There will most likely be some down-time on safari. Some time for you to switch off, relax, snooze, go to gym (only for the truly dedicated) and enjoy being on holiday (although the 5am knock on your door might belie that fact).

Early wake-ups and exciting days watching wild animals do their thing invariably leave one tired, but as a visit to the African bush is usually combined with some or other activity like a trip to Cape Town or one of the Indian Ocean islands (at least for overseas visitors), at some point you will surely have some time to yourself in which you can read a book.

I usually like reading books about a place I’m due to visit before I got there; not so that my expectations are raised, but more so that my excitement can ratchet up a notch.

If you’re coming out to Africa, or if you’ve been, or even if you never intend to but still have some interest in the place, I strongly recommend you seek out the following six books. All are true. All are enthralling. All weave a wonderful storyline, and in all, the evidence of the author(s)’ love for the African continent is always close to the surface…

1. Cry of the Kalahari

Cry Of The Kalahari

In the 1970s two young American Zoologists, Mark and Delia Owens, lived and worked in Deception Valley; one of the remotest parts of Botswana’s Kalahari Desert. At least eight hours from any other people, they existed in this completely unexplored wilderness, researching some of the larger carnivores of the region, particularly lions and brown hyenas.

Cry of the Kalahari is their autobiographical account of their life here; the hardships they endured and the animals they called their neighbours. It is a beautifully written and honest account of a time spent in one of Africa’s truly wild places.

2. In Bushveld and Desert

Bakkes

Chris Bakkes is one of the great characters of southern African bush lore. A renowned storyteller, In Bushveld and Desert is his often hilarious, sometimes tragic memoir about his wild life, from his early years as a ranger in the Kruger National Park, during which he lost part of his left arm in a vicious crocodile attack, to his time in the remote parts of north-west Namibia, where he worked for Wilderness safaris.

In 2014, Bakkes was nominated at #7 of the top 20 safari guides in Africa by Conde Nast traveller, a recognition well-deserved. If you want to split your sides laughing but at the same time be afforded a behind-the-scenes look at Nature Conservation, In Bushveld and Desert is for you…

3. Ivory, Apes and Peacocks

Ivory Apes And Peacocks

The memoir of one of the great wildlife film-makers, Ivory, Apes and Peacocks is Alan Root’s superb life-story, in which he recounts hilarious anecdotes about being bitten on the backside by a leopard (for which he was reprimanded by the Park Warden for feeding the animals!), filming hippos underwater, and a completely out-there expedition to go in search of s rare peacock in the Congo basin, which turned out to not really be worth the effort.

Alan Root, in the words of David Attenborough “made natural history film-making grow up.”, and over the course of his career was presented with over 60 awards, including three lifetime achievement awards, an Oscar and an OBE.

Ivory, Apes and Peacocks is an absolute must-read for any who have ever been enthralled by a wildlife documentary.

4. No Picnic on Mt Kenya

No Picnic On Mt Kenya

This is the odd one out in the selection, as it doesn’t really deal with any of Africa’s wildlife, although its authors certainly encountered some on their epic journey.

During world war two, three Italian prisoners of war – Felice Benuzzi, Giovani Beletto and Vincenzo Barsotti – were being detained in an internment camp near Nanyuki, Kenya. Frustrated with their incarceration and lack of activity, the trio broke out of the camp, but instead of attempting an escape to join the Italian forces in Ethiopia, instead attempted to summit nearby Mt Kenya, Africa’s second highest mountain.

The best part of the story is not how they escaped prison, but upon the completion of their attempt they broke back in to the internment camp. The British Commander was so impressed with their sporting behaviour that he drastically reduced their punishments.

The book is a wonderful adventure story in the classic sense, of adventure simply for adventure’s sake.

5. I Dreamed of Africa

I Dreamed Of Africa

One of the more famous books to come out of Africa, Kuki Gallman’s memoir of moving to and living in Laikipia, Kenya from Italy. Newly divorced and recently injured in a car crash, Gallman restarted her life on a farm with the man who was to become her second husband, and her infant son.

