FAO Quotables

"But being right, even morally right, isn't everything. It is also important to be competent, to be consistent, and to be knowledgeable. It's important for your soldiers and diplomats to speak the language of the people you want to influence. It's important to understand the ethnic and tribal divisions of the place you hope to assist."
-Anne Applebaum

THE Africa Book List

THE FAO (Africa) Book List

Books are my greatest guilty pleasures! While this page is entitled THE FAO Book List, its intent is to be useful for any serving or working in Africa.         

 In creating THE list I have borrowed HEAVILY (thanks FAOWeb, AFRICOM and your contributors--COL C among them) from other lists that I have come across and also relied heavily on my own research.  I have not read all of these books (the ones I have read are noted with a *) but will link them to my reviews once I do read them. 

If you have suggestions please comment and I will add them.    If you have a review that you've written that you'd like me to link to I will do so happily.  Comments on books that are not emboldened and italicized are not my own.

Finally, Foreign Affairs magazine has some good topical reading lists here.



Finally, you're using the Kindle app right--it's free and its great to use on your laptop as well!


Africa in Chaos by George B. Ayittey.  Recommended by Army FAO LTC W.

Africa: A biography of the Continent by John Reader.  Recommended by Army FAO LTC W.  

African Military History by John Lamphear.  This collection of essays on pre-colonial sub-Saharan African military history is drawn from a number of academic journals and includes some which are considered milestones in African historiographical discourse, as well as others which, while lesser known, provide remarkable insight into the unique nature of African military history. Selections were made so as to produce an introduction to the understudied field of pre-colonial African military history that will be useful to specialists and non-specialists alike. The volume also contains an introduction which presents one of the first significant reviews of pre-colonial African military historiography ever attempted.

Africa’s Armies: From Honor to Infamy, a History from 1791 to Present by Robert Edgerton, 2002.  Academic study of military trends on the continent.

Ambiguous Order: Military Forces In African States by Herbert Howe, 2004.   This book may get mixed reviews however Mr. Howe is a gifted and engaging lecturer.

Burton: A Biography of Sir Richard Francis Burton by Byron Farwell.

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller.  My grandmother recommends pairing this book with a Rye Manhattan (with a frozen Michigan cherry biensur).  This is the memoir of a girl growing up in Kenya (among other things of course).  A quote from the book:  
"A good host should never ask if their guest would like another drink, they should ask if 'they would like the other half."

Democratic Experiments in Africa: Regime Transitions in Comparative Perspective  by Bratton and van de Walle.  

Devil on the Cross by Ngugi wa Thiong'o.

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee.  Recommended by Kenyan journalist and author Aidan Hartley.  Be sure to read Hartley's excellent: The Zanzibar Chest

Elimination of Mercenarism in Africa edited by Sabelo Gumedze.   Good luck finding this one on Amazon, but if you email me I will send you a digital (pdf) copy that I have. 

Eminent Victorian Soldiers: Seekers of Glory by Byron Farwell.

Heart of the Hunter
 by Sir Laurens Van Der Post 

The best single volume multi-disciplinary look at the trans-Atlantic slave trade.  Pulitzer Prize winner.

In the Heart of Africa by Duke Adolphus Frederick of Mecklenburg

Into Africa, a Guide to Sub-Saharan Culture and Diversity by Yale Richmond and Phyllis Gestrin

It's Our Turn to Eat by Michaela Wrong.  Recounts the story of John Githongo, who as part of the anti-corruption agency of the Kenyan government, uncovered widespread corruption.

Kim by Rudyard Kipling.

Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak by Jean Hatzfeld, 2006.    This book features the testimony of 10 friends from the same village who spent day after day together, fulfilling orders to kill any Tutsi within their territory during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Man-Eaters of Tsavo by J.H. Patterson

Mr. Kipling's Army by Bryron Farwell

My Traitor's Heart by Rian Malan.  Recommended by Kenyan journalist and author Aidan Hartley.  Be sure to read Hartley's excellent: The Zanzibar Chest

Politics and Society in Contemporary Africa by Naomi Chazan, et. al. Textbook covering political structures, social dynamics, ethnicity issues.

