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 »  West Africa Recommended Guidebooks:At the moment, there are two main contenders on the market with comparable books on West Africa: Rough Guide and Lonely Planet. Neither is perfec

Handbook Description

 

»  West Africa Recommended Guidebooks:
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At the moment, there are two main contenders on the market with comparable books on West Africa: Rough Guide and Lonely Planet. Neither is perfect. Rough Guide feels a bit more professionally-made, and has been made on a bigger budget too, but it suffers from terminally boring writing style. This RG does not offer the same level of self-righteous (and often annoying) rhetoric. However, on balance, the LP is maybe better researched and more accurate, and also less bulky. If you have plenty of luggage allowance and money’s no object, buy both, otherwise, stick with Lonely Planet.

Published: 5th edition (June, 2008)

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Lonely Planet: West Africa Alex Newton

New style LP for West Africa, as usual the LP is full of details from the best hotels in small towns to bus schedules. The only weak point is the limited amount of information on regional cultural differences or history (Rough Guide is better), which is probably caused by the number of countries covered. Unlike many other regions in the world where LP’s down fall is its over use, in West Africa there are just not that many travellers.

Published: 6th edition (October, 2009)

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Bradt Travel Guide: Ghana – Philip Briggs

Not a particularly striking guidebook, but does the job more efficiently and comprehensively than the slim sections in West Africa guides, which are about the only alternative. This new third edition should be good. Of course, there are discrepancies and errors, plus the layout takes a while to get used to. But basically, a guidebook is a guidebook, and this one targets the independent and adventurous traveller, and gives them almost all the information they need to know – its recommendations are usually right on the nose. Also, the free e-mail update included is invaluable.

Published: 4th edition (August 2007)

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Lonely Planet: Gambia and SenegalAndrew Burke

This is a comprehensive summary of most of what the independent traveller will need. It is particularly good on the cultural history and ethnic makeup of The Gambia, but is also packed full of essential information, right down to the names and likely locations of individual money-changers. If only travelling to the Gambia, try the better Bradt guide ISBN 1841621374.

Published: 4th edition (September 2009)

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Lonely Planet: Morocco – Bradley Mayhew

As usual with LP guides, their strength lies in detailing the essentials – where to go, how to get there, where to find a bed for the night etc. In these areas it’s excellent. It’s *not* so strong on the history and cultural details of places (something I personally think Rough Guides are much better at), so if you’re not moving around much and want detailed histories of places, this might not be the best guide for you. If however you need to move around and ‘live’ in the country for more than a few days, you won’t be disappointed. Found RG, found maps and other essentials to be inferior to this LP.

Published: 8th edition (September 2011)

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The Rough Guide to Egypt Dan Richardson

Seen many an Egypt guide and can say that this RG is by far the best, informative and succinct guide. The information is thorough, measured and as accurate as it possibly can be. The style of writing has an innate humour and could only have come from one who knows Egypt, its people and its quirks. This edition (5th) has improved on its detailing of places to stay.

Published: 7th edition (August 2010)

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Footprint Egypt Vanessa Betts

An excellent guide, but the RG will provide the most easy reading and down to earth guide. However is you want all and I mean ALL the details on everything then consider this Footprint.

Published: 5th edition (May 2009)

»  East Africa Recommended Guidebooks:
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East & Southern Africa: The Backpacker’s ManualPhilip Briggs

It doesn’t matter that this seems a little out of date. This is an excellent guide. Here, in one volume, are the countries most often visited by first-time Africa travellers: Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. No other guidebook writer knows these countries better than Philip. No one else so ably combines a personal “voice” with meticulous on-the-ground research to help backpackers on a tight budget enjoy their trip to the full. Forget all the rest, give this a try.

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Lonely Planet: East Africa Various

Covers: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. Not Ethiopia. New style LP, not too bad a guide and up-to-date over the 2002 Footprint, just very LP in style and not as comprehensive as the Footprint.

Published: 9th edition (August 2012)

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Malawi: The Bradt Travel GuidePhilip Briggs

Many will prefer the Lonely Planet: Malawi/Zambia which is a more detailed guide in some respects, but I like Philip Briggs guides very much and are therefore recommending it here for anyone who really wants to understand Malawi and its pain/hope.

