The scramble for Africa : white man's conquest of the dark continent from 1876-1912

by Thomas Pakenham

Paper Book, 1991




New York : Perennial, 1991


"The White Man's conquest of the Dark Continent from 1876 to 1912"--Jacket subtitle.

User reviews

LibraryThing member bookblotter
I enjoyed this book quite a bit. A complex group of stories of European conquest and colonial subjugation of Africa in the 19th century interwoven nicely and well written by the author. Slavery, of course, reared its ugly head and played a part (by Europeans, Asians from the Middle East and some
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Africans subjugating other Africans) in portions of the narrative.

The conquests were by, of course, a who's who of European powers sometimes dividing up the continent in a friendly, pre-agreed way (among themselves) and sometimes playing power politics and fighting against each other. While Britain, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany all played their parts; the story of the Belgians in the Congo is quite interesting and prominent in the book and involves all sorts of deals and machinations with other powers.

All-in-all, not a moment of pride for Europeans. Obviously, similar things went on in North & South America, parts of Asia, Australia, New Zealand, islands in the Caribbean and in the Pacific and sundry portions of the globe, mostly earlier in time than the African continent subjugation.

A side issue just somewhat reflected in the book was the artificial splitting up of land into "countries" that didn't have continuity necessarily with the existing tribal groups. In other words, you ended up with country A including tribe 1 and a part of tribes 2 & 3, leaving the rest of 2 & 3 in other "countries." Some of those artificialities are reflected in tensions that still exist today on the continent.

Luckily for me, I was a nerd that collected stamps as a kid in the 1950s, so I had some exposure to the African colonies formed in the 19th century through the stamps. I just knew that background would come to some use!
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LibraryThing member John5918
A first class overview of the history of the colonial project in Africa.
LibraryThing member J.v.d.A.
I abandoned this book about 250 pages in....just could not plow on through this pedestrian account any longer.
LibraryThing member kday_working
Africa.... we all need to know the history of interactions between cultures and nations in the 19th century in order to appreciate the struggles in the 20th.
LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
This is everything you want to know about the background of Africa's beginnings from 1878 to 1912. In a very comprehensive and detailed prose Pakenham uncovers the early "scramble" Europeans made to conquer the unknown "dark" territory. In just under 30 years most of the continent was claimed and
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"civilized" by five different greedy European powers.
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LibraryThing member BruceCoulson
A very thorough history of the European imperial ventures into 'Darkest Africa', focusing on the years 1876 to 1912, but giving ample background to explorations prior to those years. For those curious about the troubles of Africa, this provides excellent background.
LibraryThing member nandadevi
Encyclopaedic. And readable. Although the full history of Africa is an African history, this story of European incursions into Africa and the horrors they inflicted give some context to the modern States of Africa, and the continuing cycle of poverty and violence there. I might add that this
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history isn't just about chronicling European avarice and exploitation. The role of the Arab world in slaving on the East coast of Africa was even more rapacious than the Atlantic slave trade, and the level of violence between African proto-States was reminiscent of the latest most extreme outrages in Saharan Africa. Sadly there is nothing much new under the Sun. This is history that needs to be told, and learnt.
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LibraryThing member MiaCulpa
The very phrase "scramble for Africa" evokes images of late-Victorian explorers and statesmen carving up large tracts of a continent for themselves. The book itself is not a disappointment, as Pakenham injects some droll wit into the proceedings as we follow European explorers arrive, subjugate the
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locals, deal with the Arab slave traders from Zanzibar and surrounds and other Europeans as they grabbed as much territory as they could.

The Germans started late but still got Tanganyika and South West Africa, Leopold II of Belgium also snuck in and grabbed the Belgian Congo and the Lado Enclave, and broke all records in torture and slavery in the process. The Brits and the French got everything else, although all faced problems from the locals, who had the audacity to complain about Europeans bringing civilisation to them.

"The Scramble for Africa" is the best book I've read on Africa in the late nineteenth century.
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LibraryThing member NikNak1
This is an excellent and highly recommended book - it is informative, educational and brilliantly written with a good amount of humour. Would recommend this in a second. It shows that history books can be written well and in an enjoyable manner and not in a boring and dull fashion
LibraryThing member DinadansFriend
The first book to read on the transformation of Africa in the late 19th century. There are penetrating character portraits, and a good deal of political conditions in /europe to which the cutting up of Africa seemed some kind of answer. the prose is quite readable, and the chronology of the
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material at the end of the book is quite illustrative. This book is relatively entertaining given the material.
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LibraryThing member heggiep
Although I took a breather for a few days, I was never tempted to 'throw in the sponge' on this weighty tome. I had previously read Adam Hochschild's excellent 'King Leopold's Ghost', so I was familiar with the tragedy that was (remains?) the Belgian Congo. But this book filled in lots of gaps in
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my general knowledge of Stanley's and de Brazza's explorations, Isandlwana, Majuba, Gordon of Khartoum, Cecil Rhodes, Lord Kitchener etc etc. A thorough overview of the 'carving' of Africa by the European powers in the late 19th century. Recommend.
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LibraryThing member Hae-Yu
The "Scramble for Africa" is comprehensive, enjoyable to read, and lively. It is well-edited and logically organized. For those intimidated by it's slightly larger than average size, it can easily be broken into chunks without too much lost. I believe this comprehensive survey is important to
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understand imperialism, colonialism, and African and world history. So much of the action was intertwined with events thousands of miles away and behaviors or political/ economic/ calculations of so many nations and people. Action in a French border area by a rogue soldier in West Africa could influence British policy in East or southern Africa.

