Described a s a book “that shakes history”, Winner of the Historical Writers Association Non-Fiction Crown, the Jerry Bentley Prize in World History and the Nayef Al-Rohdan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding amongst many many other accolades. Toby Green, historian joins the Essex Book Festival and African and Caribbean Book and Writers Group digital book club to discuss, share his outstanding book.
By the time of the ‘Scramble for Africa’ in the late nineteenth century, Africa had already been globally connected for many centuries. Its gold had fuelled the economies of Europe and Islamic world since around 1000, and its sophisticated kingdoms had traded with Europeans along the coasts from Senegal down to Angola since the fifteenth century. Until at least 1650, this was a trade of equals, using a variety of currencies – most importantly shells: the cowrie shells imported from the Maldives, and the nzimbu shells imported from Brazil.
Toby Green‘s groundbreaking new book transforms our view of West and West-Central Africa. It reconstructs the world of kingdoms whose existence (like those of Europe) revolved around warfare, taxation, trade, diplomacy, complex religious beliefs, royal display and extravagance, and the production of art.
Over time, the relationship between Africa and Europe revolved ever more around the trade in slaves, damaging Africa’s relative political and economic power as the terms of monetary exchange shifted drastically in Europe’s favour. In spite of these growing capital imbalances, longstanding contacts ensured remarkable connections between the Age of Revolution in Europe and America and the birth of a revolutionary nineteenth century in Africa.
A Fistful of Shells draws not just on written histories, but on archival research in nine countries, on art, praise-singers, oral history, archaeology, letters, and the author’s personal experience to create a new perspective on the history of one of the world’s most important regions .Winner of the Historical Writers Association Non-Fiction Crown, the Jerry Bentley Prize in World History and the Nayef Al-Rohdan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding
Shortlisted for the Cundill History Prize, the Fage and Oliver Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for History, the PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize, the Pius Adesanmi Memorial Award, and the Wolfson History Prize.
Book of the Year in History Today, Observer, Prospect, and The Wall Street Journal.
“Momentous…a work of staggering scholarship” Ben Okri, Daily Telegraph
“this is a stunning work of research and argumentation. It has the potential to become a landmark in our understanding of the most misunderstood of continents.” David Olusoga, New Statesman
“A very important book,” Richard J. Evans, fivebooks.com
“A riveting new perspective on African history”, Rana Mitter, BBC History Magazine