Ultimate Travel Library—Africa

* Indicates a book that appears in our feature "Around the World in 80+ Books" published in the April 2002 issue of National Geographic Traveler.

Africa on Six Wheels, by Betty Levitov (2007). Facing the potential dangers of civil war, wild animals, malaria, and "secret police," Levitov's biggest challenge may be calming the parents of the 13 college students that are to accompany her for a semester of "experiential education" in Africa. Levitov writes in a refreshingly down-to-earth voice, her insecurities and concern for her students plainly engaging.

The African Diaries, by Dereck and Beverly Joubert (2000). Choosing an isolated life with no electricity or running water doesn't appeal to everyone, but for the Jouberts the call of the Botswana bush was too strong to resist. In this illustrated memoir, the award-winning cinematographers' field journals give an intimate account of 20 years of watching the drama of wild southern Africa unfold.

Angry Wind: Through Muslim Black Africa by Truck, Bus, Boat, and Camel, by Jeffrey Tayler (2005). Armchair travelers beware: no swaying palms, charming cottages, or romantic sunsets here—but the writing is transporting, the commentary sharp. Tayler treks the treacherous southern region of the Sahara post-9-11 to get in touch with a part of the world few know, and discovers dogma, corruption, extreme poverty, and warm hospitality.

*Looking for Lovedu: Days and Nights in Africa, by Ann Jones (2001). At the beginning of this axle-smashing road-trip tale is a map depicting Jones's insane route from Tangier to Cape Town, which she undertook in a blue 1980 Land Rover. Her mission was to find the Lovedu people (a tribe guided by "feminine" principles), which she accomplishes in this rousing adventure story.

The Old Way: A Story of the First People, by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas (2006). In the 1950s, Thomas and her parents went to live with the bushmen of Southwest Africa's Kalahari desert, learning to store water in ostrich eggs, participating in all-night "trance" dances, and studying an ancient way of life that was to shape future generations.

A Passage to Africa, by George Aligiah (2005). Aligiah's adventures in Ghana begin with his boyhood memories. As a grown man, he travels as a BBC journalist to South Africa, Liberia, Zaire, and Somalia during dark times in which he experiences an Africa under siege by racism, war, famine, and corruption. Throughout it all Aligiah maintains a cautious optimism.

*Sahara Unveiled: A Journey Across the Desert, by William Langewiesche (1996). "The desert teaches by taking away," writes journalist Langewiesche, but his 1,200-mile (1,931-kilometer) trek through Algiers, Timbuktu, and beyond produced a generous meditation on the towns and people that survive along the great desert's fringes.

*Serengeti: Natural Order on the African Plain, by Mitsuaki Iwago (1986). Iwago is a poet with the camera who captures not just light and form, but emotion. His images of animals (wildlife is his specialty) reflect a nuanced perspective on time and life cycles within this majestic ecosystem.

Too Close to the Sun: The Audacious Life and Times of Denys Finch Hatton, by Sara Wheeler (2007). A must-read for anyone familiar with Isak Dinesen's travel classic Out of Africa, this biography tracks the life of Denys Finch-Hatton—adventurer, big-game hunter, and Dinesen's lover—as he tries to conserve eastern Africa's vast expanses of rich wildlife.

The White Nile (1960) and The Blue Nile (1962), by Alan Moorehead. These two classic, companion histories of the Nile in the 19th century read like novels. Moorehead is a master at scene-setting, from the slave markets of Zanzibar, where British explorers Richard Burton and John Speke set off on their Central Africa expedition in 1856, to the bird-filled northern highlands of Ethiopia, source of the Blue Nile.

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