I liked how Pakenham took the participant's POV in regards to the decisions made and actions taken using their own words. The rebuttal or criticism comes from their opposition's voices and actions when he writes from the opposition POV. Some readers may feel uncomfortable with this, as if he is presenting a sympathetic view or endorsing actions, but I prefer to have the actors speak for themselves and I'll make my own judgements. Additionally, when viewed in this uncritical way, readers would have to believe that Pakenham endorsed or sympathized with contrarian viewpoints.

This doesn't mean he keeps his personal judgments hidden behind others' words. Painting all of the independence movements as generally good things without the appropriate Cold War context does those peoples and their history a great disservice. His support of Mugabe - "statesman in the making" - should have been left out. All of that; however, is in the short Epilogue.

What amazed me most is to find that much of that colonial history took place in such a short time frame.

My assumption of imperialism from public high school history was that it was a simple drive to paint the map "our color" and hold the most (territory, population, riches...) &/or have markets for goods. I was surprised at how much African imperialism was driven by middle classes and entities (businesses, missionary organizations, NGOs), explorers, and relatively low-level events rather than the actual leadership in the countries. Pakenham doesn't mention this, but as I read, it became evident how much mass media amplified many voices and events far beyond their own ability to influence events. I believe part of this was the rise in mass literacy in Western nations, the contingent rise in mass media publications, and the corresponding rise in innovative politicians learning to play to the mass media. Low-level events (like a few missionaries in danger or killed in some dirt hole in the middle of a larger dirt hole in the middle of nowhere with no benefit to anyone, even the residents) could drive major policies and push politicians in ways that were contrary to their own inclinations and not in their country's best interest. One observation I made was that during this time frame, leadership devolved from statesmen to politicians. Rather than lead, media pushed and so the carts got ahead of the horses.

Overall, I learned a great deal from this book
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LibraryThing member annbury
This classic recounts the European rush for power in Africa, which took place over a remarkably short period of time. It is a highly detailed account of European actions in Africa and of the European politics around the rush. This creates a point of view that is strongly European. That has a lot to
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do with the passing of time, and a lot (I would assume) about the paucity of African source material. The book is a tough read -- the amount of detail can be overwhelming -- but well worth while.
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LibraryThing member woj2000
The depth and breadth of research in this book is astounding, and Pakenham deserves credit for his ability as a historian. The fact that this book took 10 years to write really does come through.

I give it 3 stars because of the approach and methodology and how these meshed with my expectations.

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book is written almost entirely from the European perspective, with primarily European archival material. The politics and personalities of European courtrooms and chambers are the bulk of the narrative (along with the exploits of European explorers), with literally hundreds of Great Man characters interacting in a complex web of intrigue. Certain accounts, like that of Livingstone, read like hagiographies. Certain parts of the book read like a drama novel. Africans, for the most part, appear in only a handful of capacities: as rulers making deals with Europeans; as auxiliary soldiers helping Europeans; as slaves that need to be freed by Europeans; or as forced labourers being used by Europeans, Arabs, or other Africans. Women and children only appear as refugees, captives, and child-brides. African culture never appears, apart from the grim pagan rituals that Pakenham sometimes describes.

Atrocities, thankfully, are not glossed over. In fact, they're typically described in gruesome detail. Yet they do not seem to condemn imperialism to Pakenham. In his own words, "Europe has given Africa the aspirations for freedom and human dignity ... even if Europe itself was seldom able to live up to them." When atrocities do occur, the only push-back seems to be the politicking of other Europeans.

The social, cultural, political, economic, etc. upheavals brought about by the Scramble do not fit into the scope of this book, which came as a disappointment to me. Neither, however, do the pre-colonial structures of Africa. Though there is frequent mention of chiefs, kabakas, sultans, and vassals, the precise political structures are rarely adequately described. Furthermore, resistances and uprisings are not discussed in a particularly great depth. It is not a flaw for a book to have a certain scope, of course, but omitting these things contributes to the book's strongly European outlook. The impression one gets is of Africa as a pawn of European politics - certainly accurate from the European perspective, but unsatisfactory and simplistic from the African one.

My gripes aside, I do think this is a good book to read on the topic, though perhaps not for the casual reader. It is a dense slog of material at over 700 pages which, understandably, will likely put many people off. If that isn't a problem for you, you'll certainly find the book interesting and even immersive.
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LibraryThing member mnicol
This book is demanding of the reader. It is long. It weighs over 3 pounds. The maps are barely adequate. And Hopkins says Packenham adds nothing new and omits most of the historical scholarship on Africa since 1912. If I recall, he says it is history from the records of the plunderers and
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But it is a very good read. And, as you read, you have a reference point for the unending, awful events across Africa – and other accounts you may care to look into.
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Alan Paton Award (Winner — 1992)


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