Pete’s 10 best books to read when planning – or on – a safari

We’re often asked about good African safari books, or books about Africa, so we decided to reach out to safari-cum-book fundis to see what they recommend you read when you’re planning – or on – a safari. Pete Dunning is arguably one of Africa’s most experienced lodge managers, having run luxury safari camps for some 20 years. His love for Africa and its wildlife is matched only by his love for reading, and there’s hardly a book on Africa that he hasn’t read. This is Pete’s list of his all-time, top-10 books on Africa.

The Innocent Anthropologist: Notes from a Mud Hut

By Nigel Barley

This is a one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. It’s an account of an English anthropologist who travels to Cameroon to live with a tribe in remote mountains. Barley captures the essence of life in an African village beautifully, without being in the slightest bit condescending.

A Primate’s Memoir: A Neuroscientist’s Unconventional Life Among the Baboons

By Robert M Sapolksy

Sapolsky lived with and studied baboons for 20 years. This is his story – an absolutely brilliant natural history. It’s full of fascinating insights into African culture too, and his sly humor is ever present.

Elephant Memories: Thirteen Years in the Life of an Elephant Family

By Cynthia Moss

This book was first published in 1989, and much more has been discovered and written about these remarkable animals since then. However, Moss remains the guru of the elephant scientists, and despite being written in a scholarly style, it’s full of compassion and love.

Blood River: A Journey to Africa’s Broken Heart

By Tim Butcher

Butcher was a Daily Telegraph writer who, in 2004, completed an astonishingly brave journey on foot and by river from Lake Tanganyika to the Atlantic coast, through the Democratic Republic of Congo. Echoes of HM Stanley and Joseph Conrad permeate throughout this grim but fascinating account of, arguably, Africa’s most failed state.

Travels in West Africa

By Mary H Kingsley

First published in 1897 – by a feminist, when the term was still new – this was an immediate bestseller in its time, and deservedly so. Recording her experiences with droll humor, Kingsley went where no white person had ever gone before … and she did it with unbelievable guts and panache.

The Zanzibar Chest: A Memoir of Love and War

By Aidan Hartley

This book has been called ‘the most startling memoir of Africa for a generation’. It’s a complicated and very honest account of an ex war correspondent’s struggles to find an identity in, and to make sense of, life in post-colonial East Africa.

Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa

By Mungo Park

Long before Livingstone, Stanley, Speke and Burton there was Mungo Park. This book was first published in 1779, and is the author’s account of his journey through Senegal and Mali to the central part of the Niger River. It’s a remarkably honest, compelling, and detailed narrative, and instantly became a bestseller when published. It contains one of my favorite quotations about Africa: ‘I directed my route towards them, knowing that in Africa, as well as in Europe, hospitality does not always prefer the highest dwellings.’

Fantastic Invasion: Dispatches from Africa

By Patrick Marnham

Despite the book being 30 years old, the subject matter remains brilliantly relevant. It’s an honest and supremely unpaternalistic look at the aid industry and its effects on African peoples and governments, written with great wit and style. Marnham’s judgment: ‘We fear Africa, because when we leave it alone it works.’ It’s out of print but well worth looking for.

Cocktail Hour Under The Tree of Forgetfulness

By Alexandra Fuller

I’ve read every word that Fuller has written, and have never been disappointed by one of them. Selected by The New York Times Book Review as a Notable Book of the Year, this seeks to complete the family history begun with Don’t Let’s go to the Dogs Tonight, the book that established her reputation. This is a brutally honest, searingly funny, and unforgettable portrait of her upbringing in Southern Africa.

West with the Night

By Beryl Markham

Originally published in 1942, this memoir of a truly extraordinary life is unmatched as a record of Kenya in the 1900s. A legendary beauty, aviatrix and racehorse trainer, Markham packed more into a life than very few can even imagine. Ernest Hemingway said of West with the Night; ‘She has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer’.

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