Bill Bryson’s African Diary

ISBN: 0767915062
ISBN 13: 9780767915069
By: Bill Bryson

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About this book

Bill Bryson goes to Kenya at the invitation of CARE International, the charity dedicated to working with local communities to eradicate poverty around the world. Kenya, generally regarded as the cradle of mankind, is a land of contrasts, with famous game reserves, stunning landscapes, and a vibrant cultural tradition. It also provides plenty to worry a traveller like Bill Bryson, fixated as he is on the dangers posed by snakes, insects and large predators. But on a more sober note, it is a country that shares many serious human and environmental problems with the rest of Africa: refugees, AIDS, drought and grinding poverty. Travelling around the country, Bryson casts his inimitable eye on a continent new to him, and the resultant diary, though short in length, contains the trademark Bryson stamp of wry observation and curious insight. All the author's royalties from Bill Bryson's African Diary, as well as all profits, will go to CARE International.

Reader's Thoughts


I liked this book, but since it was about such a short trip it lacked the quality that usually makes Bill Bryson's books so good and interesting--the well-researched interesting bits of history and anecdotes that he usually includes.This book was written as a benefit for CARE International and chronicles Bryson's week long trip to Kenya to visit some of CARE's facilities. All of the profits (including Bryson's royalties) from the sale of the book go to CARE, so if you like Bryson's writing you should definitely feel good about picking up a copy.This is a little baby book at only 49 pages long. I grabbed it because World Without End weighs a ton and I don't like to carry it to work if I don't think I'm going to get my whole lunch break to read. Wednesday, I had an eyebrow shaping appointment. (Every couple of months, I let a woman named Gunna put hot wax on my face and then rip my hair out. Don't try to tell me I'm not adventurous!) So, I still wanted something to read, but not my giant book.


I love Bill Bryson (do you hear that, Bill?) This was a short (for Bill Bryson) story of his visit to Africa and done to raise awareness and money for the effective CARE organization ( improving the lives of some of the desperately poor people there. Read it. You'll enjoy the usual humerous anecdotes while getting a first-hand view of the situation.


Of course I borrowed this book from the library only to reach the end and find out that it was a fund raiser for the organization. So now I feel awful and will probably look into buying a copy.It is a very short travel diary, but it was a very short trip. There is no way to be as comprehensive as In A Sunburnt Country. Bryson is great at small doses, though, and it's an excellent short work.


"Kenya has become a country of ten millionaires and ten million beggars." ~Kenyan politican J.M. Kariuki, assassinated in 1975 This book is only 49 pages which suited me just fine, considering how long it took me to read my last book. I picked this book not only because it is short but also because it is written by Bill Bryson. I have read most of his books and plan to read all of them eventually; however, none of them hold a candle to A Walk in the Woods, the first Bryson book I read. The book is a diary of his week long journey to Kenya. He writes of the extreme poverty and government corruption of the country; however, he also includes anecdotes demonstrating that he can find humor and beauty in just about anything. I especially loved the section where he talks of his landing in a storm in a light aircraft plane. He is terrified to discover that the plane doesn't have windshield wipers and that the pilot can't see where he's landing. No one can verbalize the horror and comedy of the situation better than Bryson. I also enjoyed the section about Wedco. Wedco is a micro-finance institution that makes loans only to women that previously had almost no access to business credit. It has been very successful in Kenya and has helped many people improve their quality of life. It reminded me of a book on my to-read list called Banker to the Poor by Muhammad Yunus. Just reading this small excerpt has been motivating and satisfactory. Now I am looking even more forward to this book.Overall, the book simply wasn't long enough to satisfy; however, to be fair, it never was meant to be a detailed view into Kenya, it is simply a "diary" of Bryson's eight days in Kenya. He wrote the book at the invitation of CARE International and all proceeds went to the charity. The book is a good reminder to be thankful for what you have and to help when you can. It probably took me longer to write this review than it did to read the book ... so there you go.


Very short - most of the book is a pre-look at Bryson's book about the history of a house. However, the African portion is typical Bryson and very thought provoking and inspirational about CARE and their presence in Africa.

Glenn Cheney

I'm sorry to say Bryson didn't put much effort into this book. It had so much potential and so much of importance that could be said. His brief descriptions of Kenyan poverty, a refugee camp and a Nairobi slum don't do justice to the situations and all they mean. He slips in some of his trademark funnies based on fears of this and that, but there's something oddly insulting, or even offensive, about devoting more words to a ride in a small plane than to a refugee camp of 136,000 people in the middle of a desert. The book is worth the $12 (for the slender hardcover I bought) only because the money goes to CARE. I do acknowledge and respect his donation of time and talent and the risks he took to research the book, but I really don't see how he could write so little about so much. What's wrong with this book isn't what on its pages but what isn't. I bought this book because I wanted to see how a good writer could turn an 8-day trip in Africa into a book. He did it by writing a very, very short book. People of CARE: If you send me to Africa or anywhere else for a reasonable length of time, I'll be glad to write you a solid book that does justice to the horrors you deal with.

