Maier, Karl George 1957-

views updated

MAIER, Karl George 1957-

PERSONAL: Born 1957, in Louisville KY.

ADDRESSES: Home—London, England. Agent—c/o Author Mail, PublicAffairs, 250 West 57th St., Ste. 1321, New York, NY 10107.

CAREER: Journalist and writer. Independent, London, England, Africa correspondent, 1986-96.


(With Kemal Mustafa and Alex Vines) Conspicuous Destruction: War, Famine, and the Reform Process in Mozambique, Africa Watch (New York, N.Y.), 1992.

Angola: Promises and Lies, Serif (London, England), 1996.

Into the House of the Ancestors: Inside the New Africa, John Wiley & Sons (New York, NY), 1998.

This House Has Fallen: Midnight in Nigeria, PublicAffairs (New York, NY), 2000.

Contributor to periodicals such as Economist, Africa Confidential, and Washington Post.

SIDELIGHTS: As a journalist, Karl Maier has encountered the best and worst that Africa has to offer. Maier, an American born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1957, served as African correspondent for the London-based newspaper Independent from 1986 to 1996. During that time, his research and reporting took him into Angola, Nigeria, and throughout the entire African continent. His observations of war, corruption, economic crisis, the brutality of ethnic fighting, and the harshness of military regimes form the basis of his meticulous reporting and detailed portraits of Africans facing and coping with extreme adversity.

In Angola: Promises and Lies, Maier recounts the events leading up to and following the Angolan civil war. After years of cold-war politics, a government led by the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), long supported by Communist powers in the Soviet Union and Cuba, signed a peace agreement with rebels of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) in 1992. The agreement led to the country's first free elections, supervised by the United Nations, that were seen as opening up an unprecedented new era in Angola's politics. The country's leaders, and international observers such as the United States and the United Nations, thought that Angola, rich in oil and other natural resources, would become a peaceful and prosperous example of a democratic African nation. "The Angolan election was an unparalleled feat of democratic logistics," wrote David Birmingham in African Affairs. "It's sequel, however, was a war more savage, more destructive, more inhuman, than all the colonial wars, wars of intervention, and wars by proxy that had gone before."

Instead of heralding a new era of peace and democratic representation, the elections sparked years of fierce and bloody civil war in Angola. Although the MPLA won the elections, UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi refused to accept the results, claiming the elections were unfair and the results falsified. Despite U.N. attempts to negotiate with Savimbi, his actions plunged the country into more than two decades of political and ethnic warfare. "And step by terrible step, Maier pieces together, with the pace of a thriller, how UNITA took Angola back to war," remarked Peta Thornycroft in Mail & Guardian, "a war which was the worse phase of 20 years of conflict."

A reviewer in Publishers Weekly called Angola: Promises and Lies an "engrossing chronological account" of the war, and noted that in a "compelling narrative" Maier includes details such as the reaction of hungry Angolans to a bag of grain dropped by foreign aid workers. "Maier shows in highly memorable vignettes how ordinary people have been affected by the war," wrote Sousa Jamba in the Times Literary Supplement. "He also attempts to uncover the factors behind the entrenched political rivalry, such as ethnicity, a crucial component in understanding Angola." Angola: Promises and Lies is "a luminously accurate gem," Thornycroft remarked.

With Into the House of Ancestors: Inside the New Africa Maier takes a more hopeful look at Africa as a whole. "Optimism for Africa constitutes the philosophical heart" of the book, wrote Sarah Penny in a review for [email protected] Books online. "Maier builds a core of hope based not so much on the words of politicians as on grassroots transformations," Penny observed, "a series of alterations and initiatives which he maps through interviews with healers, doctors, entrepreneurs, scientists, artists."

Maier's work in Into the House of Ancestors seeks "neither to sanitize the image of sub-Saharan Africa nor to soft-pedal its problems," Maier is quoted as saying in Howard W. French's review in New York Times Book Review. Instead, Maier sets out to offer "a balanced picture of how its peoples are summoning their tremendous inner vitality." He examines the grassroots development of new African ideas of prosperity, economic improvement, and the evolution of a better future. He talks to children in classrooms and on the battlefield; to computer scientists working to bring technology to a country that sometimes lacks even the most rudimentary technical infrastructure; to physicians and village healers struggling to bridge the considerable gap between modern medicine and traditional remedies. His interviews and vignettes "show that there is plenty of virtue among ordinary Africans, particularly when they draw on the strength of traditional values," wrote Gail M. Gerhart in Foreign Affairs.

Although Into the House of the Ancestors sometimes suffers from "sweeping generalizations about a huge and vastly complicated continent," French observed, Maier also makes it clear that "anyone who bothers to look can find another side to daily life on this continent beyond the usual brutish business" of war, greed, and bloodshed.

Maier's work confirms that people in Africa face considerable obstacles, including civil wars, famine, disease, and political disorder. However, Maier "gives us hope that they can rebound and even thrive," wrote Ruth K. Baacke in Library Journal. "This is one serious, hopeful, realistic, and insightful read," commented Rebecca Brown on the Rebecca's Reads Web site. "Worth all the effort, dipping into the horror before emerging into the bright light of Africa's new century."

