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Dark Age: The Political Odyssey of Emperor Bokassa Paperback – Feb 22 2002


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: McGill-Queen's University Press; Reprint edition (Feb. 22 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0773524185
  • ISBN-13: 978-0773524187
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.6 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 422 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,506,903 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"A fascinating historical study that engages the reader from start to finish. Titley sheds light on the nature of personalistic dictatorships in sub-Saharan Africa and on the extent to which France influenced the political evolution of some of its former African colonies. It will become the standard work in English on the subject." Richard Sandbrook, Department of Political Science, University of Toronto ----- "An excellent political biography ... this book is without question the best study of Bokassa to date." International Journal of African Historical Studies ----- "Titley provides an important corrective to what he identifies as superficial, racist dismissals of Bokassa's rule. His examination of the actual nature of Bokassa's rule reveals a more complex picture than the commonly drawn caricature ... Well worth the read." Africa Today ----- "An engrossing story that offers much of value for understanding late twentieth-century international politics." Choice ----- "Titley's painstaking account provides us with a vivacious, yet sound, study of Bokassa's, rule and downfall in the Central African Republic. Providing numerous insights on political leadership in Africa, and on the resilience of ties between ex-colonies and former metropoles, this book stands as the standard work on Bokassa in English, and probably will remain so for years to come." The International History Review ----- "A lively account of a particularly striking episode in contemporary African history." A.S. Kanya-Forstner, Department of History, York University

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most helpful customer reviews

