Monday, April 6, 2020

Book: The Golden Rhinoceros by Francois-Xavier Fauvelle

Fauvelle, Francois-Xavier. 2018. The Golden Rhinoceros: Histories of the African Middle Ages. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

I chose this book because it covered aspects of the history of a time and place about which I had never read before, namely Africa during the middle ages. As the book makes clear, one reason I had not read much about the history of Africa during the middle ages is that the literature on the topic is not large; in turn, an important reason for the smallish literature is the lack, relative to Europe in particular, of surviving written records from the middle ages for much of the continent.

The book provides a series of what one might call historical vignettes, rather than attempting a complete narrative history. The vignettes rather strongly oversample parts of Africa that had economic and social interactions with Europeans and Arabs, and rely primiarly on a combination of contemporary written accounts by Europeans and Arabs and the physical evidence provided by archaelogists, among them the author. The author clearly understands and reflects on what one might call the epistemic selection issues implicit in the available written and physical record.

I found the book an enjoyable and informative introduction to its time and place. The stand-alone chapters also make it more suitable than a cumulative narrative history to episodic casual reading.


Amazon book page
Barnes and Noble book page
Bricks and mortar bookstore where I purchased the book

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