Graham Mulligan

Bill Bryson’s African DiaryBill Bryson, 2002.This is a short book but I thought I’d review it because it was sponsored by CARE, the international charity. Bryson visited Kenya for a brief 8-day tour, sponsored by CARE, so he could add some celebrity status to their work and give them a nice little book. His journey included very brief visits to locations where the charity is doing some badly needed work. In Nairobi, the massive slum of Kibera is featured, with some photos and a very brief mention of the second President, Daniel Arap Moi, who slid into a kind of dictatorship after the first President, Jomo Kenyatta, brought the country to independence. For the most part Bryson avoids political commentary but does mention Moi’s mansion overlooking the Kibera slum.Another major focus for the charity is the refugee camp in the northeast corner of Kenya, near Somalia, called Dadaab. At the time of Bryson’s visit the camp housed 134,000 people. A quick check of the CARE website ( revealed that in 2013 there are over 400,000 refugees in three compounds. This is a massive failure on the part of world aid organizations. In a revealing conversation with one of the CARE handlers, Bryson relates how “dispensing aid is much more complicated than most people realize. It is, for one thing, a fundamental part of aid protocol that you cannot make conditions notably better for refugees than they are for their hosts outside the camps.”In 2002 there were 28,000 pupils in camp schools, one textbook for every 20 students, one classroom for every 75 students. One student complained to Bryson that it was not possible to prepare for the Kenyan Schools Certificate exam (entry into Secondary education, now called the KCPE) without facilities and equipment.Today, according to the CARE website, there are 465,000 people in Dadaab. More than 70 percent of the 221,000 children in the camps are out of school. There is one textbook for every 13 students, a slight improvement, but there are over 100 students per classroom. Classes run two shifts a day; one in five teachers has any formal training.

michellé .c

Content-wise I am satisfied. Bill was humorous at the right places to lift the occasionally-solemn tone of the book. I also liked how he shows me how my image of Kenya is so off tangent like "Nairobi is merely yet another modern city with traffic lights and big buildings and hoardings advertising Samsung televisions and the like. Our hotel is a Holiday Inn - very nice and comfortable, but hardly a place that shouts: 'Welcome to Africa, Bwana.'". Yet at the same time, he showed me how Africa can be a beautiful place, yet so ominous, with his train journey to Mombasa and depiction of Ngong hills.This book deserves a 5 stars for the simple reason that it was written for charity. However, I'm giving it a 4 out of 5 because despite it's noble intentions, I only "really liked it". If it were for anything else other than my own enjoyment, it deserves a 5 stars really.This book hopes to raise awareness -- both of Kenya's (and practically any other Third World country's) dilemma and how I/we should live a fulfilling life filled with gratitude and compassion. It's a short book really, an hour is enough to read it and then ponder about the purpose of you existence. It got me doing just that and I've decided to do more for others, less for me. Overall this book was worth reading. Very much worth it.

David Bales

Bill Bryson went to Kenya to write about Somali refugees in the remote south of the country. Along the way he strolls through Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, (in Nairobi) visits some old white colonials and goes on safari. His usual good writing, but I read this book, literally, in a half hour. I wish he could REALLY go to Africa and write a REAL book. He did this one to benefit CARE, the relief agency. It has about 60 pages.

Adam Tuttle

While unbelievably short -- easily finished in a single sitting -- this book reminds me of the reason I got into Bryson in the first place: His travelogues are immeasurably interesting and charming. After reading both One Summer: America, 1927, and At Home: A Short History of Private Life, it's good to get back to what I consider the Real Bryson.It also doesn't hurt that all profits, including what would be Bryson's royalties, are donated to CARE (which rates reasonably well on CharityNavigator, too). Because of this, I'm not even mad that I accidentally bought a second copy after forgetting I bought one a while back. (Anyone want one?)In as much as you can tell a complete story in 55 pages, this book is a success. The only drawback is that I'm left wishing it was a full length classic Bryson travelogue.


