Chris Blattman

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What to read about Ethiopia?

I’m starting a new project in Ethiopia with Oxford economist Stefan Dercon. (More on that project later, but the two word summary is “randomize Marx”.)

I asked Stefan what I should read. Here’s a sample of his suggestions.

For fiction, an excellent new read is The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears.

A classic is Evelyn Waugh’s news satire, Scoop, not to mention his less-known Abyssinian travelogue.

(Injecting my own recommendation, I recall liking Abyssinian Chronicles)

For non-fiction, regular readers know I love Ryszard Kapuscinski above all other writers, and so I’m thrilled that Stefan recommends The Emperor above all other outside accounts (and many inside ones).

Academic histories? Bahru Zewde and Harold Marcus each have useful volumes.

Finally, everything I ever wanted to know about Ethiopian agriculture is here.

Reader comments and suggestions? Papers, books or articles on the current regime in particular?

13 Responses

  1. Prof. Philip Le Bel at Montclair State University, who was recently on Fulbright teaching economics in Addis Ababa, has the following recommendations:
    “I also commend you to a current events post source known as East Africa Forum that is issued by a good friend of mine, Shlomo Bachrach. Shlomo’s postings are not edited and contain links to articles about Ethiopia from most major news sources. “

  2. If you fancy a diversion from the written medium, the film ‘Teza’ comes highly recommended

    Also NPR have a feature coming up on Ethiopia – not sure exactly when it will be aired, but I think it will be fairly soon.

  3. ‘There is No Me Without You’ by Melissa Fay Greene is an excellent recent book.

    Description via Amazon:
    Not unlike the AIDS pandemic itself, the odyssey of Haregewoin Teferra, who took in AIDS orphans, began in small stages and grew to irrevocably transform her life from that of “a nice neighborhood lady” to a figure of fame, infamy and ultimate restoration. In telling her story, journalist Greene who had adopted two Ethiopian children before meeting Teferra, juggles political history, medical reportage and personal memoir. While succinctly interspersing a history of Ethiopia, lucidly tracing the history of AIDS from its early manifestation as “slim disease” in the late 1970s to its appearance as a bizarrely aggressive [form] of Kaposi’s sarcoma in the early 1980s, and following the complex path of medication (a super highway in the West, a trail in Africa), Greene rescues Teferra from undeserved oblivion as well as rescuing her from undeserved obloquy (false accusations of child selling).

  4. For the academic angle you may want to browse the Journal of Northeast African Studies or the International Journal of Ethiopian studies. Leo Arriola has a nice article on the role of ethnicity and economic conditions in recent elections in at least one of those.

    I might have a couple other ideas depending on what you guys plan on doing.

  5. Surrender or Starve by Robert Kaplan has been making its way through the Ghana RAs. It’s an enlightening journalistic account of the famine in the 80s with a decidedly conservative, even right-wing tilt. Not what you expect to hear from a guy was buddies with Marxist Eritrean rebels.

  6. Chris

    Where to start? The Emperor is essential reading. Here is a list that should keep you going for a bit:

    The Emperor by Ryszard Kapuściński.
    Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
    Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb
    Waugh in Abyssinia by Evelyn Waugh
    The Sign and the Seal by Graham Hancock (bonkers but interesting)
    Notes from the Hyena’s Belly by Nega Mezlekia
    A Year In The Death of Africa by Peter Gill

    Looking forward to seeing you

  7. thanks for the recommendations. I’ve not read anything specifically about Ethiopia, so will try get one of the histories.

    small point though, Abyssinian Chronicles is about Uganda, if you’re talking about the Moses Isegewa book. Can’t say I was the biggest fan.

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