The second-largest continent on the planet, representing more than 1/5 of all landmass on Earth, the history of Africa is little-known throughout much of the world – and, for that matter, throughout much of Africa itself.
Amateur and professional scholars alike have been producing some very exciting books regarding African history of light, with many of them shining a light on the “Dark Continent” that is helping the world have a better understanding of the rich traditions, history, and legacies of the people of Africa.
8 Best African History Books
If you’re interested in learning more about this part of the world and the people that call Africa home (and have for thousands of years), you’ll want to check out the best books on African history we highlight down below.
Africa: A Biography of the Continent
Universally praised as one of the best books on African history ever to be written, a British author and photojournalist really helps to illuminate much of Africa’s unique geology, its unique role in evolution, and it goes into a deep dive into the “Out of Africa” theory established in 1978 showing that our earliest ancestors – of all of humanity – came from a small location in East Africa.
Not only is the book itself top-tier with detailed research you won’t find anywhere else, it also includes top-tier photography from the author that will show you a side of Africa infrequently seen.
The Fate of Africa: A History of the Continent Since Independence
It is impossible to tell the history of Africa and all of its many nations without discussing how the entire continent was shaped, reshaped, broken down, and rebuilt after Africa emerged from the world of colonialism.
This is a meaty book, to be sure, but it is one of the most important titles that has ever been written in regards to the history of Africa. The writing is clear and accessible, easy to digest and interesting, and you’ll find that you learn more about Africa from this one book than many of the other options out there combined.
Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela is one of the great leaders of all time, not only in Africa but internationally as well. His lifelong fight against racial oppression throughout Africa (particularly in South Africa) helped him to win not only the Nobel Peace Prize but later the presidency of South Africa as well – allowing him to reform the nation in ways that most people never would have thought possible previously.
This is the thrilling autobiography written by the man himself, giving you an opportunity to hear (in his own words) what he thinks of African history and how it shaped the decisions he made to help transform this part of the world.
African Dominion: A New History of Empire in Early and Medieval West Africa
While much of African history is little-known to outsiders, the overwhelming majority of African history that is studied comes from the eastern part of the continent – with the western part of Africa frequently ignored.
Those interested in learning about this part of the continent are going to find this to be one of the best books on African history ever written, diving deep into the earliest history of the nations throughout this part of Africa and leading up into and beyond colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade portions of its history.
King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa
Africa in the 1880s was basically sliced and diced into individual territories by a number of European nations vying for power, but it was King Leopold the Second in Belgium that carved himself one of the largest chunks of territory – and one that would soon become one of the most economically viable territories in all of Africa.
The majority of the territory that King Leopold wanted was situated along the Congo River, a forgot part of Africa to the rest of the European powers that hadn’t spent any time exploring the region previously. Belgian troops flooded into this part of the world, brutalizing the people living there (killing more than 10 million civilians) all while harvesting the natural resources this part of Africa had to offer while proclaiming himself a great humanitarian.
The story is as horrifying as it is enlightening, making it one of the best books on African history you can read today.
Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa
Situated deep in the heart of Africa is the Congo, a nation about the size of all Western Europe combined, and a nation that has landlocked borders with nine other countries – all of which have been at one time or another (sometimes simultaneously) at war with all of their neighbors and the Congo itself.
This book focuses on what has been described as Africa’s “Great War” that occurred deep in the heart of the Congo, highlighting one of the world’s most brutal conflicts that went horrifically underreported at the time and continues to be forgotten about by the world at large for the most part.
We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories From Rwanda
It is impossible to tell the history of Africa without talking about extreme violence that has devastated this continent more than maybe anything else, violence perpetrated by the people of Africa as well as outsiders looking to take advantage of those that call this continent home.
This book specifically focuses on the atrocities that occurred throughout Rwanda (and the surrounding region) in and after 1994 after the Rwandan government ordered everyone in the majority population Hutu to quite literally go out and murder anyone and everyone in the Tutsi minority – promising no repercussions whatsoever.
This is a very dark book that goes into the genocidal logic behind the government over Wanda at that time, and while much of it can be chilling and upsetting it still remains an important title that covers the history of Africa in stunning detail.
Precolonial Black Africa: A Comparative Study of the Political and Social Systems of Europe and Black Africa
A bit of an older book that covers the history of Africa, this book really focuses on the overall political and social systems that exist between Europeans and “Black Africa” – a system that has stretched from the earliest explorers discovering parts of Africa for the first time all the way up until our modern world.