Less optimistic is Maier's This House Has Fallen: Midnight in Nigeria, "the absorbing, heartbreaking story of Nigeria from its creation in 1960 through forty years of failure and disappointment to a time of renewal—apparent renewal, we had better say," wrote Patrick Smith in Business Week. Although rich in valuable natural resources—Nigeria is a major world producer of oil—the country has suffered from political corruption, ethnic upheavals, and health crises. Billions of dollars in oil revenues have flowed into the country, but many still live in crushing poverty while evidence mounts about the enormous amounts of money stolen by previous military dictators. Ethnic tensions abound between native ethnic groups as well as Christians and Muslims. "Maier's firm grip on history and keen journalistic eye produce an analysis that is grimly realistic" commented a reviewer in Business Week. "This House has Fallen: Midnight in Nigeria is a guided tour through an exhausted nation of bitterly divided peoples," wrote James Norton on the Flak Web site. "Maier's prose is clean and crisp, and he covers his topic with an air of authority tempered by bewildered concern."

Through interviews with a diverse selection of individual Nigerians, from military strongmen to impoverished members of major ethic groups, from businessmen to religious leaders, cab drivers to young revolutionaries, "Maier puts a human face on a disheartening situation that seems remote and impersonal to most Americans," wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer.

Chris King, writing in the New York Times Book Review, remarked that Maier focuses more on Nigerians from the upper classes. Only seldom does Maier himself search out interview subjects among those he calls "the teeming, impoverished masses," King observed, "and when your subject is a corrupt African state sliding into anarchy, much of your story will be found in the streets and villages, where desperation is looking for an answer, or a victim."

Other reviewers, however, praised Maier's attention to individuals. Maier "has sought to listen and report the attitudes of many ordinary Nigerians," wrote a reviewer in African Business. Further, "Maier tells this story with insight, immediacy, and an evident taste for the heat, dust, and sheer human variety of the country," Smith wrote.

Richard Dowden, writing in Economist, noted that "Maier's observation is meticulous, and his heart sympathetic. By skillfully blending anecdote, travel, and history, his book throbs with the Nigerians' huge humanity and their hopes, anger and joy." This House Has Fallen is an "eminently readable offering for anyone who wants to get behind the tragic headlines and understand the vital heart of West Africa," Norton commented. Maier's "writing deftly captures the humor, enterprise and zest for life possessed by most Nigerians," Norton added, "and he testifies to their resilience in the face of seemingly intolerable conditions."



African Affairs, July, 1997, David Birmingham, review of Angola: Promises and Lies, p. 439.

African Business, April, 1998, Jessie Banfield, review of Into the House of the Ancestors: Inside the New Africa, p. 42; February, 2001, review of This House Has Fallen: Midnight in Nigeria, p. 40.

Booklist, September 1, 1996, Gilbert Taylor, review of Angola: Promises and Lies, pp. 58-59; July, 2000, Vanessa Bush, review of This House Has Fallen: Midnight in Nigeria, p. 2004.

Business Week, August 14, 2001, Patrick Smith, "Was Nigeria Born to Lose?," p. 18E8.

Choice, June, 1998, J. A. Works, Jr., review of Into the House of the Ancestors: Inside the New Africa, p. 1763.

Economist, January 6, 2001, Richard Dowden,"God Is a Nigerian,", p. 3.

Foreign Affairs, September-October, 1998, Gail M. Gerhart, review of Into the House of the Ancestors: Inside the New Africa, p. 168.

Geographical, February, 2001, interview with Karl Maier, p. 114.

International Affairs, January, 1997, Patrick Smith, review of Angola: Promises and Lies,, pp. 198-199; January, 1998, Patrick Smith, review of Angola: Promises and Lies, pp. 237-238; July, 1998, Patrick Smith, review of Into the House of the Ancestors, pp. 708-709.

Journal of Modern African Studies, September, 1997, Elaine Windrich, review of Angola: Promises and Lies, pp. 529-531; December, 1998, Jeff Haynes, review of Into the House of the Ancestors, pp. 716-717.

Library Journal, January, 1998, Ruth K. Baacke, review of Into the House of the Ancestors, p. 120.

London Review of Books, April 22, 1993, Jeremy Harding, "One Eye on the Neighbors," review of Conspicuous Destruction: War, Famine, and the Reform Process in Mozambique, pp. 22-23; July 24, 2002, Adewale Maja-Pearce, "Feed the Charm," pp. 23-26.

Mail & Guardian, June, 1996, Peta Thornycroft, review of Angola: Promises and Lies.

Mother Jones, July, 2000, p. 71.

New Statesman, February 13, 1998, Stephen Howe, review of Into the House of the Ancestors pp. 47-48.

New York Times Book Review, February 1, 1998, Howard W. French, review of Into the House of the Ancestors, p. 20; September 24, 2000, Chris King, "Torn Asunder," review of This House Has Fallen, p. 24.

Publishers Weekly, July 22, 1996, review of Angola: Promises and Lies, pp. 232-233; January 12, 1998, review of Into the House of the Ancestors, p. 54; June 19, 2000, review of This House Has Fallen, p. 71.

Spectator, January 13, 2001, Robert Edric, review of The House Has Fallen, p. 34.

Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, October-December, 2000, pp. 296-296.

Times Literary Supplement, January 3, 1997, Sousa Jamba, "Cold War in Africa," p. 15; February 2, 2001, Adekeye Adebaho, review of This House Has Fallen, p. 28.


Businessweek online, (December 4, 2002), Patrick Smith, "Was Nigeria Born to Lose?"

Fig Leaves Book Review, (December 4, 2002), Wolf Roder, review of This House Has Fallen.

Flak, (December 4, 2002), James Norton, "What's Killing Africa?"

In These Times, (December 4, 2002), Hillary Frey, "Things Fall Apart; Nigeria at the Crossroads."

Karl Maier Web site, (December 4, 2002).

WileyEurope Web site, (December 4, 2002).

[email protected] Books, (December 4, 2002), Sarah Penney, "A Core of Hope."