Recommended Reading List

This list is mostly historical non-fiction written by and about people who settled in Kenya before its independence from Britain. If you’re heading for a tented safari experience, you’ll certainly want to pick up a few of these to get in the mood!

Kenya: Pre-Independence

West with the Night by Beryl Markham

A favorite book about Africa, it’s a beautifully written autobiography. Beryl was raised in Kenya and became a record setting female pilot, racehorse trainer and close friend of Bror Blixen and Denys Finch-Hatton.

Straight On Till Morning by Mary Lovell

The life and times of Beryl Markham. If you loved West with the Night, enjoy finding out how Beryl spent the rest of life. This book does not disappoint, it’s fascinating.

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

Paula McLain, author of the phenomenal New York Times bestseller The Paris Wife, takes readers to Kenya in the 1920s, where the beautiful young horse trainer, adventurer and aviator Beryl Markham tells the story of her life among the glamorous and decadent circle of British expats living in colonial East Africa–and the complicated love triangle she shared with the white hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, author of Out of Africa.

The Flame Trees of Thika by Elspeth Huxley

Another beautifully written autobiography of a childhood in colonial Kenya. Her family were pioneering settlers, they built a house of grass, ate off a damask cloth spread over packing cases, and discovered—the hard way—the world of the African.

Out in the Midday Sun by Elspeth Huxley

A series of vignettes and stories about Kenya when she returns as an adult in 1933. Lots of society gossip about the same era as Out of Africa.

Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen

An autobiography about the time the Danish author spent running a coffee farm in Kenya and her love affair with the charming Denys Finch-Hatton.

Too Close to the Sun by Sara Wheeler

The life and times of Denys Finch Hatton. A good read for those who’d like to know more about Denys, before he met Karen Blixen.

The Bolter by Frances Osborne

The life and times of socialite Lady Idina Sackville. Lady Idina was at the heart of the “Happy Valley” crowd, if you’re fascinated with the wild parties, affairs and strange lives of these Kenyan colonial settlers, you’ll enjoy this book tremendously.

White Mischief by James Fox

Explores the murder of Jossyln Hay, Earl of Erroll, a key figure in Kenya’s “Happy Valley” crowd. A lady’s man, Joss Hay ignored the “rules” of society, and indulged himself with whomever caught his eye, married or not. His murder in 1944, (he was shot through the head), marked the end of an era, but also the start of a murder-mystery, as no one was charged.

Happy Valley by Nicholas Best

The definitive story of the English in Kenya, from the explorer Joseph Thomson, whose exploits inspired Kings Solomon’s Mines, to the decadent Happy Valley set of the 1930s, the murder of Lord Erroll and the Mau Mau revolt of the 1950s.

Green City in the Sun by Barbara Wood

The novel follows a British family from the time they first settle in East Africa through British colonization of Kenya and Kenya’s freedom from colonial rule.

Kenya: Post-Independence

Unbowed by Wangari Maathai

An autobiography written by a truly powerful force of nature, Nobel Peace Prize winning environmentalist, Wangari Maathai. This is a must-read for anyone visiting Kenya, interested in the workings of local politics and the challenges it poses to an educated woman trying to make a difference in the world. It’s very well written, highly informative and will make you want to get out there and plant a tree to celebrate this amazing lady.

Matigari by Ngugi Wa Thiongo

This is my favorite book by Kenya’s most eminent author (he was in the running to win the Nobel Prize for literature in 2010). Matigari is the main character, who returns home after being away from his family, to find that the reality is far from what he’s been fighting for. The oral “story-telling” style is very interesting in this book, but you have to stick with it. Slightly more accessible, and also very good is The River Between.

Coming to Birth by Margorie Oludhe Macgoye

A lovely novel about a young woman trying to find her way from a simple rural life, to married life in Nairobi in the years leading up to, and post-independence. Interwoven with the “coming of age” tale are the political happenings, from Mau Mau to Uhuru and to the final statehood under Kenyatta.

I Dreamed of Africa by Kuki Gallmann

A memoir about her life in Kenya which is filled with beauty and tragedy. She moved to Kenya from her native Italy, in her 20’s with a young son and second husband Paolo. They acquired a cattle ranch on the edge of the Great Rift Valley in Northern Kenya and lived happily until a double tragedy struck. Kuki still lives on the ranch, is deeply involved in conservation efforts as well as community development projects.

