Nov 3, 2015

Should We Read About North Africa Early in 2016?

Comprising Algeria,Egypt,Libya,Morocco,Tunisia,Mauritania and Sudan,north Africa,as at 2012 had a total population of 220 million people.This is projected to reach 329million come 2050,inclusive of South Sudan. (Source)
We have been reading a lot of U.S. history lately, but not much on the history of the rest of the world. To balance it out, we will try to read more about other regions for a while. Stew recommended that we read something on Africa, but let me suggest that we focus at least initially on a part of Africa -- North Africa. That is a more limited geographic region, but one of considerable importance today and in world history.

Given the recent Arab Spring and the subsequent events in the region, such as the downing of a Russian passenger jet in Egyptian territory, I suggest we need to know quite a bit about North African history. What for example, are the traditional rivalries between the different peoples who live there.

Egypt has a history thousands of years long, but we have on read one book from that history,  The Rise and Fall of Alexandria: Birthplace of the Modern World by Justin Pollard and Howard Reid. Egypt, once the grainery for Rome, has been a center of Arab culture for centuries. Its modern history in which the Muslim Brotherhood battles with secular and military authorities is of regional significance, as was its peace treaty with Israel, yet we have read nothing more about Egypt. (Indeed, we have read only a couple of other books that even touched on the North Africa and the Southern Mediterranean – The Middle Sea by John Julius Norwich and The Great Caliphs by Amira K. Bennison).

The Punic Wars were a crucial event in Mediterranean history; we have read about Rome, but not about the history of Carthage (the term “Punic wars” refer to Carthage’s Phoenician origins – another important people about whom we have not read).

We have not read about the Vandals and their invasion of North Africa in the 5th century, leading to their sack of Rome in 455. While we have read several books about Spain, we have not read about the spread of Islam across North Africa, nor the North African civilizations that were capable of conquering most of the Iberian peninsula and threatening the Franks.

The completion of the Reconquista led to Spanish conquests in North Africa. Later there were to be French, British, and even Italian colonies in North Africa, and we have read about neither the conquests nor the colonial times that followed.

Nor have we read about the post 1950 history of Egypt and the Maghreb.

What do you think about trying to find books to read on this region?
What period would interest you most: ancient, middle ages, modern, etc.
Do you have specific books to recommend?


  1. Norm responded by email: "I am especially keen on Carthage, the Phoenicians, the Vandals, the Reconquista or Spanish colonialism in Africa; although you have assembled a whole list of topics all of which are tantalizing."

  2. Cathy responded by email: "For me reading about the Middle East is one thing. The rest of Africa I am not interested in. Names we cannot even pronounce is problematic for me.

    'To read about the ancient history, Vandals and Reconquista is fine."

  3. Allen responded:

    "The North Africa/Mid East area is of interest due to its importance in world affairs today. I felt the same about Reconstruction being essential to an understanding of U.S. race relations today. I am not familiar with the literature on Africa. I did find this one on Amazon from 2009:

    Speaking of Reconstruction, here is a new book on that subject (I have not read it yet, but I spotted it at Kramerbooks yesterday).

  4. Irene emailed" "I am interested in the modern history of North Africa. I don't have any suggestions.'