Prisoners of the Mahdi by Byron Farwell

Queen Victoria’s Little Wars by Byron Farwell, 1972.   Covers British military expeditions in Africa, Asia and China.  Excellent synopsis of interventions in South Africa and Ethiopia.   An entertaining read.

*States and Power in Africa by Jeffrey Herbst.  Will update with summary soon (11/15)

The Africans by  David Lamb, 1987.  Older classic, hilarious, insightful.

The Assassination of Lumumba by Ludo De Witte.  Recommended by Mr. Okata.  An account of Congo's sudden independence from Belgium and its rapid decent in chaos overseen by its colonial master. Recommend this book be read in conjunction with King Leopold's Ghost.  Read in conjunction with King Leopold’s Ghost  by Adam Hochschild.  

The Black Man’s Burden: Africa and the curse of the Nation-State by  Basil Davidson, 1992. Textbook covering nationalism and imposed statehood  issues

The Blue Nile by Alan Moorehead.

The White Nile  by Alan Moorehead.

The Dragon's Gift: The Real Story of China in Africa - Hardcover (Jan. 25, 2010) by Deborah Brautigam

The Famished Road by Ben Okri.  This one comes highly recommended!


The French Foreign Legion: A Complete History by Douglas Porch, 1991.  Provides a background on French conquests of Benin and Madagascar.  Also illuminates the history and culture of an enduring major actor in African history and current affairs.

The Great War in Africa by Byron Farwell.

The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost Africa Childhood by Helene Cooper.  Recommended to me by a Navy Africa FAO.  

The Land of Zinj by Captain Stigand.

The Lost World of the Kalahari by Sir Laurens Van Der Post 

The Palm-Wine Drinkard and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Amos Tutuola, 1993.   Drawing on the West African Yoruba oral folktale tradition, Tutuola described the odyssey of a devoted palm-wine drinker through a nightmare of fantastic adventure.

The Penguin Atlas of African History by Colin McEvedy, 1995.  Excellent reference work, good ethnic maps.

by Winston Churchill.  Operations in the Sudan against the Maahdists.

The Scramble for Africa: White Man’s Conquest of the Dark Continent from 1876 to 1912 by Thomas Pakenham, 1991.  Dry and long but an excellent explanation of the origins of colonial borders and colonial legacies.

*The Shadow of the Sun by Ryszard Kapuscinski

The Story of the Gadsbys by Rudyard Kipling   

The Uganda Protectorate by Sir Harry Johnston

The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon

*The Zanzibar Chest by Aidan Hartley.  My extensive notes on this excellent book are here.

*Things Fall Apart: A Novel by Chinua Achebe  1959. Classic fiction.  My notes/summary for it are here.

Through Masai Land by Joseph Thompson

Warfare in Independent Africa by William Reno.  

Warlord Politics and African States by  William Reno, 1998. Political theory regarding collapsed states.

Warriors: Life and Death Among the Somalis by Gerald Hanley.  Be sure to read everything else written by Hanley too.  Recommended by Kenyan journalist and author Aidan Hartley.  Be sure to read Hartley's excellent: The Zanzibar Chest.

Wars of Imperial Conquest by Bruce Vandevort.  

Washing of the Spears by Donald Morris.  Recommended by Hoyawolf:
Fantastic account from both Zulu and British perspectives of the Zulu Wars in the late 1800s.  The definitive volume on the Zulu War. 

*West with the Night by Beryl Markham.  The memoir of one of the first female pilots to fly across the globe and throughout Africa in the 20's and 30's.  She grew up in Africa and this is one of the most well-written books I have ever read.  I wrote more about it here

*What is the What by Dave Eggers.  Lost Boys of Sudan 'memoir.'


A Year in Marrakesh by Peter Mayne, 2003.  

