or consistent blame and accusation for the giant drop kick away from democracy that it managed to offer Africa in the nineties.

Lastly, it was refreshing to encounter those rare moments when French shows his own attitude and frustration, lashing out, for instance at the "Big Man" stereotype used to explain some of Africa's governance failures, "Africa's dictators had been supported for decades by East and West, and were often handpicked by outside powers. their misrule had placed the continent in the deep hole it now found itself in, not some congenital incapacity for modern governance, as decades of shallow analyses about Big Men and ancient tribal animosities' often insinuated." French doesn't share such blunt conclusions very often; but when he does, he has more than proven himself correct in the preceding pages. ( )
  fieldnotes | Nov 11, 2008 |
This book mainly contains the author's eyewitness accounts of tumultuous events in Central and Western Africa when he was the NY Times Bureau Chief for West Africa, stationed in Abidjan in the Ivory Coast. If you think back to the horrors of the Hutu/Tutsi genocides in Rwanda and Zaire that once made headlines iin 1997, and of General Mobutu as dictator of Zaire, then you are in the right geographic locale and in the right time-frame and tone for this book. The author has mainly a journalist's viewpoint for front-line reporting of conflicts, although he does briefly describe some aspects of indigenous African culture and also provide some historical background of the continuing competition by foreign countries to plunder Africa's resources, beginning with the slave trade in about 1520 and continuing through years of colonialism, the Cold War, nascent independence, and recent dictatorial military regimes. Emphasizing events of 1997 might make the book seem somewhat dated, but in reading modern-day headlines of merciless tribal slaughter, stolen elections, and imprisoned opposition leaders, one suspects that perhaps not much has changed since then beyond the particular names and places. Africa is a huge continent, with a long history, and this is a slender book of only 258 pages, so the focus is of necessity somewhat narrower than the title might imply. If one is interested in a more general history of Africa, with broader coverage of the continent, then a more comprehensive (and much larger) book should be found. ( )
  Karlus | Jun 24, 2008 |
Showing 5 of 5
Howard French’s A Continent for the Taking is a rewarding combination of journalism and personal reportage. French, a senior writer for The New York Times, sustains a delicate balance between objective fact and subjective interpretation as he recounts his 25 years of reporting on African history and culture.
added by mikeg2 | editMetro Times, Eric Waggoner (Jun 7, 2005)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375414614, Hardcover)

Africa first captivated New York Times journalist Howard W. French more than twenty-five years ago, but his knowledge of and passion for the continent has the depth of a lifetime association. His experiences there awakened him as nothing before to the selfishness and shortsightedness of the rich, the suffering and dignity of the poor and the uses and abuses of power. And in this powerfully written, profoundly felt book, he gives us an unstinting account of the disastrous consequences of the fateful, centuries-old encounter between Africa and the West.

French delineates the betrayal and greed of the West–often aided and abetted by Africa’s own leaders–that have given rise to the increasing exploitation of Africa’s natural resources and its human beings. Coarse self-interest and outright greed once generated a need for the continent’s rubber, cotton, gold and diamonds, not to mention slaves; now the attractions include offshore oil reserves and minerals like coltan, which powers cellular phones.

He takes us inside Nigeria, Liberia, Mali and the Congo, examining with unusual insight the legacy of colonization in the lives of contemporary Africans. He looks at the tragedies of the AIDS epidemic, the Ebola outbreak and the genocide that resulted in millions of deaths in Rwanda and the Congo. He makes clear the systematic failure of Western political leaders–the nurturers of tyrants such as Mobuto Sese Seko and Laurent Kabila, whose stories are told here in full detail–and the brutal excesses of the CIA.

In helping us to better understand the continent, and indeed Africans themselves, French helps us see as well the hope and possibility that lie in the myriad cultural strengths of Africa.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:28 -0400)

"[Howard French] takes us inside Nigeria, Liberia, Mali, and the Congo, examining ... the legacy of colonization in the lives of contemporary Africans"--jacket.

(summary from another edition)

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