In this rambling but ultimately compelling essay, Jackson, an anthropologist long acquainted with Sierra Leone, combines a fragmentary history of the country with a description of its people and its countryside as they emerge from a nightmarish civil war, peppering his tale with ruminations on the nature of anthropology. Jackson visited Sierra Leone in 2002, ostensibly to help his old friend S. B. Marah, a prominent politician approaching the end of his career, write his autobiography. Several lengthy excerpts from their interviews make up the core of this book, offering arresting details of the life and times of a classic African "big man" and illuminating the nature of postcolonial politics in Sierra Leone. Readers who want an explicit explanation for the collapse will be disappointed; indeed, Jackson seems to believe that a rational account is impossible. Yet it is telling that Marah's world-view is dominated by personality and social relations, with political power a means of rewarding one's self and one's kin rather than of promoting a sense of national identity or purpose.
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