First of all, this is not a book. It's a diary. Bryson recounts his 8 days in Kenya with members of CARE International. And that's 7 days longer than I'd want to be there. What a dreadful place! Poverty, crime, hunger, lack of sanitation, no clean water, disease, corrupt government and a hostile climate. Some of the other reviewers on Goodreads fault Bryson for not covering enough ground, but I disagree. You don't need to read 300 pages to see the terrible conditions in which these people live EVERY DAY OF THEIR LIVES! This short "booklet" is enough to make the point. And if you read between the lines you will notice that Bryson runs us through a gamut of emotions ranging from humor before the journey, to fear about the trip, to disgust upon arrival, to sympathy when connecting with the locals, to enlightenment when he understands that the solution to the problems are within reach. I checked out the Kindle edition from the Chicago Public Library at no charge so I am donating $10 to to cover the donation that would have gone to them with a bookstore purchase. If you read my review and read a Kindle edition please do the same. We CAN make a difference. Thank you.


Breve ma intenso ritratto della miseria nelle bidonvilles africane, ogni volta che uso la toilette penso che consumo più acqua di quanto ne necessiti un uomo in Africa per sopravvivere un giorno.. "Every time you flush a toilet you use more water than the average person in the developing world has for all purposes in a day--cooking, cleaning, drinking, everything" direi che questo "opuscolo" possa definirsi "indimenticabile"


This was such a zippy little read; I think I finished in one insomniac rolling-about. My first Bryson was At Home, which I found to be plodding, then I read In a Sunburned Country (just a little bit ago) and saw his wit, and here I am, with another library-electronic-read. It is aptly titled, though, perhaps it shouldn't be called "African" diary, as it's all about Kenya, and all about a sponsored trip to Kenya, meaning to be a public service kind of ad. But it seemed more was devoted to being petrified of his transportation (with good reason) and the living conditions of each place he stopped in was touched upon, but never illuminated quite as much as I thought he could have done. It became, well, like blog entries, or just teeny articles, as opposed to something belonging to a Whole Book.Two descriptive bits I loved from the small aircraft scene:- "as if the windscreen were being pounded by wet bullets"- "Nino was now bobbing around in his seat in the manner of someone who is trying to land an airplane while being attacked by fire ants."

Madhulika Liddle

There are a handful of writers whose books I will buy without hesitation, secure in the knowledge that my money will be well-spent. Bill Bryson is one of these: each of his books is a joy to read, chock full of painstakingly researched material, presented in the author's inimitably chatty, humorous and irresistible style. I've read all his travel books (and some of his non-travel related books), so when I finally came across African Diary - which I'd heard about, never seen in a bookshop - I pounced on it.Bill Bryson's African Diary is aptly titled: it's a short (very short - even less than a hundred pages) diary of an eight-day trip to Kenya. International aid organisation CARE invited Bryson on this trip, escorted by their own staff members, to see the work they were doing in Kenya. The diary is an account of how Bryson spent a whirlwind week in Nairobi and other parts of the country - both urban and rural, seeing for himself the problems as well as the triumphs of CARE, and the people themselves. This is a quick read, not merely because it's a slim book, but also because Bryson tells his story so well, making this a mix of so many things. There are heartrending and horrifying descriptions of living conditions in the largest slum in Kenya - possibly in Africa - where there are 10 latrines for 40,000 people. There are stories, both far-fetched 'traveller's tales' and all too real ones of everything from dire poverty to crime to shocking corruption (at the time African Diary was written, Kenya was the 6th most corrupt country in the world, with $10 billion disappearing annually from public funds). Bryson writes about all of these - and also of hope, of innovations and developments that help local people stand on their own feet, and better their lot without being dependent on others. He talks about the lives of real people: of a farmer who's been pulled back from the brink, a woman entrepreneur, villagers whose lives were turned around because a well was dug.And, Bryson being the travel writer he is, there are always the brief interludes describing trips - by road, by air (a harrowing flight in a small aircraft, for example), all peppered with Bryson's superb sense of humour.I wouldn't call this Bryson's best book; it's far too short for that. By the time I really got my teeth into it and had settled in, it was over. It is, however, very readable and informative. And it's for a good cause - all proceeds from the sales of Bill Bryson's African Diary go to CARE, and towards helping those in need of that aid.


Being intimately familiar with both Bill Bryson's flavorful, if quirky, travel writing and Africa, I was really looking forward to this read. Although Bryson includes his usual wit and knack for laugh-out-loud observation, I do have to admit at being slightly disappointed at the brevity of this 49 page documentation and the lackluster tone which accompanies it. Written as a fund-raising effort for CARE INTERNATIONAL (at whose invitation his visit to Kenya was based) I still expected more from the robust little man who never says no to 'adventure' and never lets 3rd degree sunburn, giant foot blisters, howling gales or rainy downpours to get in the way of a jolly good day of 'sight-seeing'. What a pity as Kenya is a beautiful and diverse country with fabulous adventure to offer any eager traveler or perceptive travel writer.

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