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


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.


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.


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."

LindyLouMac phrase short and sweet popped into my mind about this 49 page little book about Bill Bryson’s 8 days in Kenya. It is actually a bitter sweet account about the work of the charity organization CARE one of the worlds leading international organizations fighting against poverty. They believe that by working to find the source of a communities problems and solving it they can help make the world a safer and more stable place for us all.Unfortunately the book is a very superficial glance into the problems that are facing Kenya poverty, war, disease and corruption. However it did its job reminding me that we should be grateful for the small things in life and appreciate the fact that there are millions of people in Africa lacking even the basics for survival.


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.

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.

Debbie Evancic

Bill Bryson, a great travel writer, went to Africa and wrote about things he saw there so he could donate the proceeds of this book to CARE. That in itself would make the purchase of the book worthwhile. However, because it was Bill writing the book, it was both enlightening and entertaining to read. Bill wrote about Kibera, the biggest slum in Nairobi where at least 50,000 children have AIDS, where the average shanty is 10 feet by 10 feet and houses 5-6 people with no running water, no rubbish collection, no electricity, or flush toilets. Bill always entertains us by telling us about things such as "flying toilets", which is a plastic beg thrown out at night, to get rid of the human waste.Bill also tells us of his experience in a small charter plane during a thunderstorm, where the pilot could barely see the runway.Although there are shortages everywhere in these communities, Bill shows the people struggling to survive and shows how CARE and other organizations can help. He encourages us to visit the website at

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.


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"


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.


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.


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.


I feel like an asshole for not giving this more stars. I am an enormous Bill Bryson fan -- I've read everything else he has published (with the exception of "Shakespeare: The World as Stage" which I'm starting tonight). Unfortunately, this sort of wasn't a Bill Bryson book. It was a Bill Bryson... journal entry. It was only 49 pages, and because it was done for charity, it was overly sincere. It almost completely lacked Bryson's signature humor. He normally has such a colorful way of describing things that I even enjoyed his science book, "A Short History of Nearly Everything." This was more like 49 pages of "Kenya is a real shithole and the people need help." Nevertheless, I wish I was able to give it more stars, because I just like him so much, and because it is for charity. So, you know, go spend the money so it goes to CARE, but don't expect to spend more than an hour with it, and don't expect the kind of laughs I can still conjure up just by thinking of certain scenes in "A Walk in the Woods."

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.


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.

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