Format: Hardcover
I have always been interested in the Central African Republic, and since I don't speak French, it is hard to find material on it-so I was very pleased to find a book like this. The Bokassa saga, shows that truth can be stranger than fiction. After all, if the average American turned on the television special featuring a country called the 'Central African Republic', where the ruler converts at will, stages a coronation in the style of Napoleon, and has a harem of wives from throughout the world-chosen at will, they would dismiss it as a fiction.
Yet it was not, Bokassa and many other tyrants were supported by nations seeking to play their role in the Cold War.
It reminds me of Heart of Darkness, which took place in what is now, CAR's neighbor, Congo, formerly Zaire. While, I admire Titley's attempt to try be factual and trace the story in terms of politics and recorded intrigues. But there is little oral testimony, or information on the local culture and sociology.
This is a shame, because I think this story, or could been on par with chronicles such as Killing Fields, and this lacks the side of the victim. Also, Titley never address the brutalities, frankly, any nonacademic who is reading this wants to be titilated by the accusations of cannabalism and torture-and this issues are not addressed at all-neither dismissed or denied, or resolved. Also, the AUTHOR has access to Bokassa's autobiogaphy [of which all but 2 copies still exist] and it is rarely mentioned. All in all, it is not easy to have written this book, the topic carries the day, but I can't help feeling that this has the taste of an incomplete academic lecture series, that could have used an editor and some pungency.
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By william pirie on Aug. 21 2000
Format: Hardcover
Brian Titley's account of the life of Jean Bedel Bokassa, self-proclaimed Emperor of the Central African Republic, is an unsettling one.
On the one hand, the personal detail that the author builds up on his subject can paint a fascinating and sometimes engaging picture of the Emperor.
After all, Bokassa was the dictator whose behavior was said to cause embarrassment even to other African despots. A caricature figure, who had warned senior government colleagues on different occasions that he was "properly annoyed" and was thinking of "going for a coup d'etat", he rose to power from an impoverished rural background.
As Emperor, however, he was the giver of envelopes of diamonds to visiting dignitaries; the collector and wearer of a huge collection of period-piece French military uniforms and the unrepentant womanizer who accumulated wives from countries as far distant as Romania and Vietnam.
With his subject never too far from the ridiculous, Titley dredges up some fantastic narrative. Even the photographs tell a story - an image on an early page of the book pictures Bokassa together with his favourite young son on the day of the imperial coronation. Africa's Napoleon, resplendent in a velvet robe, is desperately seeking a regal pose. His son, then aged about six, sits sulkily beside his father, his tasseled white sailor suit topped off with a captain's cap at least three sizes too big for him. He looks like he has rushed straight to the ceremony from an audition for the Jackson Five.
On the other hand - and this is the problem for the reader - much of this colour surrounding Bokassa turns out to be dark and foreboding.
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Format: Paperback
Say what you will about the author, this is one story that practically tells itself. The entire Bokassa saga is so fundamentally bizarre, one needs to do little more than list the events in order to create a memborable story.
Bokassa's cornoation in 1976 was truly one of the strangest events to ever come out of a continant plagued by strangeness. Brian Titley describes the akward climax of Bokassa's career in excellent detail, catalouging the thousands of pounds of champaign and food that was shipped in from the finest caterers in France, the elaborate robes and jewerly that were handcrafted for the event, and the meager guest list, with the Prime Minister of tiny Mauritius being the only guest of any significance.
The whole thing is truly one of the most fascinating stories I have read in a long time. With so much literature written about China, America, the USSR et al, it can sometimes be a refreshing break to read about a tiny nation's isolated history.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a most interesting book about one of Africa's most extravagant leaders. Brian Titley does not write with particular elegance or wit, but his account of Bokassa's life seems well documented, even-handed and is thoroughly readeable. The details on the coronation ceremonies or the emperor's love life alone are worth the reading. A five star book on a five star general.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 8 reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Interesting topic, average writing Nov. 5 2001
By David Druce - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I have always been interested in the Central African Republic, and since I don't speak French, it is hard to find material on it-so I was very pleased to find a book like this. The Bokassa saga, shows that truth can be stranger than fiction. After all, if the average American turned on the television special featuring a country called the 'Central African Republic', where the ruler converts at will, stages a coronation in the style of Napoleon, and has a harem of wives from throughout the world-chosen at will, they would dismiss it as a fiction.
Yet it was not, Bokassa and many other tyrants were supported by nations seeking to play their role in the Cold War.
It reminds me of Heart of Darkness, which took place in what is now, CAR's neighbor, Congo, formerly Zaire. While, I admire Titley's attempt to try be factual and trace the story in terms of politics and recorded intrigues. But there is little oral testimony, or information on the local culture and sociology.
This is a shame, because I think this story, or could been on par with chronicles such as Killing Fields, and this lacks the side of the victim. Also, Titley never address the brutalities, frankly, any nonacademic who is reading this wants to be titilated by the accusations of cannabalism and torture-and this issues are not addressed at all-neither dismissed or denied, or resolved. Also, the AUTHOR has access to Bokassa's autobiogaphy [of which all but 2 copies still exist] and it is rarely mentioned. All in all, it is not easy to have written this book, the topic carries the day, but I can't help feeling that this has the taste of an incomplete academic lecture series, that could have used an editor and some pungency.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Killer or clown? Aug. 21 2000
By william pirie - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Brian Titley's account of the life of Jean Bedel Bokassa, self-proclaimed Emperor of the Central African Republic, is an unsettling one.
On the one hand, the personal detail that the author builds up on his subject can paint a fascinating and sometimes engaging picture of the Emperor.
After all, Bokassa was the dictator whose behavior was said to cause embarrassment even to other African despots. A caricature figure, who had warned senior government colleagues on different occasions that he was "properly annoyed" and was thinking of "going for a coup d'etat", he rose to power from an impoverished rural background.
As Emperor, however, he was the giver of envelopes of diamonds to visiting dignitaries; the collector and wearer of a huge collection of period-piece French military uniforms and the unrepentant womanizer who accumulated wives from countries as far distant as Romania and Vietnam.
With his subject never too far from the ridiculous, Titley dredges up some fantastic narrative. Even the photographs tell a story - an image on an early page of the book pictures Bokassa together with his favourite young son on the day of the imperial coronation. Africa's Napoleon, resplendent in a velvet robe, is desperately seeking a regal pose. His son, then aged about six, sits sulkily beside his father, his tasseled white sailor suit topped off with a captain's cap at least three sizes too big for him. He looks like he has rushed straight to the ceremony from an audition for the Jackson Five.
On the other hand - and this is the problem for the reader - much of this colour surrounding Bokassa turns out to be dark and foreboding. Although his alleged taste for human flesh has never been fully proven (nor his preference for the throwing of those that displeased him into his swimming pool of crocodiles) his regime was responsible for the torture and death of hundreds of his countrymen. He personally caved in the skulls of some of them with his favourite walking cane.
Can you enjoy a man's more attractive idiosyncracies when his darker ones include participation in the torture of schoolchildren? Titley does try, in an excellent concluding chapter, to put Bokassa into a political context. He killed fewer people than Dictator X. He stole and extorted less money than Dictator Y. He was aided, encouraged and manipulated by the French throughout his period in power. He lived the closing years of his life in (for him) relative poverty and isolation, deserted by his wives and children. He even chose to return from exile to his native country and face state trial.
More opportunities for the reader to adopt an ambivalent attitude to Africa's Napoleon? Probably not. Bokassa's expressions of remorse seem to have been limited to his sense of personal misfortune. And if we are to be asked to judge him less harshly only against a backdrop of more dangerous and more evil men, then we must ask ourselves if Bokassa may, after all, be deserving of the company that he keeps
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A fascinating tale Aug. 10 2003
By J.J. McCullough - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Say what you will about the author, this is one story that practically tells itself. The entire Bokassa saga is so fundamentally bizarre, one needs to do little more than list the events in order to create a memorable story.

