Top ten books for African travel

Looking for ideas for your upcoming trip to Africa? Then pick up a book, whether it be a biography, a page-turning historical fiction, or an engrossing thriller. All of the protagonists in our top ten novels about traveling in Africa—both real and fictional—display incredible enthusiasm, resiliency, and humanity in the face of hardship. Before you finish the book, we bet you’ll want to board the plane!

A White Boy in Africa by Peter Godwin

A White Boy in Africa is Mukiwa.
John Godwin (1997)

Peter Goodwin, a well-known novelist, journalist, playwright, director, and former human rights attorney, digs into his history in Mukiwa to share his account of growing up in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). He describes the violent transition of the nation as well as his own transformation from privileged youngster to reluctance to serve in the military to investigative journalist. A must-read Africa travel book for anyone looking for a first-hand view of the country’s past, it is an intimate, moving narrative about Zimbabwe in light of the country’s recent changes.

A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson

Nicholas Drayson’s A Guide to the Birds of East Africa (2008)

A Guide to the Birds of East Africa is actually a novel, and a very good one at that, despite the proverbial advice to never judge a book by its cover. The East African Ornithological Society’s weekly bird walks are led by Rose Mbikwa, a woman who is secretly in love with Mr. Malik. The book is set against a magnificent Kenyan countryside. When an old adversary shows up, a violent bird-spotting rivalry breaks out, with the opportunity to invite Ms. Mbikwa to a prestigious ball as the reward. An excellent read for any fan of Kenya, and a mainstay on our list of the best travel books on Africa.

Blood River: A Journey to Africa’s Broken Heart by Tim Butcher

Tim Butcher’s Blood River: A Journey to Africa’s Broken Heart (2007)

Blood River, a brave and perilous account of Daily Telegraph writer Tim Butcher’s trip up the Congo River in the manner of explorer H. M. Stanley, was published to rapturous reviews in the UK. The book is a riveting account of Butcher’s 44-day voyage over the 3,000-mile river. Anyone looking for ideas for their next African trip should read Blood River. However, unlike the author, you shouldn’t travel to the Congo with just a rucksack and a few thousand bucks stashed within your shoes.

The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild, by Lawrence Anthony and Graham Spence

Lawrence Anthony and Graham Spence’s The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild (2009)

The world’s most endangered animals were the focus of lifelong conservation efforts by the late South African author and activist Lawrence Anthony. The Elephant Whisperer describes his interactions with a herd of ‘rogue’ elephants that he adopted as his ‘family’ in order to prevent them from being murdered. The book, which is set against the lush Zululand landscape of the Thula Thula game reserve, is a gripping and occasionally heartbreaking read that is likely to excite animal enthusiasts and convince them to immediately reserve their next safari vacation.

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay

Bryce Courtenay’s The Power of One (1989)

“The Power of One has everything,” the New York Times wrote, “suspense, the exotic, brutality; mysticism, psychology, and magic; schoolboy exploits, drama.” And we lean toward agreeing. You’ll feel moved by the coming-of-age tale of Peekay, a little South African kid who was born into the apartheid movement in 1939. After a humiliating and abandoned upbringing, he sets out on an epic adventure across a nation of tribal superstition and contemporary discrimination, and eventually learns to triumph.

Richard Dowden, Altered States of Africa, Common Miracles

Richard Dowden’s book Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles (2008)

“I mostly write for foreigners, those who have not visited Africa but are interested in learning more about it.” Richard Dowden is in fact qualified to tell us more because he has spent the previous 40 years working in Africa as a journalist, teacher, and documentary filmmaker. In an effort to understand why Africa is the way it is, he takes his readers on a tour of the continent’s countries and a look at their difficult yet inspirational histories. A book on traveling in Africa that will undoubtedly get you thinking

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