A review by Carroll Quigley
in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social
Sciences, Vol. 336 (July 1961), pp. 197-198,
of a two-volume book
Vol. I, Land and Livelihood,
Vol. II, Society and Polity,
by George Herbert Tinbey Kimble. 603 & 506 pages. New
York, NY: Twentieth Century Fund, 1960.
George T. Kimble.
Vol. I: Land and Livelihood;
Vol. II: Society and Polity.
Pp. 603, 506. New York: Twentieth Century Fund, 1960. $15.00.
This massive work, seven years in progress,
has been whipped into an attractive -- if occasionally verbose --
narrative from the working papers of forty-six experts. The author,
former Director of the American Geographical Society and now Professor
of Geography at Indiana University, correctly emphasizes two points: the
heterogeneity of tropical Africa and the frequent inapplicability of our
Western methods in an African context. To these should be added a third:
the critical significance of priorities in attacking Africa's problems,
independent of our own, Western, preferences. I have discussed this
problem for the French areas in Current History for February 1961.
One general weakness of this presentation -- probably carried over
from the working papers -- is its failure to aim at a single level of
readers. Some elementary matters are covered at length, while,
elsewhere, technical knowledge is assumed by the use of a technical
vocabulary employing, for example, words such as "climax" in ecology,
"stages" in forest structure, or "excessive solar radiation" (p. 227)
with reference to soils. Generally, the first third of the work suffers
from lack of explicit definition and poor arrangement. This results
from the failure of Chapter Two to show the relationships of relief,
rainfall, and vegetation in Africa as a whole. The discussion of soils
and water should have preceded that on vegetation and settlement. In
this way, the section on soils (p. 237) need, not have intruded into the
chapter on waters. Chapter Six on forests is puzzling to a beginner
because it fails to explain the basic role of light intensity or the
concept of layers within the forest; as a result, the elementary reader
will not understand why tropical forests are not "true selection
forests" (p. 215).
Similar weaknesses appear in Volume II, Chapter Fourteen, "The Old
Order," provides no adequate picture of traditional African society
because it fails to show how the individual and the family were both
subordinated to larger groups by customs such as bride-price, segmented
age groups, rites of transition, and social magic. Instead, a
disjointed and inchoate presentation emerges from the mistaken premise
that the family is dominant in African societies. Nor does it seem
necessary to have eighteen of forty-eight pages on the "old order"
In spite of the great mass of isolated factual material presented
in these volumes, no reader of them is likely to come to grips with the
real issues of contemporary Africa. The undigested material on "Social
Change" in Chapter Fifteen could have been given real meaning had it
been organized in terms of the factors which disrupted traditional
African society -- slave raiding; firearms; disrupted balance of wild
life ecology; commercialization by money; missionary activities;
weakening of customary social sanctions -- such as magic; large scale
contract and migratory labor; infectious diseases raised to epidemic
level by accelerating social contacts; spreading literacy; and easier
mobility. It is perfectly true that African society was never static,
but it can be understood only in terms of social units, which emphasized
status, being disrupted into atomistic individualism, which
emphasizes personal decision.
The failure to get to the real issues of contemporary Africa is
fairly general throughout the book in spite of its plethora of factual
material. Chapter Sixteen, for example, gives a great volume of
disorganized information on African education, but hardly mentions the
big issues of the day such as education for all versus
education of an elite; education in a European language or in a
vernacular; and education in residential or in local schools, in
technical or in liberal subjects, or for both sexes equally.
Professor of History
School of Foreign Service
Scans of original review