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


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.

Lisa Cole

Bryson maintains his wit in this very short volume he wrote in support of CARE International--an organization dedicated to educating the world about world poverty. Bryson not only tells us about a few ways in which CARE has benefited Nairobi Kenya and other African regions, he also displays an interest in archeology--supposedly, there are many fascinating archeological sites in Kenya--its treasures not found anywhere else. One of the elements I appreciated about this book was that Bryson did not come across as overly preachy. However, I felt a newfound appreciation for my American prosperity. Bryson makes it evident, however, that the poverty of Kenya is dire. But CARE International has done some wonderful things to counterbalance Kenya's poverty--person by person, and project by project. For example, CARE helped set up water management systems and wells to make it easier for the Kenyan people to obtain water; CARE set up a bank called Wedco, which makes small loans to groups of merchant women, and CARE helped to educate the region on more efficient farming techniques for the Kenyan region which is plagued with drought.

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.


I love Bill Bryson. I would like to meet him for breakfast at a dinner or working man's cafe and just sit and listen to his ramblings on life. I am sure I would choke on my tea with laughter. There is no one whose writing can make me laugh so hard as Mr. Bryson, and yet without being a sap, or making me feel like I am being manipulated, he can turn on the pathos and touch your heart, which he does so beautifully in this book. It's short - about 50 pages - and narrates the trip he took, over 8 days, to visit Africa as an ambassador for CARE. As you might expect if you have read Bryson's travelogues, he lays out his experiences that will make you laugh out loud - his concern for his personal safety being a key theme (which recalled his trip to Australia when he counts all the ways you could die whilst visiting the vast continent!) But his humanity in the face of crippling poverty and hopelessness is touching and genuine, particularly as he notes his concern for children who are being raised with no future in one of the largest refugee camps in Kenya. By buying the book, small as it is, you are donating 90% of the receipt to CARE, which is a good thing. By reading the book, you will be entertained and touched and you might even be motivated to do something personally to help solve the problem of Africa. In any case, it will all be worth while! It's delightful.


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.


I'm torn on this one, which I almost rated a 4. The book is only 49 pages, written to support CARE International. The author and publishers donated their time and proceeds to support the organization. Bryson toured Kenya with CARE employees and wrote about his experiences. Bryson's typical humor is still present but subdued in comparison to his best work. For one thing, he admires and cares for his companions. Additionally, he is more respectful of the struggles of the natives. Only Bryson himself and the corrupted government are free game for scorn. There are fewer adventures to describe than in a 400 page book, but the excitement of not dying lives on.Bill Bryson's African Diary does exactly what it's supposed to do. It shows the rich wonders of Kenya and sheds light on what CARE International does to fill in the gaps left by corrupt governance. I want to get off the couch and help beyond the donation I made by purchasing the book. I just wish there was more here, whether more about Kenya or the inclusion of other African countries.


"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.

Andres Eguiguren

At 49 pages, this is more of a lengthy magazine article than a book. It was done for charity (CARE), yet most reviews tend to grumble about the brevity of the enterprise. It's not bad, but it really should have been titled Bill Bryson's Kenya Diary, as it briefly chronicles his eight-day visit to that East African country. It's a shame that Bryson, CARE or the publisher didn't see fit to put Kenya in the title given that it is one of 55 countries in the continent. Frankly, if I picked up a book billed as an "Asia Diary" that was only about Indonesia, for example, or "South American Diary" that only dealt with Bolivia, I might feel a bit short-changed... never mind that it is only 49 pages.

Rob Charpentier

Unfortunately, I must confess that I’m not that fond of this particular book. Not that there is necessarily anything wrong with it, other than in my opinion being way too short that it becomes criminal to my sensibilities as to what this book could have been. For, I definitely think that the subject of a visit to Africa is worthy of far greater exploration and depth by this author and this is in essence really nothing more than magazine length article. Consequently, I can’t rate this book too highly as this falls somewhere more in the classification of marginalia rather than actually being considered as a full book. However, the reason for this brevity is understandable as well as made abundantly clear by the description of the book on the inside dust jacket as well as the statement printed on the back that states, “All royalties and profits from this book will be donated to CARE International.” So, complaining too loudly about the author’s philanthropy is somewhat bad form and is not my intent at all.Regardless, just like anything published by this author it does not fail to entertain or inform the reader and I would not discourage anyone from seeking this out. If anything, this book goes to show just how much stock is placed in Bryson as an esteemed brand name and that the man is not adverse to lend a helping hand by using this reputation to good use. There are worse ways to capitalize on ones name and I cannot find fault with him on this point.


