ANCIENT AFRICA by John Addison


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At some point it should not be necessary to revive the ""Dark Continent"" disfiguration in order to demolish it, nor attempt to compress some 2000 years of sub-Saharan Africa before colonization into 120 pages less pictures; one would hope rather for Africa on its own terms, and in terms of the states whose rise and fall shaped the course of history in each area: so we view Europe, whereas Mr. Addison would have us consider Africa, because of its relative self-sufficiency, as a ""laboratory"" (his italics) for the study of man's development. This is diminishing, even demeaning, while the evidence of wider contacts is inconsonant with purported ""isolation."" Indeed, much that is ignored in the introductory remarks and obscured by the series format is made manifest in the successive accounts (per chapter headings) of The Medieval Empires of the Western Sudan, The States of the Central Sudan, The Peoples of the Forest and Guinea Coast, The States of Central Africa, and East Africa. Here, however, the quick succession of men and events, of strange names and places, is overwhelming, and much of the description amounts to cataloging, e.g. unelaborated reference to ""reforms based on Islamic law and administration."" The representation is just as far as it goes, it just doesn't go far enough to allow of assimilation. Until there is something fuller and sharper, or adequate special focus coverage, you may want this simulacrum of history for reference -- it does, inadvertently, project the vastness of the African past as a field of study.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1971
Publisher: John Day