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Understanding Africa does not achieve its aim until one-third through; then the author's simultaneous awareness of Western attitudes, African sensibilities and historical realities (he's executive vice-president of the African-American Institute) enables him to seize upon key areas of misinterpretation: apparent African gullibility re shoddy Western goods, for example, or the difference between African- and European-style slavery (particularly important since the former is sometimes cited to exonerate the latter). Initially, however, this is a sprawling, often swamping survey of the geography (geology, vegetation, climates, infectious insects, wildlife, minerals, etc., etc.) and, by region, of the people (physical characteristics, languages, education and culture) and the separate nations. The multiplicity of tongues, ethnic groups and states (one brief paragraph contains 20 proper names) on page after page for two long, undivided chapters is ultimately numbing; neither does the index cut through to specifics: there are, for example, 25 scattered page references to Tanzania without any subheadings. But when Mr. Murphy reaches back into history, which is also when Africa can more readily be grasped as a whole--in terms of successive cultures, European impingement and its effects, colonization and the reaction thereto--his account compels attention. Particularly since it expresses the African outlook--its chief point of superiority over such recent studies as Thompson's Africa: Past and Present (1966) and MacGregor-Hastie's Africa: Background for Today (1968). However brief, the discussion of emerging nationalism and quick independence, of disillusion and dissension following initial advances, of problems and efforts for progress today is informed and attuned; repeatedly stressed is the Pan-African similarity of ideology, the overlying barriers of language, communication, different forms of government--plus the characteristic tensions within the state. Hopefully students will turn to this for a grasp of issues and undercurrents rather than for facts which can be found more easily elsewhere.

Pub Date: April 21st, 1969
Publisher: Crowell