I read some disappointing reviews of this book less than five minutes ago -- when I was entering this title into my "Read" shelf -- but I'll stick to the five stars I had in mind when I finished it.Firstly, I agree with comments that the title "African Diary" is misleading -- Bryson went to Kenya for a week, that's all. One country is NOT a whole continent. That said, it was an entertaining AND educational read nevertheless, however short it is. No this book does not suffer from a lack of Bryson's trademark wit and humor. It's still there, except the writing is darker due to the serious nature of the trip. Yes his description of some of the places he visited may be dispiriting and dreary, but what would you expect from a social work visit to a slum? This trip with CARE workers was obviously no holiday-in-the-sun jaunt. Still, Bryson described the Kenyan landscape in such a way that made me wished I were there.Also, I liked how Bryson summarized some socioeconomic issues faced by Kenyans (and likely many other African countries) and seamlessly inserted the explanations into his daily experiences without talking down to the reader. I read the Kindle edition of this book but would totally buy a paperback copy if I come across it in the bookstores. 1) Because the profit goes to CARE, 2) I felt the pages of information about the work CARE is doing in Africa are useful, 3) the chapters about paleoanthropology and Great Rift Valley are right up my alley! (I work with archaeology publications)


Bryson is in fine form here, but the book is only around 60 pages long. That is a pity, because the material is the stuff he really excels at: telling the stories of the people he meets on his travels with wit and warmth.


Unlike most people, I guess, I had no idea that this book was little more than a 49-page pamphlet for CARE, a group doing international aid work, including work with refugees and the poor in Kenya (the focus of this book/pamphlet). I placed the thing on hold sight unseen with my library, and only when I stopped by to check it out did I find a volume rather slimmer than I had expected.Well, I'm a big Bill Bryson fan, so I hoped that it would at least be just under 50 pages of typical Bryson fun. Alas, even in that I was disappointed. He certainly has his moments here, but more than anything this is about CARE and it lacks the humor and insight and depth of narration that I would expect.It's not like this couldn't have been longer. Bryson was in Kenya for 8 days, and he hints at a busy schedule over this time that certainly could have filled up a bit more written space. But all we get as readers is a fleeting glimpse of things. The most in-depth description of an experience has little to do with Kenya: instead it describes the harrowing landing of a small charter plane they took for one piece of the trip.The brief glimpses of Bryson's signature style bumped this into a two-star affair. But I am rating this as a book, and not as a promotional pamphlet, and for that reason I can't give it any more stars than that. There's just not enough there.

Monthly Book Group

Bill Bryson’s “African Diary” was published by in 2002.It really is, just a diary. Bill describes what happened to him over an eight-day visit to Kenya, sponsored by the charity CARE international. It isn’t an analysis, it isn’t especially thoughtful, it’s merely a diary written up with entertaining and generally cheerful comments. It’s only about 11 thousand words on 56 pages. Please don’t think we are shirkers this month; the proposer of the book has added this book to the month’s reading because he thought the main book was a bit short. It was light relief after Loung Ung’s First They Killed my Father.Why do African cities have so much abject poverty, and why does Africa not develop economically like India and many of the SE Asian countries, especially when they are so blessed with natural resources? Bryson describes the slum of Kibera, the biggest slum in Nairobi. The rural poor come to the city to earn small money, but perhaps enough to afford education for their children. He tells of their poverty in a way that makes us smile rather than cry; for example the ‘flying toilet’….As with all of Bryson’s books, it’s well-written, engaging, and hard to put down. There are good photos of life in the slums and in a refugee camp, taken by Jenny Matthews. The revenue goes to CARE international, so we didn’t begrudge our £9.99 for this little book….This is an extract from a review at Our reviews are also to be found at


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.


CARE, an international aid agency headquartered in the UK, asked Bill Bryson to visit their Kenyan operation and write about it. Somewhere along the lines the idea changed to include publishing a "book" and using all profits as a donation to charity, with a small amount of the $12 cover price used for printing and distribution costs. Most of the participants were volunteering their time.Sounds like a great idea, right? Except, the book itself is disappointing. It's more a novelette. It's 40 pages in an undersized book with big margins. About 90% of the content is him worrying about dying in the trains, planes and automobiles that might crash along his journey. Only about 10% covered actual Kenyan life and country. Almost no history was included in complete contrast to the book I read prior, In a Sunburned Country. It's not that it's badly written -- but it could have been so much better. He visits a refugee camp and barely talks about it for a paragraph, while devoting three pages to the airplane flight back. He visits a micro-lending organization and spends a sentence talking about his interaction with the borrowers. Ironically, he praises a local Kenyan farmer growing non-indigenous crops, the same action he highly criticized in In a Sunburned Country for damaging the Australian outback.This was a great idea under-executed. And it's a shame, because I think had it been done right, say trade the hard cover for an additional 40-50 pages of content, and this would have been great. Having a better story would have sold more books making even more money for the charity. I'll give him a C for Charity, but a D for leaving the real story out of the book. Bill short changed himself, Kenya, and CARE by pulling his punches in the name of charity.

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