Constant Gardener by John le Carre

The story about Justin Quayle, a British diplomat whose activist wife is murdered. Believing there is something behind the murder, he seeks to uncover the truth and finds an international conspiracy of corrupt bureaucracy and pharmaceutical money. The movie is good too!

Tick Bite Fever by David Bennun

A humorous account of growing up in Kenya as a white child during the 1970’s and 1980’s.

The Hanging Tree by David Lambkin

Palaeontologist Kathryn Widd is called to the Kenyan wilderness to investigate a set of hominid skull fragments. As she studies the ancient fossils, she becomes intrigued by the tale of a 1908 safari and the British nobleman who died mysteriously near the site of her dig.

A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson

A beguiling novel that does for contemporary Kenya and its 1,000 species of birds what Alexander McCall Smith’s Ladies Detective series does for Botswana.

For the past three years, the widower Mr. Malik has been secretly in love with Rose Mbikwa, a woman who leads the weekly bird walks sponsored by the East African Ornithological Society. Reserved and honorable, Malik wouldn’t be noticed by a bystander in a Nairobi street—except perhaps to comment on his carefully sculpted combover. But beneath that unprepossessing exterior lies a warm heart and a secret passion. So begins the competition cooked up by fellow members of the Asadi club: whoever can identify the most species of birds in one week’s time gets the privilege of asking Ms. Mbikwa to the ball. Set against the lush Kenyan landscape rich with wildlife and political intrigue, this irresistible novel has been sold in eight countries and is winning fans worldwide.

Wildflower by Mark Seal

A biography about naturalist Joan Root. From her passion for animals to her storybook love affair, to her hard-fought crusade to save Kenya’s beautiful Lake Naivasha, Joan Root’s gripping life story is a stunning and moving tale featuring a remarkable modern-day heroine.

Tall Blondes by Lynn Sherr

You know Lynn Sherr as a veteran journalist and as a leading correspondent for the ABC news magazine 20/20, but you probably didn’t know that she has been an avid giraffophile since a visit to the African wilderness nearly twenty-five years ago. Sherr traces the cultural history of the giraffe, from it’s first appearance in Europe in 46 B.C. (thanks to Julius Caesar) through medieval bestiaries and up to the modern giraffe star of a TV movie. The book is not just about giraffes in the wild: it’s about how they have impacted on humans (and visa versa), stirring the imaginations of artists, writers and thinkers. Taking a whimsical approach to her very serious subject, Sherr has filled it with little-known tidbits, awe-inspiring photographs and drawings, and intriguing tales about the world’s tallest land animal. Read it, and you’ll not only learn about why Sherr (a tall blond herself) has fallen head over heels for this gawky but graceful animal-you’ll fall in love too.

Kenya: History, Wildlife & Culture

Love, Life and Elephants by Dame Daphne Sheldrick

The first person to successfully raise newborn elephants, Dame Daphne Sheldrick has saved countless African animals from certain death. In this indelible and deeply heartfelt memoir, Daphne tells of her remarkable career as a conservationist and introduces us to a whole host of orphans–including Bushy, a liquid-eyed antelope, and the majestic elephant Eleanor. Yet she also shares the incredible human story of her relationship with David Sheldrick, the famous Tsavo National Park warden whose death inspired the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and the orphans’ nursery, where Daphne worked until her death in 2018. Her daughter, Angela, runs the orphanage since her mothers’s passing. From Daphne’s tireless campaign to preserve Kenya’s wildlife to the astonishing creatures she befriended along the way, Love, Life, and Elephants is alive with compassion and humor, providing rare insight into the life of one of the world’s most fascinating women.

Born Wild by Tony Fitzjohn

Tony Fitzjohn does not fit comfortably into our modern world. He is an adventurer born out of his time, a restless spirit driven by a lifelong passion for the wild. At the age of 22, he threw up yet another dead-end job and hitchhiked to Kenya. His only ambition was to work with animals and, as luck would have it, he showed up one day at George Adamson’s camp at Kora. So began a working partnership (with Adamson) which lasted nearly 18 years. During their time together, they successfully reintroduced more than 30 lions and 10 leopards into the wild. Tony tells of his twenty years in Kenya with George Adamson of Born Free fame – a time of discovery, isolation and frequent danger living far from civilisation.

