Joseph surveys ancient African civilizations in roughly chronological order, beginning with the kingdom of Kush which blended indigenous African with Egyptian culture. In the West the Soninke absorbed Berber invaders to form Ghana, which became powerful due to its iron weapons and its 1000-year mastery of the trans-Saharan gold-salt trade, but was conquered in 1203 by neighboring Susu -- overthrown in their turn by Islamic Mandinke, founders of Mall. The Songhai, Bornu, Benin and other empires are similarly chronicled to demonstrate that ""the history of black African empires is one of noble kings and mighty warriors, vast empires with highly centralized governments. . . and great centers of learning and art."" But the impression of greatness and splendor is conveyed more impressively in Davidson's Time-Life African Kingdoms (1977) than in Joseph's skeletal history, which mentions but doesn't tell us much about the university and medical school at Timbuktu and the brass castings of Benin, doesn't even mention music, dance or Ashanti art, and generally slights creative achievements in favor of conquests, migrations, trade routes, and the like. What she does provide is an orderly, quick-reference summary for children who have to get it straight for school reports or fill in blanks between more stimulating readings.