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An African safari is the ultimate bucket list adventure. And for us, anticipation of a special trip like this is half the fun! We research the location, plan side trips, prepare packing lists, AND read, read, read about the area. This is especially exciting when you’re thinking about a once-in-a-lifetime trip like a safari in Africa. The books written about Africa and its wildlife include some of the greatest books in literature. So where do you start your reading? Luckily for you, we’ve done the hard work and will share with you our picks for the best books to read before an African safari. If you are planning a safari, or even if you’re just dreaming of such a trip, I hope you enjoy these suggestions of books for an African safari.
Choosing the Best Books for an African Safari
I read a lot of books to get ready for my ultimate bucket list trip! Of course, I had a head start on my reading since I’ve loved books about animals and Africa since reading Born Free by Joy Adamson at the age of 12. Added to that my years working in libraries and I have a long list. Narrowing it down for reading suggestions that will enhance your safari trip was not easy! I love fiction but try to sprinkle in a few more challenging nonfiction titles. And a few guide books to either bring on the trip, or enjoy afterwards while reviewing pictures.
Wildlife may be the focus of your African safari, but any trip to another country is also about the people, the land, and the history. Taking the time to learn a bit about the culture and history of a place will make your travel more meaningful, and will be appreciated by the people you meet on your trip.
Africa is a huge continent by the majority of safari goers visit either Southern Africa – Botswana, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, or Eastern Africa – Kenya and Tanzania. I’ve divided the list by areas, but don’t hesitate to pick up a book about a different area if it sounds good.
Note: book descriptions are from the publisher unless otherwise noted.
Books to Read Before Going on Safari – general titles to inspire wanderlust
|NONFICTION: South Africa|
loved this book!
|The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony|
In 1998, Anthony purchased Thula Thula, transforming a rundown hunters’ camp into a wild animal preserve and a center for eco-tourism. In 1999, Anthony agreed to take in a herd of “troubled” wild elephants. Winning their trust, becoming deeply attached, and even learning how they communicate, Anthony took enormous risks in the form of enraged elephants, distrustful neighbors, and poachers. – Publishers Weekly
Kindle copy available
|Unbowed by Wangari Maathai|
Unbowed is the moving and inspirational memoir of the first African woman, and the first environmentalist, to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Unbowed charts Maathai’s development from a young girl in British Kenya to a divorced mother of three fighting to save her country from a dictator and his corruption.
Audible copy available (free with trial)
|MEMOIR HUMOR||Whatever You Do, Don’t Run by Peter Allison|
In the tradition of Bill Bryson, a new writer brings us the lively adventures and biting wit of an African safari guide. Peter Allison gives us the guide’s-eye view of living in the bush, confronting the world’s fiercest terrain of wild animals and, most challenging of all, managing herds of gaping tourists.
|MEMOIR: South Africa|
Fun read to prepare for a safari!
|The Wilderness Family by Kobie Kruger|
Excellent memoir of a South African game warden family. You’ll laugh, cry and long for an African experience like Kruger’s.
Book Recommendations for travel to Southern Africa – Botswana, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe
|MEMOIR: South Africa||Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela|
The world has lost a great man in Nelson Mandela, but his strength, principles, and sense of humor are captured in this autobiography.
|MEMOIR: South Africa||Born a Crime by Trevor Noah|
The compelling, inspiring, and comically sublime story of one man’s coming-of-age, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed – New York Times
|NONFICTION: Botswana||The Old Way by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas|
Thomas was nineteen when her father took his family to live among the Bushmen of the Kalahari. Fifty years later Thomas returns to her experiences with the Bushmen, one of the last hunter-gatherer societies on earth, and discovers among them an essential link to the origins of all human society.
Kindle copy available
|FICTION – literature||Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton|
The deeply moving story of the Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo and his son, Absalom, set against the background of a land and a people riven by racial injustice. Remarkable for its lyricism, unforgettable for character and incident, Cry, the Beloved Country is a classic work of love and hope, courage and endurance, born of the dignity of man. – from the Publisher
Kindle copy available
The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
|NONFICTION: Zimbabwe||When the Crocodile Eats the Sun by Peter Godwin|
Peter Godwin, a renowned journalist, grew up in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), the son of a doctor and policeman. In this book he presents the tragic decline of his home country under Mugabe’s dictatorship paralleling the decline of his parents as they age.
Book Recommendations for travel to East Africa – Kenya, Tanzania
|MEMOIR: Kenya||Unbowed by Wangari Maathai||Unbowed is the moving and inspirational memoir of the first African woman, and the first environmentalist, to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Unbowed charts Maathai’s development from a young girl in British Kenya to a divorced mother of three fighting to save her country from a dictator and his corruption.- from the Publisher|
Audible copy available (free with trial)
|MEMOIR: Kenya||Love, Life, and Elephants by Dame Daphne Sheldrick||Dame Daphne Sheldrick has saved countless African animals from certain death. In this indelible and deeply heartfelt memoir, Daphne tells of her remarkable career as a conservationist and introduces us to a whole host of orphans―including Bushy, a liquid-eyed antelope, and the majestic elephant Eleanor. Yet she also shares the incredible human story of her relationship with David Sheldrick, the famous Tsavo National Park warden whose death inspired the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. – from the Publisher|
|MEMOIR – Kenya|
*a classic, but not my favorite book- nostalgic colonialism
|Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen||a true account of [Karen Blixen] life on her plantation in Kenya. She tells with classic simplicity of the ways of the country and the natives: of the beauty of the Ngong Hills and coffee trees in blossom: of her guests, from the Prince of Wales to Knudsen, the old charcoal burner, who visited her: of primitive festivals: of big game that were her near neighbors – from Amazon|
(just for fun!)
|Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson||A beguiling novel that does for contemporary Kenya and its 1,000 species of birds what Alexander McCall Smith’s Ladies Detective series does for Botswana (Amazon)|
Kindle copy (this would be a fun read for the long overseas flight) – Guide to the Birds of East Africa
Best Guide Books for an African Safari
|GUIDEBOOK||Birds of Southern Africa by Ian Sinclair|
Birds of Southern Africa continues to be the best and most authoritative guide to the bird species of this remarkable region. This fully revised edition covers all birds found in South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and southern Mozambique. (Amazon)
|POCKET GUIDEBOOK||Birds of Southern Africa by Ian Sinclair (pocket guide) |
With luggage constraints, this is the book we carry with us. Over 500 birds, with nice images for easy identification.
|POCKET GUIDEBOOK|| |
The Kingdon Pocket Guide to African Mammals by Jonathan Kingdon
This is an essential guide for anyone with an interest in wildlife who visits Africa–from the tourist on safari to the more experienced naturalist.
|POCKET GUIDEBOOK||Wildlife of East Africa by Martin Withers and David Hosking|
Full-color photos of 475 common species of bird, mammal, snake, lizard, insect, tree, and flower, Wildlife of East Africa takes us on an exquisite one-volume tour through the living splendor of the main national parks and game reserves of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.
Hope you’ve found some good titles to read before your African safari. Let us know if you have other recommendations on books about Africa.
We’ve compiled recommended reading lists for many other countries we’ve visited –Reading the World