Experimental Nations: Or, the Invention of the Maghreb by Réda Bensmaïa

In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams by Tahir Shah, 2009.  
Shah continues the story he began in his acclaimed memoir The Caliph's House, the tale of his family's move to Morocco, this time focusing on the traditional wisdom stories of Arabia, best known in the West through A Thousand and One Nights.

The Last Storytellers: Tales from the Heart of Morocco by Richard Hamilton, 2011.  Richard Hamilton has witnessed first-hand the death throes of this rich and captivating tradition and, in the labyrinth of the Marrakech medina, has tracked down the last few remaining storytellers, recording stories that are replete with the mysteries and beauty of the Maghreb.

Travels with a Tangerine by Tim Mackintosh-Smith.  This is a book about Moroccan traveler Ibn Battutah's 29-year pilgrimage from his native Tangiers to Mecca.

Women of Marrakech: Record of a Secret Sharer 1930-1970 by Leonora Peets, 1988. 

West Africa

A History of West Africa 1000-1800.  by Basil Davidson, 1977.  Textbook.   Useful reference.

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier  by Ismael Beah, 2007. Liberia, child soldier’s point of view.

*Anthills of the Savannah by Chinua Achebe.  The rural comes to the city.  My notes/summary are here.

*Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe.   My notes/summary are here. 

Blood Diamonds  by Greg Campbell.  Nonfiction (thus unlike the movie).  History of Sierra Leone’s civil war.

Colonial Conscripts: The Tillailleurs Senegalais in French West Africa 1857-1960 by Myron Echenberg, 1991.  A must read if you’re assigned to French West Africa.

Educational Language Policy in Nigeria: A Critical Analysis  by James Ibekwe, 2008.  Recommended by SocioLingo Africa.

*Man of the People by Chinua Achebe. My notes/summary for it are here.

 *No Longer at Ease by Chinua Achebe.  My notes/summary for it are here.

Short version: Mo Money, Mo Problems.

Segu by Maryse Conde.  Historical fiction, West African empires mid-1800’s.

The Mask of Anarchy  by Stephen Ellis, 1999. Liberia.  Part history, part socio-cultural study.

The Trouble With Nigeria  by Chinua Achebe, 1983.  African leadership crisis.

This Child Will Be Great: Autobiography of Ellen Johnson by Sirleaf, 2009. Liberia, Africa’s first female president.  Both insightful and an entertaining read.

This House Has Fallen: Midnight in Nigeria  by Karl Maier, 2000.  Anecdotal treatment of Nigeria.

Central Africa

A Plague of Caterpillars and the Innocent Anthropologist  by Nigel Barley, 1983.  British anthropologist in Cameroon, hilarious, insightful.

King Leopold’s Ghost  by Adam Hochschild, 1998.  Belgian Congo/Zaire, colonial horrors.  Read with The Assassination of Lumumba by Ludo De Witte.

Shake Hands with the Devil by Romeo Dalliare. UN Force Commander’s account of the Rwandan genocide.  Explains dynamics of UN C2 during crises and illuminates the genocide from the point of view of someone who was vainly trying to stop it.   Depressing, but a must read nonetheless.

The White Man of God   by Kenjo Jumbam, 2003 (African Writer’s Series).  A Cameroonian village reacts to the arrival of missionaries.

The Wonga Coup  by Adam Roberts, 2006.  True story from Equatorial Guinea, reads like a spy thriller.

We wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch. Anecdotal treatment of Rwandan genocide.  Influential book for Rye Barcott, author of It Happened on the Way to War: A Marine's Path to Peace. (Part I, page 25)

East Africa

Commando: A Boer Journal of the Boer War by Deneys Reitz and JC Smuts A classic.

The Rise and Fall of the Zulu Nation by Laband.

Darfur: The Long Road to Disaster by  Burr and Collins, 2006.  Explains the interplay between Chad, Libya and Sudan.   A necessary read if you’re going to one of those three countries.

