West Africa: travel books to read before you go

This excerpt from Lonely Planet’s West Africa guide provides a selection of travel literature to get you in the mood for your trip.

The following inspirational titles all range across more than one West African country. For travel literature about individual countries, please see the Directory section of each country chapter.

The Lost Kingdoms of AfricaThe Lost Kingdoms of Africa, by Jeffrey Taylor, is a highly readable account of a modern journey through the Sahel, especially northern Nigeria, Niger and Mali; it was published in the US as Angry Wind.

The Shadow of the SunThe Shadow of the Sun, by Ryszard Kapuścińksi, is a masterpiece by one of Africa’s most insightful observers with Africans always taking centre stage. Ghana, Nigeria, Mauritania, Senegal, Liberia, Cameroon and Mali all make an appearance.

Journey Without MapsJourney Without Maps, by Graham Greene, is a wonderful narrative by one of the 20th century’s best writers as he travelled through the forests of Liberia and Sierra Leone in 1935.

Travels in the White Mans GraveTravels in the White Man’s Grave, by Donald MacIntosh, is a little-known classic by a writer who spent much of his working life in the forests of Liberia, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire and Cameroon.

Travels in the InteriorTravels in the Interior of Africa, by Mungo Park, recounts the troubled expeditions of one of Europe’s most intrepid early-19th-century explorers; it’s a fascinating window onto West Africa on the cusp of colonialism.

To TimbuktoTo Timbuktu, by Mark Jenkins, follows in the paddle-strokes of Mungo Park down the Niger River from its source on the Sierra Leone–Guinea border into Mali. It’s great writing, if a little testosterone-fuelled in parts.

Sahara UnveiledSahara Unveiled, by William Langewiesche, takes you from Algiers to Dakar via the Sahara Desert. The prose can be as spare as the desert itself, which makes it a classic of Saharan travel literature.

French Lessons in AfricaFrench Lessons in Africa, by Peter Biddlecombe, skips lightly through the region, but it’s one of few travel narratives to bring such a breadth of West African countries to an English-speaking audience.

More travel literature reading lists for other destinations can be found here.