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Hans M. Zell’s is unique and certainly one of the most useful reference resource books on publishing and the book trade in Africa. First published in 1996 under the title: Publishing and Book Development in Sub-Saharan Africa. An Annotated Bibliography (co-edited with Cecile Lomer), this book has filled a gap in the publishing world ever since.

In this new and substantially updated edition, Hans Zell has continued in the true spirit of the broad aim of the whole project, which is to chart the growth of publishing and development in the countries of Africa south of the Sahara. Hans Zell must be commended for undertaking this ambitious task as he has succeeded in putting together a very useful one-stop reference book. The book covers all segments of publishing and the book trade, as well as including a large number of entries on many other topics as they relate to books and reading in Africa. This edition contains over 2,500 entries, with most of the material listed in English but there are also a considerable number of citations in French.

The bibliography is arranged in a user-friendly way. It is extensively cross referenced, indexed by author and includes an expanded subject index and an index of organisations and associations which undoubtedly enhances the book’s utility.

Just as intended, the book covers all aspects of book publishing and the book chain in Africa. There are many citations on specialist areas of publishing: children, journal and magazine, scholarly, African languages, women and so on. It is further enriched by entries on book assistance and donations and the acquisition of African published materials.

The bibliography includes an introductory essay on publishing in Africa by Dr Henry Chakava, the chairman of East Africa Educational Publishers in Kenya. That Hans Zell included this material shows the enormous respect he has for Dr Chakava, who is undoubtedly one of the most experienced in the field. The reader will find Dr Chakava’s honest assessment of African book industry extremely useful. The introduction gives a candid assessment of the present state of publishing in Africa in which the most significant problems are highlighted.

This book is important in many ways. It is useful for any publisher and bookseller in Africa. It gives all the relevant information needed. It is useful to NGOs and other organisations that are involved in one way or another in producing books, journals either in volume form or digitally. It is above all useful for students, who will marvel at the amount of contacts and information. In the West, so many people will find it useful also, including publishers, exporters, NGOs, and specialists on publishing. As a result, this is a useful book for all those interested in publishing in general and not only in sub-Saharan Africa.

The author made it clear in the preface that it is an ongoing project to record and analyse the literature on publishing and book development in sub-Saharan Africa. It is hoped that at some point in the near future, someone or an institution will pick up the baton and continue with this gargantuan task. One can only hope that it will not take another decade for the next edition to be available. There are so many things happening in the publishing world that should be recorded. It is also hoped that future editions will have entries from Portuguese- and Arabic-speaking countries. The picture is not complete with entries from these languages being left out.

Unfortunately, just like many useful books on Africa, it will prove a difficult purchase for many Africans that actually need it to buy it. It is published in hardback, which is expensive and so many publishers and booksellers cannot afford to buy such books. While this unfortunately is one of the general constraints of publishing, books and reading in sub-Saharan Africa, this is a very useful, rich and unique reference-resource book nonetheless.

Publishing, Books & Reading in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Critical Bibliography
2nd completely revised and expanded edition by Hans M. Zell, with an introductory essay by Henry Chakava October 2008 Print and online. The book was previously published as "Publishing and Book Development in Sub-Saharan Africa: An Annotated Bibliography" (London: Hans Zell Publishers, 1996)

* Mohammed Umar is the Sales and Marketing Manager at Fahamu Books.
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