Published: 5th edition (April 2010)

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Ethiopia: The Bradt Travel GuidePhilip Briggs

Phil Briggs is one of the best guidebook writers out there and he know Ethiopia like few others. As good as a guide book you will come across for any country. Not only is it highly informative, dependable and up to date, as you would expect, but it is also very readable. Phillip Briggs’ writing style demonstrates a real affection for the country and great commonsense lacking in other guides (LPs). This is the most comprehensive, thorough and reliable guide you will find.

Published: 5th edition (April 2009)

»  Southern Africa Recommended Guidebooks:
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The Rough Guide South AfricaVarious

:-) Highly Recommended

South Africa is one of our favourite countries and I have always thought this (and other Rough Guides) to be the best read, guide and planning tool rolled into one. If you are hiring a car it is perfect. If you are on the Baz Bus, the LP might be better. Covers Lesotho and Swaziland too. Currently the most up-to-date guide, now in its 4th edition, this Rough Guide has been fully updated and revised. Its 16-page full-colour section introduces the author’s highlights, from the mysterious Drakensberg mountains to the wine lands of the western cape, to whale watching on the southern Cape Coast and pony trekking in Lesotho.

Published: 6th edition (January 2010)

Footprint South Africa 2010 Lizzie Williams and Francisca Kellet

Published: 10th edition (October 2009)

Lonely Planet South AfricaFrancisca Kellett

Published: (August 2009)

Not the best choices. Despite quality information, Footprint in particular seems poorly put together and scatty in places, but 2009 version is much better. RG still the favourite.

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Lonely Planet: Southern Africa Alan Murphy

This is better than other Lonely Planets for the region. Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe. The info is up to date and pretty accurate and the maps and accommodation very handy as always. I believe that the Namibia section has received a good overhaul of some very thorough research (lacking in other books).

Published: 5th edition (March 2010)

»  Recommended Reading:
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Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of AfricaJason Stearns

:-) Highly Recommended

The DR Congo is not featured on this website, but such is the brilliance of this title it required a ‘highly recommended’. It is quite simply a magnificent achievement. It not only offers the clearest explanations but also the most compelling narrative of how and why the Congo has become such a tragic land., but does so with a page turning narrative. Part tradegy, part comedy, part horror. Well worth a read if you care about the DRC and indeed Africa.

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Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs TonightAlexandra Fuller

:-) Highly Recommended

The vivid imagery makes you feel you can jump into the pages and become part of the story. You see, hear, smell and taste Africa. The Rhodesian/Zimbabwe War of Independence somehow seems more stark and chilling when seen through the perspective of a child, as does living under the dictatorship of Life President Dr. Hastings Banda in Malawi. It is also funny and sad and cannot be recommended highly enough.

Comment ‘One of the best books ever is “Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: an African Childhood” by Alexandra Fuller. It is an autobiographical account of an English girl growing up on various farms in Rhodesia, Zambia, Malawi in the 70s and 80s. Check it out and add it to your ‘must read’ list! – Bonnie

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Cry, The Beloved CountryAlan Paton

First published in 1948, Cry, The Beloved Country addresses the problem of race relations in South Africa with the scrupulousness of a historian and the sensitivity of a poet. It stands as the single most important novel in twentieth-century South African literature. Set in the city of Johannesburg, a father seeks his delinquent son. His search takes him through a labyrinth of murder, prostitution, racial hatred and, ultimately, reconciliation. The plot is awesome and the pace of the story is fast moving. Also a movie.

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The Power of OneBryce Courtenay

:-) Highly Recommended

A masterful plot, which at times is heart wrenching. Based in South Africa, The Power of One tells the story of a young boy in the 1940s growing into adulthood with one focused ambition to become the world boxing champion. The Power of One is one of the best books ever written. You will fall in love with Peekay right from the beginning. His trials through life in the book will bring you both tears and laughter. A tale from the heart of sadness, courage and discrimination in the heart of South Africa -The Power of One is a great book.