Bokassa's coronation in 1976 was truly one of the strangest events to ever come out of a continent plagued by strangeness. Brian Titley describes the awkward climax of Bokassa's career in excellent detail, cataloguing the thousands of pounds of champagne and food that was shipped in from the finest caterers in France, the elaborate robes and jewelry that were handcrafted for the event, and the meager guest list, with the Prime Minister of tiny Mauritius being the only guest of any significance.

The whole thing is truly one of the most fascinating stories I have read in a long time. With so much literature written about China, America, the USSR et al, it can sometimes be a refreshing break to read about a tiny nation's isolated history.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
"Bokassa, the new Bonaparte"... Jan. 6 2013
By Benny Profane - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"Dark Age: The Political Odyssey of Empereror Bokassa" is Brian Tilley's account of Jean-Bedel Bokassa, a man who rose from a soldier in the French army to become the dictator of the Central African Republic. In time, Bokassa devolves into a murderous despot, siphoning resources from his country to live lavishly while staying in power with a mix of murder and oppression. However, throughout and even after 225 pages of recounting Bokassa's hijinks, Tilley is still unconvinced of Bokassa's villainy.

Bokassa was born in the Central African Republic and served abroad in both France and Indochina before returning home in the early 1960's to serve in the Central African Army. Once there, he grows tired of the leaders in charge and plots and executes his own coup d'etat. Once he's in charge, Bokassa made some strides in cutting down on corruption that plagued newly "democratic" African states. He also banned female circumcision and made strides to modernize the country. Pretty quickly though, Bokassa became more despotic: he stole national funds to enrich himself and buy properties abroad, helped himself to a percentage of the nation's natural resources, and abandoned any pretense of law and order so that he can imprison and execute any one at his own whim. The mismanagement of the CAR's resources is staggering, and the country nearly goes bankrupt several times. A few times the French bailed them out, and once Bokassa even converted to Islam to trick Gaddafi into writing him a check. He soon abandoned the religion.

And the insanity only heightened from there. Bokassa decided that he was lacking in prestige and so decided, in 1977, to coronate himself Emperor Bokassa the First, in a ceremony that cost $22 million and amounted to a quarter of the nation's annual budget. The coup de grace was a 20 foot tall golden throne in the shape of an eagle. Finally in 1979, students started demonstrating when their civil servant parents - who were not being paid for by the bankrupt government - were forced to buy new uniforms from stores owned by Bokassa and his family. When Bokassa sent tanks in to break up the demonstrations, hundreds died in the riots. A bunch of kids were sent to the national prison, where many disappeared and many were beaten by guards and even Bokassa himself (he admitted as such in his trial). One of my favorite parts is that Bokassa's explanation of what happened to the disappeared children, who were never seen again, was that they were "over the river in Zaire." I wish I could incorporate this in my everyday life for when things go wrong and I don't want to explain what happened. "What's wrong with Bill? Oh, he's over the river in Zaire." Anyway, in 1979 after that debacle the French sent in paratroopers when Bokassa was out of the country to place a new leader in charge. Bokassa then lived several years in exile before returning to the country to stand trial. He was sentenced to death, which was commuted, and he spent seven years in jail before being amnestied. He died a few years later in relative obscurity.