The White Masai by Corrine Hoffman

A true love story between a European woman and an African warrior who met while she was on holiday in Kenya. It combines adventure and the pursuit of passion as two star-crossed lovers from vastly different backgrounds try and make it work.

The Tree Where Man was Born by Peter Matthiessen

Peter shares his travels through Kenya and Tanzania during the 1960’s with lots of excellent descriptions of nature, culture and politics of the time.

In the Dust of Kilimanjaro by David Western

Former director of the Kenya Wildlife Service (now chairman of the African Conservation Centre), describes his career in African wildlife conservation, beginning with his childhood in the bush of Tanzania.

Coming of Age with Elephants by Joyce Pool

Joyce passionately documents her groundbreaking work with 800 elephants at Kenya’s Amboseli National Park, discovering the intricacies of elephant social structure, sex cycles, communication, intelligence and remarkable empathy.

Elephant Memories by Cynthia Moss

Cynthia Moss is an American ethologist and conservationist, wildlife researcher, and writer. Her studies have concentrated on the demography, behavior, social organization, and population dynamics of the African elephants of Amboseli. In 2001 she created the Amboseli Trust for Elephants in both Kenya and the USA. She has studied the elephants in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park for over twenty-seven years. Her long-term research has revealed much of what we now know about these complex and intelligent animals. Here she chronicles the lives of the members of the T families led by matriarchs Teresia, Slit Ear, Torn Ear, Tania, and Tuskless. With a new afterword catching up on the families and covering current conservation issues, Moss’s story will continue to fascinate animal lovers.

Echo of the Elephants by Cynthia Moss

A photographic and textual record of eighteen months in the lives of one elephant family in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park presents photographs and a text that offer insights into every aspect of the elephants’ lives.

The Searching Spirit by Joy Adamson Joy Adamson was not only a pioneer for the preservation of wildlife, but also a very courageous individual who faced many challenges in her life. She learned to adapt herself to live in different countries, learn different traditions and languages and she developed her unique personality with her beautiful paintings of African people, flowers and animals and also with her dedication to fight the abuse of wild animals taken away from their natural habitat. She wrote inspiring books about Elsa the lioness and other wild animals which she cared for before releasing them back into the wild. In this book we read about the experiences which led this extraordinary woman to write about the animals and the wild life she cared so much for and also for her final legacy to help preserve wildlife for the generations to come. Her story is amazing and her legacy is a great gift.

Born Free by Joy Adamson

There have been many accounts of the return to the wild of tame animals, but since its original publication in 1960, when The New York Times hailed it as a “fascinating and remarkable book,” Born Free has stood alone in its power to move us.

Joy Adamson’s story of a lion cub in transition between the captivity in which she is raised and the fearsome wild to which she is returned captures the abilities of both humans and animals to cross the seemingly unbridgeable gap between their radically different worlds. Especially now, at a time when the sanctity of the wild and its inhabitants is increasingly threatened by human development and natural disaster, Adamson’s remarkable tale is an idyll, and a model, to return to again and again.

Illustrated with the same beautiful, evocative photographs that first enchanted the world forty years ago and updated with a new introduction by George Page, former host and executive editor of the PBS series Nature and author of Inside the Animal Mind, this anniversary edition introduces to a new generation one of the most heartwarming associations between man and animal.

Origins Reconsidered by Richard E. Leakey and Roger Lewin

Richard Leakey’s personal account of his fossil hunting and landmark discoveries at Lake Turkana, his reassessment of human prehistory based on new evidence and analytic techniques, and his profound pondering of how we became “human” and what being “human” really means.

One Life an Autobiography by Richard Leakey

Richard Leakey recounts his childhood, spent exploring the African wilds with his parents, his involvement in the study of human ancestry, and his struggle against a kidney disease which required a life-saving kidney transplant. Richard Leakey is the world’s most famous living paleoanthropologist. He resigned from his position as chairman of the National Museums of Kenya when Kenya’s president, Daniel arap Moi appointed him to head the Kenya Wildlife Service. His parents were the archaeologists Louis Leakey and Mary Leakey.

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