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(01/04/2009) The Scramble For Africa: The White Man's Conquest OfThe Dark Continent From 1876 To 1912 by Thomas Pakenham. New York. 1991. Random House. keywords: History Africa Colonialism. 738 pages. Jacket photograph: from IN DARKEST AFRICA by H. M. Stanley, 1891. Courtesy of the author. Jacket design: Gun Larson. 0394515765. December 1991.

A big history of the European 'scramble' for Africa.

FROM THE PUBLISHER -

   The Scramble for Africa is one of the most extraordinary phenomena in history. In 1880 most of the continent was still ruled by its inhabitants and was barely explored. Yet by 1902, five European powers - Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, and Italy - had grabbed almost all of its ten million square miles, awarding themselves thirty new colonies and protectorates, and 110 million bewildered new subjects. The sudden race for African territory swept the political masters of Europe off their feet. The British colonial secretary protested this 'absurd scramble. ' The German chancellor Prince Bismarck, complained that he was being led into a 'colonial whirl. ' The French prime minister called it a 'steeple chase into the unknown. ' Ironically, the provocation for this massive display of greed on the part of the European powers came from the heroic death in 1873 of the missionary-explorer David Livingstone, who had exposed the horrors of the African slave trade then in progress. His call for Africa to be redeemed by the 'three C's' - Commerce, Christianity and Civilization - was aimed at the conscience of the civilized world. However, the initial response came from rival colonial enthusiasts in Europe. There were journalists like Henry Stanley, mariners like Pierre de Brazza, soldiers like Edward Lugard, pedagogues like Karl Peters, and gold-and-diamond tycoons like Cecil Rhodes. At first the governments of Europe attempted to remain aloof from this race, for there seemed little to gain from the expense of building new empires in the desert or in malarial bush and swamp. But Europe was experiencing a period of economic stagnation, and Black Africa might be--as parts of South Africa had already proven-an El Dorado, a huge new market and tropical treasure house. Soon colonial fever swept the Continent, and the acquisition of overseas empire became identified with national prestige. As the Scramble gathered momentum, a fourth 'C' - Conquest - became dominant. The Maxim machine -gun, rather than trade or the Cross, became the symbol of the age. In many colonies atrocities were commonplace and Africans were treated no better than animals. At the center of it all, cunningly exploiting the rivalries around him, stood one enigmatic individual controlling the heart of the Dark Continent: Leopold II, king of the Belgians and personal owner of the Congo State. Ten years in the writing, and involving trips to twenty-two African countries as well as extensive research in Britain, France, Belgium and Germany, Thomas Pakenham's tour de force of historical narrative is the first full-scale history of this extraordinary period. Veering between Europe at the height of its power and Africa in its political infancy, covering a vast terrain and including an enormous cast of characters, The Scramble for Africa is as vivid and as fast moving as any novel.

THOMAS PAKENHAM is the author of THE MOUNTAINS OF RASSELAS, THE YEAR OF LIBERTY and THE BOER WAR. With his wife, the writer Valerie Pakenham, and his four children, he divides his time between a terraced house in North Kensington, London, and a crumbling castle in Ireland.

 

 

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