Imperial Reckoning: the Untold Story of Britian’s Gulag in Kenya  by Caroline Elkins, 2005.   Very good history of the Mau-Mau rebellion.  From a contributor:  "This book has been panned by many scholars as providing figures that are at best suspect and at worst simply made up. This being said the book is read in East Africa so a knowledge of what it says and the allegations that it makes is perhaps a good thing even if the facts may or may not be correct. I am not saying that horrible things did not happen during the rebellion, read Baldwin's Mau-Mau Manhunt if you want evidence of excesses (even though that was not necessarily the intent of the author), I am simply saying that the allegations are that Imperial Reckoning evidenced shoddy research."

Infidel  by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, 2007.  Somali-born woman, refugee in Kenya, runs away from a forced marriage in Europe, becomes Dutch parliamentarian and outspoken critic of Islam’s treatment of women.  Easy read and highlights many relevant issues.

Modern History of the Somali  by I. M. Lewis.  Recommended by Hoyawolf:
Probably one of the only Somali speaking white American historians who personally knew Siad Barre and most of the post-communist leadership/warlords.

Rogue Ambassador: An African Memoir  by Smith Hempstone, 1997. Kenya.

Something of Value by Robert Ruark

Southern Africa

Angola's Last Best Chance For Peace by Paul Hare.  Recommended to me.  

Birth by Peter Harris.   A gripping account of the turbulent days preceding the first democratic elections in 1994 in South Africa. 

Cry, Beloved Country by Alan Paton.  In search of missing family members, Zulu priest Stephen Kumalo leaves his South African village to traverse the deep and perplexing city of Johannesburg in the 1940s. With his sister turned prostitute, his brother turned labor protestor and his son, Absalom, arrested for the murder of a white man, Kumalo must grapple with how to bring his family back from the brink of destruction as the racial tension throughout Johannesburg hampers his attempts to protect his family. 

Fighting for Justice by Jay Naidoo.  Jay Naidoo was a tireless anti-apartheid campaigner in the 1980s, serving as the first General Secretary of Coastu, South Africa's largest union federation and the backbone of the internal mass struggles against apartheid. In 1993, he stepped down to lead twenty leaders from Cosatu into parliament on an ANC ticket, and was asked by Nelson Mandela to work as the Minister responsible for the Reconstruction and Development Programme, and then as the Minister of Communications. In 1999 Jay moved away from politics and entered the world of business, setting up the J and J Group, an investment and management company. 

Long Walk to Freedom.  Autobiography of Nelson Mandela, 1994.   It’s tough being an Africanist if you don’t know anything about South Africa or its greatest hero.

Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa  by Peter Godwin.  Growing up during the Zimbabwean war for independence.

Rebels and Robbers: Violence in Post-Colonial Angola by Assis Malaquias, 2007.  I know Assis personally and he is not only a gifted scholar and teacher but a great person.  Book is about the political economy of violence in post-colonial Angola. This book provides the first comprehensive attempt at analyzing how the military and non-military dynamics of more than four decades of conflict created the structural violence that stubbornly defines Angolan society even in the absence of war. The book clearly demonstrates that the end of the civil war has not ushered in positive peace.

Pamwe Chete: The Legend of the Selous Scouts by LTC Ron-Reid Daly.  Recommended by Army FAO LTC W.  He said: This is by far, the best primer on counter-insurgency. A lucid, detailed, well written and accurate history of the formation and history of, arguably, the best counter-insurgency unit ever fielded by a Western military (albeit by Rhodesians in Africa).  Also check out the website: http://www.theselousscouts.com/index2.php

Rags of Glory by Stuart Cloete.
From contributor: A novel of the Boer War; a good read and something that offers the Boer perspective on the war.

The Boer War  by Thomas Pakenham.   Definitive work on the topic.  Thus it’s a bit long.

 The Great Betrayal: The Memoirs of Ian Douglas Smith by Ian Smith
From contributor: Written by the former Prime Minister of Rhodesia,  this book offers a splendid overview of the Rhodesian War, especially its latter years, albeit from the view of the minority government.

When A Crocodile Eats the Sun  by Peter Godwin, 2006.  Anecdotal account of Zimbabwe falling apart, 2000-2005.