An emotional book, it speaks of triumph and disaster, of joy and personal tragedy, and all the while offers a beautiful window into the colourful lives of an expatriate community in Africa.

6. A Game Ranger Remembers

A Game Ranger Remembers

Bruce Bryden started as a researcher in the Kruger National Park; South Africa’s flagship national park and one of Africa’s most famous.
Eventually becoming a field ranger and ultimately promoted to Head Ranger for the entire park, a position which he held until his retirement in 2001, A Game Ranger Remembers is Bryden’s candid memoir about life on the ground for the select group of men and women tasked with maintaining one of the world’s most wonderful wildlife reserves, (in Bryden’s words) at the cost of sweat and, not infrequently, quite a bit of blood.

From hairy encounters with pretty much every living creature in the park (all the big 5 plus many more) to lessons learned from some of the veteran trackers of the area, Bryden paints a wonderfully vivid picture of life as a ranger, in which it soon becomes clear that there is never a dull moment.

About the Author

James Tyrrell

Photographic Guide/Media Team

James had hardly touched a camera when he came to Londolozi, but his writing skills were well developed, and he was quickly snapped up by the Londolozi blog team as a result. An environment rich in photographers helped him develop the photographic skills ...

View James's profile

16 Comments

on 6 Best Safari Reads

Join the conversationJoin the conversation

Marinda Drake

I have read Cry of the Kalahari probably 25 years ago when I borrowed it from our local library. I was fortunate to get hold of a copy last year and read it again. It was always a dream to go to the CKGR and visit Deception Valley. We are now planning to travel there soon. Another wonderful book is I dreamed of Africa. I have also read the second book that followed this one. We were fortunate to meet Bruce Bryden briefly and purchased and read his book. We love Kruger and have stayed overnight at Shipandani hide where his house was located when he was the section ranger in the Mooiplaas area. I will definitely look out for the other books that you recommend. I am collecting Africana and wildlife books. I have got quite a few already and are always looking for new titles to add to my collection.

Cyndy Beardsley

Thank you so much for this list. I love your posts – they are always interesting. I am coming to Africa in a few months so these will keep me company until I get there. Can’t wait.

James Tyrrell

Thanks for the comments Cyndy. Hopefully you manage to read a few of these before you get here!
Best regards

Chelsea Allard

Excellent recommendations! My Goodreads to-read list just got longer.

Darlene Knott

These sound like terrific recommendations, James. I will have to check them out!

Denise Vouri

Great suggestions James. I’ve read one of these but am going to check Amazon to see if I can order a couple of the others recommended by you. Enjoy your weekend!

Phil Schultz

I’ve read more than 50 books ahead of two Southern Africa safaris ranging in themes from game ranger accounts to exploration age accounts to conservation. And while I personally harbor no desire to hunt, I have to admit some of the old hunting accounts make for good reads. The book at the top of James’ list, “Cry of the Kalahari” would also be near the top of mine. Have also read Bruce Bryden’s account of a career game ranger in Kruger which would be a good read for anyone going to Londolozi as it’s setting is practically the same neighborhood (James Stevens-Hamilton’s “South African Eden” chronicles Kruger’s 1st head game rangers struggles to establish the National Park is another book in the genre). If you’re looking for a good laugh, Peter Allison’s “Whatever You Do Don’t Run” about his time guiding in Botswana is quite entertaining. Alongside “Cry of the Kalahari”, I would recommend Lawrence Anthony’s “The Elephant Whisperer” chronicling his life on a game Reserve managing the first elephant herd reintroduced into Zulu country in a hundred years. Peter Hathaway Capstick’s books highlighted by “Death in the Long Grass” describes the adrenaline-filled nature of hunting Africa’s big game better than most, the works of Frederick Selous, Robert Roark, and Hemingway being others. In the exploration genre, the best in my opinion is “Through the Dark Continent” chronicling Stanley’s traverse of the entire length of the Congo. “Jock of the Bushveld” is a South African classic and is the best account I’ve read of what life was like in the 19th century wagon trains that cris-crossed the Transvaal’s lowveld in and around modern day Kruger. If you’re going to Londolozi, the concession’s founders, the Varty family, have written several books about their efforts in forming and living in the Reserve. Other titles that come to mine are Kobe Kruger’s “All Things Wild and Wonderful”, Bookie Peek’s books about running a game Reserve in Zimbabwe. Laurence Van Der Post’s books about the San Bushmen. As an American, I’ve learned that many books in these genres were never released in America and thus don’t easily come up in a google or Amazon search for “best books for an African Safari” (Bryden’s book is a good example). Off to search for James’ recommendation of “In Bushveld and Desert”

