The Fortunes of Africa: A 5000-Year History of Wealth, Greed, and Endeavor
By Martin Meredith
2014, Public Affairs, 978-1-61039-459-8, $35, hb.
Reviewed by Tom Verde on January 23, 2016
During the 19th-century’s Western, imperialist “scramble for Africa,” as Christian missionaries fanned out across the continent, potential converts along the coastal zones of western Africa tended to opt for an alternative faith: Islam. This was because, as journalist Martin Meredith observes in this sweeping history, Islam was viewed “as an African religion” while Christianity was “often seen as ‘the white man’s religion.’” Home to nearly one-third of the world’s Muslim population, Africa was the first continent beyond Arabia where Islam spread during the early seventh century, along the trans-Saharan trade routes “of literacy and cosmopolitan knowledge.” Meredith devotes respectable portions of his 746-page narrative to Islam’s growth and obstacles to its expansion: from lingering pagan customs, to colonial oppression, to modern struggles between radicals and “moderate intellectuals” who aspire to “‘Islamic modernity’, using Islamic law and institutions as the basis of government.” This is a substantial, clearly written history.