What I found annoying about Tilley's account was that he seemed to wave off all the terrible crimes and in the conclusion concedes that Bokassa's reputation was only "partially deserved." This even though the book is linked together with a ceaseless wave of casually violent anecdotes. To whit: Bokassa demands all thieves should have their ears cut off and retroactively does it to all men already imprisoned, and stops only after international outcry; Bokassa rebukes a group of thieves for breaking the law before commanding security guards to beat the men, three men die on the spot; Bokassa orders the execution of the infant son of a soldier who attempted a coup; Bokassa orders the murder of a magic monkey woman whose power stems from her four breasts (during the trial it is helpfully revealed that "killing a soceress was not a serious crime in the Central African Republic.") The way that these anecdotes are tossed in between the main narrative of Bokassa's rule leads me to believe there are hundreds, if not thousands, more ridiculous stories that never have been recorded.

A somewhat absurd epilogue has Tilley comparing Bokassa's crimes to the crimes of various other African dictators - that he spent less on his coronation than Felix Houphouet-Boigny did on his basilica (leaving out that the Ivory Coast was far better off than the Central African Republic, and Bokassa's coronation was a quarter of the annual budget), that he stole less than Mobutu of Zaire (well it would be hard to steal more) or that Idi Amin or Macias Nguema killed more people than he did (setting a low bar of morality on that one). This attempt at defending Bokassa, after the entire book spent reading about his extravagant idiocy, is grating at best. He also claims that Bokassa didn't totally destroy the nation's economy, even though earlier in the book Tilley details how Bokassa built himself houses, hunting parks, lodges with state money with the Minister of Transportation had no money to build roads. At the same time Bokassa fixed prices, eliminated competition, paid no taxes, bought multiple chateaux in France, and would "spirit his gains out of the country in the form of cash, diamonds, in gold." I guess Bokassa gets points for not stealing ALL of the countries wealth, just a majority of it.

Furthermore, I was a bit surprised at Tilley's tendency to casually wave off Bokassa's obvious flaws and crimes. After the coup that took him out of power, it was widely publicized that French commandos raiding one of Bokassa's mansions found two bodies in the refrigerator, one missing the legs, an arm, and a head. Tilley casually dismisses this as French propaganda, agreeing with Bokassa's assertion that the bodies were put there to frame him. But Tilley neglects the ask the question he should have....where the heck did the bodies come from? Both had been detained over a month before, one for traffic violations (!) and one for participating in student demonstrations. Tilley is fine to accept Bokassa's side of the story, without doing any additional digging of his own. First of all, both of these men were clearly killed either by Bokassa or as a result of the penal system in his country (one that made arbitrary arrests and indefinite detainment the standard). Secondly, who do you think is more likely to behead and dismember a man arrested for traffic violations: French paratroopers or a man that admitted to savagely beating children with his cane or would casually command his guards to remove a man's ears for stealing car tires. That's right, the violent volatile homicidal dictator is more likely.

In the end, this is an interesting book that tells a tale that is not widely known about a crazy dictator who ran his country into the ground. What I found irritating about this story is the casual way Tilley dismisses many of Bokassa's crimes and that he seems to give him points for not being that murderous or stealing that much of the CAR's wealth. Tilley in this way sounds like a woman trying to justify a bad boyfriend to her girlfriends. "Come on guys...he's not that bad. He's good with my kids and he's really sweet when he's not drinking." (heard that one before) The boyfriend is always that bad and the woman should always dump him. Tilley needed to realize that Bokassa, no matter how much he makes him appear to not be a villain, is, after all, a bad boyfriend. And a dictator who is totally deserving of his murderous reputation.

BP
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Bokassa May 25 2011
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a good book about Bokassa's life and crimes. Though in the end, the author says that he killed about 500 people, but no one knows how many people died under him. Nevertheless, this is a good book about Bokassa.

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