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Heart of Darkness: White Cargo DiaryJoseph Conrad

Right from the opening paragraph it is obvious that this book is going to be special. Conrad’s Polish background gives his use of language a robust economical style, and he often conjures powerful vivid images in two or three words. The world around the character, in particular the jungle, seems to be more than just a backdrop. People enter the jungle and are swallowed up as if it is a living malignant force, but as you progress you realise that it is the Europeans who are the real source of darkness. A must read for anyone interested in Africa.

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Things Fall ApartChinua Achebe

:-) Highly Recommended

This is a social document, recounting the impact of colonialism and Christianity on the life of the Ibo tribe in turn-of-the-century Nigeria. A must have for anyone interested in Africa, it will help greatly in an understanding African culture and beliefs. It’s also a masterpiece. If you like this also try: A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

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Dark Star Safari : Overland from Cairo to Capetown Paul Theroux

This had the potential to be an excellent book, but it’s ruined by the attitude of the author. Theroux’s primary aim seems to be to shock, painting a very dark picture of how messed up Africa is. It’s a very cynical book; he is very critical of governments and especially aid agencies (“agents of virtue”). The only positive remarks he makes are those concerning the beauty of the African landscape. This may be accurate, if one sided, but Theroux is also pompous and pretentious. He belittles “tourists” (making it clear that he himself is a “traveller”) and people who go on organised safaris in Kenya. At one point he says people who take short vacations (as opposed to months traversing entire continents I suppose) are doing it “to feel foreign”, but there’s an amusing irony when he has to fly from Cairo to Khartoum after saying that he dislikes the way people fly to places instead of travelling overland from A to B. I found all this really annoying, but it must be said that the book offers a fascinating and enjoyable account of the culture, history and the people of Africa, and there are many interesting and enlightening chats with local people giving an insight into life in Africa. If only it wasn’t written by such an old-fashioned writer.

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Long Walk to FreedomNelson Mandela

This is big book, but once you start reading you may not be able to stop. It’s a fascinating tale and what’s more – it’s real. Mandela takes us through the development of his political views, who he was influenced by and why he became so passionate about his cause. He explains how he and his colleagues came to be in the positions they were in, the personal sacrifices they made, and how they coped with seemingly unbearable circumstances forced upon them. He is an example to everyone, as a man who, like many other South Africans, fought endlessly for his cause every day of his life. And yet he writes without bitterness for his enemies and with sincerity. His story is told with excitement and is highly readable, and the end result is the current day South Africa – a country far from perfect but for once with a true democracy and a hope of moving forward. An excellent and insightful introduction for those interested in South African politics, or simply a fascinating and inspiring read for anyone.

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Out of AfricaKaren Blixen

‘Out Of Africa’ is a marvelous account of Karen Blixen’s time running a coffee plantation in Kenya. The enchanting prose in which this ‘novel’ is written laments the intense love for Africa, its places and people that through a woven, progressive and sometimes heart-rendering narrative, Blixen so beautifully portrays. Blixen’s interaction with the Kikuyu tribe lends a unique perspective (in terms of the period in which this novel was written) of a young imperialist white woman and the way she deals with the natives of Africa. She genuinely wants to help them, wants to educate and employ them. This is probably one of the best works of travel writing, setting a precedent for authors such as Francis Mayes etc. …Well worth a read. If you like this or travelogues, you might also like The Shadow of Kilimanjaro by Rick Ridgeway.

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It’s Our Turn to EatMichela Wrong

:-) Highly Recommended

A true story of corruption in Kenya and an excellent book that is hard to put down once you started it. Drama and a bit of a thriller and not to forget a bit of a history lesson of what has transpired on that continent. One of the Economist books of the year and the best book to read before any trip to Kenya. Michela Wrong is a well-respected journalist with other good books to her credit, but this one is superb and the most painless way of discovering how corruption is put to work in an African government and why it will be neither easy nor simple to change the situation. The research is thorough and many well-informed Kenyans find material they are unaware of, though there may be few surprises for Nairobi insiders. The perceptive portrayal of the people involved and the device of telling the story through them makes it easy to read.


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