A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa

In this personal memoir of great humanity, French, a New York Times correspondent in West Africa for much of the 1990s, skillfully recounts that decade's most tragic events, from the emergence of the aids crisis to the Rwandan genocide, the start of the Liberian civil war, and the decline and fall of Mobutu Sese Seko's regime in Zaire. Those who remember his remarkable reporting will not be surprised by his telling vignettes of everyday life or by his ability to convey the tragic impact of war on individuals. His portraits of leading personalities in that era's dramas -- Charles Taylor, Mobutu, Madeleine Albright -- are similarly vivid, and he scathingly criticizes the Clinton administration for reacting to West Africa's murderous civil wars with a mixture of cynicism and carelessness. Disappointingly, French ends his account in 1998, when he left the region. And although his discussion of broader issues, such as the root causes and geostrategic implications of these crises, is not particularly original, this deeply empathetic account of a region in crisis deserves to be read widely.

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