James Tyrrell

Hi Phil, thanks for the comments.
I have to agree with you on some of the old hunting stories; a lot of them are wildly entertaining. “Death in the Long Grass” is a personal favourite of mine. Had it on the list initially but then figured to keep it clean I’d best omit it.
“The Elephant Whisperer” is also superb.
I haven’t read anything by Ruark yet but am dying to, although I’ve read a few of Stanley’s journals from his travels, which are a wonderful insight to how things ere back then.
Thanks for all the great suggestions!

Callum Evans

Awesome selection! Ivory Apes and Peacocks is one of my favourites in my wildlife library, and I’ve been meaning to read Cry of the Kalahari for a while, I would also highly recommen Kobie Kruger’s two books about her life in Kruger, Jane Goodall’s Seeds of Hope, Heart of a Game Ranger by Mario Cesare, The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony, and Born Wild by Tony Fitzjohn!

Malavika Gupta

Hi James – thanks for the lovely blog. I am always looking for a good read, and when it’s about a place that reminds me home, all the better. But, I cannot hide my disappointment about the inclusion of the Owens book in your list. After reading The Eye of The Elephant, I looked up the authors to familiarize myself more with them and their work. To my absolute horror, I discovered all the awful controversies that surround them. They have been accused of fabricating the stories in their books, ill treating their African staff, and exploiting the African countries they visit to solely profit their personal banks accounts. Mark Owens son is wanted by the Zambian government for shooting and killing a villager. The son got into an argument with the villager and in a fit of rage, shot him. When questioned about the murder, he tried to absolve himself by claiming the villager was a poacher. I can go on about the Owens and their ill repute, but I’ll let you look up this notorious family and form your own decisions. Regards and looking forward to your next blog.

Virginia Contreras

Also loved The White Masai series, The Elephant Whiperer , and the late Dame Daphne Sheldrick’s An African Love Story

Patricia Balsdon

I haven’t read Chris Bakkes book nor the Italian ‘escapees’ but I thoroughly enjoyed the others, along with Elspeth Huxley’s tales of life in Kenya. Plus, Kobie Kruger’s books, Booky Peek’s stories of raising a honey badger and a warthog and I can keep going! I love reading about the lives of people in Africa. Paddy

Nickolette Karabush

Thank you for the recommendations!! I will surely pick one or two of these up, to enjoy during our down time there! WOW! I can finally say within a couple of weeks!! I am so very excited!!

Lisa Hilger

Brought a book – never put my nose in it. I just didn’t want to miss one moment of even the smallest thing. Couldn’t even nap (save for that one day I hit the jet lag wall…) Having been bit so hard by the Africa (and Londolozi) bug, I will thoroughly enjoy getting lost in these in hopes they tied me over until our next visit. I read about a book every 3 days so I just need 248 more suggestions, please 🙂

Joanne Wadsworth

I must thank you James for deciding to reveal several exciting and worthy books to read whether on safari or for those merely adventuresome at heart. I fully intend to order several and will let you know my favorites. Your description of each book was superb and am sure I’ll be either grinning or nail-biting between the pages!

James Tyrrell

Thanks for all the responses and your own recommendations everyone. I’ll definitely be heading onto Amazon to download a few more of these!

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