Culture and Religion-ISLAM
Foreign Aid/Peacekeeping/Piracy

 African Christianity: Its Public Role by Paul Gifford, 1998.  Recent rise of Christianity,

African Religions and Philosophy  by John Mbiti, 1990. Best overview of traditional religions and world view, Ugandan author.

Frontline Diplomacy: Humanitarian Aid and Conflict in Africa  by John Prendergast, 1996.  Describes pitfalls in humanitarian aid.

History of Islam in Africa by Levtzion and Pouwels. 

Into Africa: Intercultural Insights  by Richmond and Gestrin, 1998. Best overview of socio-cultural framework, guidebook for living and working with Africans.

Lords of Poverty: Power , Prestige, and Corruption in the International Aid Business by  Graham Hancock, 1989.  Older classic, still gives insight into aid dynamics.

Mozambique: UN Peacekeeping in Action, 1992-94 by Richard Synge. Recommended to me. 

Oxford History of Islam by John Esposito.  Recommended by Hoyawolf:
The standard on Islam in English by my former professor at Georgetown

The Bottom Billion by Paul Collier.  Oxford press, 2007.   Fascinating policy prescription for US approach to Africa.  This will help you understand the debates swirling around in State and USAID.

The Development of Islam in West Africa  by Mervyn Hiskett, 1984.

The Failure of Political Islam  by Olivier Roy, 1994.   Fundamentalism, integrisme, and extremism. political influence.

Travels with a Tangerine by Tim Mackintosh-Smith.  This is a book about Moroccan traveler Ibn Battutah's 29-year pilgrimage from his native Tangiers to Mecca.


A History of the Modern Middle East by William L. Cleveland and Martin Bunton

Good general overviews of Israel-Palestine.

A Political Economy of the Middle East: Third Edition by Alan Richards and John Waterbury

Afghanistan by Louis Dupree.  Recommended by Hoyawolf:
Single best English language anthropological study it covers everything from geography to religions. Written prior to communist era it pictures Afghanistan as it was and never will be again. 

From his dissertation he does a great job of showing just how destructive the post-Soviet War civil war was for Afghanistan and turns on its head the thesis that the Russians destroyed the country - it was largely the Afghans who did it after their Soviet withdrawal - superb scholarship.

An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan by Jason Elliot.  Recommended by Hoyawolf:
Superbly written with excellent prose, it exemplifies the genre of travel/adventure literature with typical British understatement. The most accurate book I read while on deployment to Afghanistan in 2002.

From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas L. Friedman

Explains the birth and maturation of the modern Saudi state.

Iraq: Eastern Flank of the Arab World by Christine Helms.  Recommended by Hoyawolf:
Good companion volume to Shi'is of Iraqthat explains the Iraqi dichotomy of Sunni Arab culture with Persian Shi'ism.

Lawrence Of Arabia by Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart

Modern History of Iraq by Phebe Marr and
Iraq Since 1958 by Sluglett.  Recommended by Hoyawolf:
Together they are the best two general overviews of post-monarchial Iraq and are the standard works for most courses on Modern Iraqi history.

Ottoman Centuries by Lord Kinross

Shi'is of Iraq by Yitzhaf Nakash.  Recommended by Hoyawolf:
Excellent overview of Shi'a culture/religion as it developed distinct from their Sunni co-religionists inside Iraq.

Written before 9/11 it remains best single volume history of the group's origins.

Great piece by the author of "Orientalism" that defends ideas of Palestinian statehood.

*The Zanzibar Chest by Aidan Hartley


Afghanistan: A Companion & Guide by Bijan Omrani and Matthew Leeming
Non-Fiction – A province by province guide to Afghanistan

Asia Looks Seaward: Power and Maritime Strategy (Praeger Security International) - Hardcover (Nov. 30, 2007) by Toshi Yoshihara and James R. Holmes

Non-Fiction – The two men who went through some significant events in South Asian history.

