(Issue 72, Autumn 2015) Books that have caught our eye this season:
5 great African books
Long-time subscriber to this magazine and Africa enthusiast John Dennis picks his five favourite reads
1 The African Safari, by P Jay Fetner
My reason for selecting this substantial volume, first published in 1987, is that it is a complete safari guide in one book. Topics covered include how to plan your trip, photography and detailed chapters on wildlife characteristics and behaviour, all supplemented by more than 750 colour photographs. There is also an extensive section containing excerpts from literature by a variety of writers such as Theodore Roosevelt, Isak Dinesen, Elspeth Huxley, Beryl Markham and Rudyard Kipling. The book concludes with a comprehensive bibliography of the best sources of wildlife information.
2 The Mammals of the Southern African Sub-region, by J D Skinner and Christian T Chimimba
This book, published by the University of Pretoria, has to be the definitive textbook for anyone interested in learning about southern African mammals. It’s a weighty tome, definitely not one for the camera bag or backpack, but it’s extremely informative and is illustrated with many excellent drawings.
3 What’s That Bird? A Starter’s Guide to Birds of Southern Africa, by Kenneth Newman
One of the biggest problems I have on safari is putting a name to the birds I see. What’s that Bird? goes a long way towards overcoming this. The book examines sixty or so of the commoner species. The important points to look for are described in a way that enables you to identify that particular bird on the move. Note this is not a substitute for a field guide but a reference that can be used in conjunction with one.
4 The Field Companion to Roberts’ Birds of Southern Africa, by Gordon Lindsay Maclean
When I’m out in the bush I never travel without my copy of this superb book. It is a slimmed-down version of the renowned Roberts’ Birds of Southern Africa. It is light and portable, and contains all the relevant information needed to identify southern African birds.
5 Spectrum Guides
I have a huge number of travel guidebooks by different publishers in my collection, but the ones I rate most are those in the Spectrum series. Each book contains a wealth of information on practically every aspect of planning a trip to the country concerned. The text is well laid out and easy to read, and goes into great detail, region by region. Each one also has an assortment of maps and plenty of excellent colour photographs to inspire you.
One for the children
The White Giraffe, by Lauren St John
This delightful series follows the adventures of eleven-year-old Martine who lives on an African game reserve. St John’s descriptions of the savannah and its wildlife are bound to inspire young readers.
The Elephant Whisperer – My Life with the Herd in the African Wild by Lawrence Anthony (with Graham Spence) is one of my all-time favourite reads. In this moving and thought-provoking book, Anthony, who dedicated his life to conservation, rescues a herd of elephants, their last hope of survival. He bonds with them and they ultimately teach him a huge amount about life, love and loyalty. I believe that the bush and the animal kingdom can give us all a lesson in life, one that is personal to everyone. Every time you travel into the African wilderness you learn something new about yourself. I urge all of you to pick up this book and devour it.
Recommended by Dianne Williams, US
My African Journey, by Winston Churchill
As Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, Churchill toured Britain’s territories in East Africa. First published in 1908, this book documents his travels as well as his thoughts on settlement and government, giving you an intriguing insight into contemporary imperialism and African history.
Good Morning, Mr Mandela: A Memoir, by Zelda la Grange
The author spent her adult life as Mandela’s trusted personal assistant, referring to him as her khulu (or ‘grandfather’). A fascinating insight into South Africa’s remarkable
We Are the Champions: The Champion Trees of South Africa, by Enrico and Erna Liebenberg
This is a detailed new guide to South Africa’s 75 ‘champion’ trees, including excellent photography, plentiful description and precise geographic co-ordinates.
Travels in West Africa, by Mary Kingsley
The story of pioneering Victorian explorer Mary Kingsley’s adventures through a barely touched West Africa was reprinted by Penguin in August. Kingsley writes beautifully and is as funny as she is brave.