Prof. David Campion

Maasai men in traditional attire



As part of the requirements for this course each student will submit two book reviews immediately upon our arrival in East Africa. You must select one of the six books listed below along with an additional book of your choice in consultation with the instructor (the second book may be from this list as well). Students must declare their two book selections by Friday April 25.

Your review should be a critical evaluation of the book you have selected. You should provide a general description of the narrative and content of the book and then consider the perspectives, experiences, and expertise of the author. If the book is a travelogue or memoir you should also consider the time and circumstances in which the author wrote. If the work is an academic study is the research, thesis, and methodology convincing? If it is a literary work what are the main themes? If it is a political manifesto is it persuasive? Be sure to evaluate the various strengths and weaknesses of each book. You may compare the treatment in other books of issues or controversies raised by the author, but the review should articulate your reaction most of all.

Because this reading is a requirement for a history course, if you choose the novel Petals of Blood as your first book, you must choose a history book as your second one.

Since you are reviewing only one book in each review, you should use parenthetical citations containing the author and page number—i.e. (Ngugi, 145). If you refer to another work in your review, provide a full citation at the end of the paper. Each book review should be 4-6 doubled-spaced, numbered pages using standard fonts and margins. Both reviews are due on the day we arrive in Nairobi and will constitute 30% of the final grade for this course.

Suggestions for the second of the two books can be found on the list of Suggested Reading.

David Anderson, Histories of the Hanged: The Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire

Anderson's authoritative history of the last days of the British Empire in Kenya focuses on the colonial judicial system, which sent over 1,000 native Kenyans to the gallows between 1952 and 1959, during the state of emergency triggered by the Mau Mau insurrection. At the heart of the tale, along with blustering colonial ineptitude, is white settler ignorance of how its land grabs wreaked havoc on the Kikuyu tribe, Kenya’s largest ethnic group and a people viciously targeted by the British, who were intent on rooting out Mau Mau activism at all costs. Anderson, a lecturer in African studies at Oxford, shows how paternalistic land reallocations and relocation of the Kenyan tribes to settlements fostered deep resentment, sewing the seeds of a bloody black-on-black massacre in 1952. Brilliantly analyzing the hierarchies and nuances of Kenyan society, Anderson traces how the Mau Mau hijacked the nationalist Kenya African Union, how the British scapegoated moderate leader Jomo Kenyatta and finally how the British herded virtually the entire Kikuyu population into horrific concentration camps, where thousands perished. Anderson's information-rich history vividly depicts the complex political and social dynamics of the Kenyan nationalist movement as it was confronted by the brutal waning British Empire. This is vital reading for any student of British colonial and African history.

Caroline Elkins, Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya

In a major historical study, relates the gruesome, little-known story of the mass internment and murder of thousands of Kenyans at the hands of the British in the last years of imperial rule. Beginning with a trenchant account of British colonial enterprise in Kenya, Elkins charts white supremacy's impact on Kenya's largest ethnic group, the Kikuyu, and the radicalization of a Kikuyu faction sworn by tribal oath to extremism known as Mau Mau. Elkins recounts how in the late 1940s horrific Mau Mau murders of white settlers on their isolated farms led the British government to declare a state of emergency that lasted until 1960, legitimating a decade-long assault on the Kikuyu. First, the British blatantly rigged the trial of and imprisoned the moderate leader Jomo Kenyatta (later independent Kenya's first prime minister). Beginning in 1953, they deported or detained 1.4 million Kikuyu, who were systematically “screened,” and in many cases tortured, to determine the extent of their Mau Mau sympathies. Having combed public archives in London and Kenya and conducted extensive interviews with both Kikuyu survivors and settlers.

Martin Meredith, The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence

When the decolonization of European empires in Africa began fifty years ago, the process was greeted with jubilation and immense hope for the future. Blessed with bountiful natural resources and led by Western-educated elites, the continent seemed to have a realistic chance to create stable, prosperous, and democratic societies. Why did it all go wrong, and can it be made right? Meredith is a journalist, biographer, and historian who has written extensively on modern African history. His massive but very readable examination of African history over the past century unfolds like a drawn-out tragedy. Of course, the arrogance and ignorance of European masters planted the seeds of many of Africa's current problems. But Meredith refuses to let Africans off the hook for the endemic violence, corruption, and political repression that plague so many African states. While he pays tribute to icons like Mandela and Senghor, his contempt for the venality and worship of power that has characterized so many leaders from Nasser to Mugabe is palatable and justified by extensive documentation. One hopes for shreds of optimism for the future, but Meredith remains skeptical. This is a brilliant and vitally important work for all who wish to understand Africa and its beleaguered people.

Thomas Pakenham, The Scramble for Africa: The White Man's Conquest of the Dark Continent, 1876-1912

In scarcely half a generation during the late 1800s, six European powers sliced up Africa like a cake. The pieces went to Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Belgium; among them, they acquired thirty new colonies and 110 million subjects. Although African rulers resisted, many battles were one-sided massacres. In a dramatic, gripping chronicle, Pakenham floodlights the "dark continent" and its systematic rape by Europe. At center stage are a motley band of explorers, politicians, evangelists, mercenaries, journalists and tycoons blinded by romantic nationalism or caught up in the scramble for loot, markets and slaves. Pakenham has demonstrated his ability to handle a great mass of material and a complicated subject in a fashion that produces a readable, highly credible account. The result is a sweeping narrative, refreshingly old fashioned in its appreciation of the fact that imperialism did have some virtues, which offers as good an introduction to the "scramble" as has ever been written. In an epilogue Pakenham tells how the former colonial powers still dominate the economies of the African nations, most of which are under one-party or dictatorial rule.

Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Petals of Blood

The puzzling murder of three African directors of a foreign-owned brewery sets the scene for this fervent, hard-hitting novel about disillusionment in independent Kenya. A deceptively simple tale, Petals of Blood is on the surface a suspenseful investigation of a spectacular triple murder in upcountry Kenya. Yet as the intertwined stories of the four suspects unfold, a devastating picture emerges of a modern third-world nation whose frustrated people feel their leaders have failed them time after time. First published in 1977, this novel was so explosive that its author was imprisoned without charges by the Kenyan government. His incarceration was so shocking that newspapers around the world called attention to the case, and protests were raised by human-rights groups, scholars, and writers, including James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Donald Barthelme, Harold Pinter, and Margaret Drabble. "The definitive African book of the twentieth century" according to Ugandan author Moses Isegawa.

Crawford Young, The African Colonial State in Comparative Perspective

In this comprehensive and original study, a distinguished specialist and scholar of African affairs argues that the current crisis in African development can be traced directly to European colonial rule, which left the continent with a "singularly difficult legacy" that is unique in modern history. Crawford Young proposes a new conception of the state, weighing the different characteristics of earlier European empires (including those of Holland, Portugal, England, and Venice) and distilling their common qualities. He then presents a concise and wide-ranging history of colonization in Africa, from the era of construction through consolidation and decolonization. Young argues that several qualities combined to make the European colonial experience in Africa distinctive. The high number of nations competing for power around the continent and the necessity to achieve effective occupation swiftly yet make the colonies self-financing drove colonial powers toward policies of "ruthless extractive action." The persistent, virulent racism that established a distance between rulers and subjects was especially central to African colonial history.

Created by campion@lclark.edu
Updated: August 2014