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AFRICA (article first published : 2002-01-4)

Written by acclaimed author John Reader who has much experience of life in Africa, the impressive publication Africa is a perfect choice for any living being who has a yen for this vast continent.

The 320-page publication contains magnificent images which alone are worth the price of the book. Experienced National Geographic photographer Michael S Lewis has contributed in the main to the pictures illustrating the text. There is added input - and some excellent shots - from an imposing number of other photographers.

However, Africa isn’t just about beautiful pictures. It offers a prodigious amount of reading matter both sweeping and poetically descriptive as well as coolly and scientifically factual. It also effectively succeeds in the challenging task of portraying this multi-faceted and fascinating land.

As the introduction states, Africa is the “oldest and most stable of the continents. Its ancient rocks have been less disturbed by volcanoes or earthquakes than any other large landmass.” It has been indisputably proven to be the cradle of mankind but it also has a dark side.

Known as the Dark Continent, this description goes beyond the immediate points of reference to acknowledging the various hideous examples of man’s inhumanity to man. A land of great beauty and bounteous natural resources but one which more often than not offers a hostile environment which conspires against speedy social development.

The book is broken up into eight major sections, encapsulating the various climatic regions and giving detailed information on each area’s geography, history, industry, wildlife and culture. Each section has a mini synopsis of a typical inhabitant’s experience of life.

Photographers are seldom allowed the luxury of publication space where the image flows across two pages. These invariably are credited to the other contributing photographers and some of the most memorable pictures are those of a shy Swahili girl draped in a scarf; a majestic dhow at sunset, and Masai women against a backdrop of stormy clouds. One that best captures all that is Africa features a tiny fishing boat on Lake Edward dwarfed by the grandeur of the landscape and a dramatic sunset.

All credit to the design team as the book is beautifully and effectively laid out. A very informative eight-map section features population density; major language families; conflict areas, land use; income per capita, and people living with HIV/AIDS.

Michael S Lewis has produced a stunning cover photograph which is indicative of the three main colours associated with Africa – green, orange and black. The arresting image depicts a woman’s arm re-adjusting a saffron coloured headscarf against the hot midday sun. The book itself surprisingly does not include the photographic image of the sleeve but has an elegantly tooled but slippery black finish which means that the cover tends to fall off with irritating regularity.

Africa is an official companion volume to the major PBS series Africa, which is a co-production of National Geographic Television, Thirteen/WNET New York’s Nature series, Tigress Productions UK and Magic Box Mediaworks.

Published by National Geographic Society in 2001, it retails at the substantial amount of R584. However, if you’re talking in anything other than South African rand, this is not such a huge amount for a splendid coffee table publication. – Cherry MacIldowie




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