China's Energy Strategy: The Impact on Bejing's Maritime Policies by Gabriel B. Collins, Andrew S. Erickson, Lyle J. Goldstein, and William S. Murray

China Goes to Sea: Maritime Transformation in Comparative Historical Perspective by Andrew S. Erickson and Lyle J. Goldstein and Carnes Lord

Non-Fiction – Pakistan is their army and their army is Pakistan, understand them and you understand the country

Descent Into Chaos by Ahmed Rashid
Non-Fiction – The latest and greatest on US involvement in Afghanistan & Pakistan.

Dragon By The Tail by John Paton Davies

Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia by Rene Grousset.  Recommended by Hoyawolf:
Huge tome that gives a sweeping overview of the impact of Central Asian nomads on all of Western History.

Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History, Updated Edition - Paperback (Sept. 19, 2005) by Bruce Cumings

India: A History by John Keay
Non-Fiction – A good once-over on the sub-continent

Non-Fiction – Discover the source and legacy of everything you will see in Bangladesh / South Asia

Non-Fiction – No, you are not the first one to experience what you are about to experience, the more things change the more they stay the same

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
Fiction – Excellent primer on South Asian culture, he wished he had read it BEFORE he came there

Stillwell and the American Experience in China by Barbara Tuchman.  Recommended by Hoyawolf:
Perhaps the consummate soldier/diplomat who went from Attaché to Theater Commander in WWII.

The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia by Peter Hopkirk.  Non-Fiction – Britain vs. Russia in the 19th century and how it affected (and still affects) Afghanistan and Pakistan 

The Great Partition: The Making of India & Pakistan by  Yasmin Khan Non-Fiction – A tragic story you need to understand

The Honorable Company: A History of the British East India Company by John Keay.  Non-Fiction – One of the earliest MNCs hard at work subjugating South Asia one deal at a time

The Indian Mutiny by Julian Spilsbury.  Non-Fiction – 1857: The point when India became run by the UK and not “the company”

The Places In Between by Rory Stewart.  Non-Fiction – A walk across Afghanistan from Herat to Kabul post-Taliban, very insightful

The State At War in South Asia by Pradeep P. Barua.  Non-Fiction – A good account of South Asia warfare throughout the ages, it will shed light on what their militaries look back on when searching through history for lessons learned.

The Story of the Guides by G.J. Younghusband.  Non-Fiction – A unit formed and led by the first FAOs and in the very spot we are mixed up in right now

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson.  Non Fiction.  *How to run an effective NGO in one of the most inhospitable areas on earth.  *My full mixed Amazon review is here.  My one sentence summary: A great story...I just feel bad for his wife and children who played second fiddle.  June 2011 update: Mortenson disappointed me and a lot of other people.  Skip this book and read about a responsible steward in   It Happened on the Way to War: A Marine's Path to Peace by Rye Barcott.

Wellington in India by Jac Weller.  Non-Fiction – The Tipu Sultan and the Battle of Assaye


Anti Americanism by Jean Francois Revel

The French Betrayal of America by Kenneth R. Timmerman

Of Paradise and Power by Robert Kagan. An essential read on the EU/US trans-Atlantic relationship. 

The Struggle for Europe by William Hitchcock.



A Force More Powerful by Peter Ackerman and Jack Duvall.

Force and Statecraft by Gordon A. Craig and Alexander L. George

Guns, Germs and Steel by Diamond.  Posits the strong influence of geography on development.

Making War and Building Peace: U.N. Peace Operations by Doyle and Sambanis, 2006.   Statistical analysis of trends leading to success and failure in Peace operations.

*Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes.  My review on Amazon is available here and my full FUUO review is available here.  My two sentence summary:  We spend a disproportionate amount of time studying the facts, tactics, techniques and history of wars. I add this novel to my "must read for FAOs" list because it adds something missing: CONTEXT and TEXTURE.

Stillwell and the American Experience in China by Barbara Tuchman.  Recommended by Hoyawolf:
Perhaps the consummate soldier/diplomat who went from Attaché to Theater Commander in WWII.

*The Diplomat’s Dictionary by Chas W. Freeman, Jr.

The Future of Power by Joseph Nye, 2011.  

*The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell

The Ugly American by William J. Lederer


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