Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Something of Value, Robert Ruark, Doubleday & Company Inc, 1955, 560 pp

This long novel was #6 on the bestseller list for 1955 and falls in my newly named category of "dick lit." But even though it took me almost a week to read, I liked it. The setting is Kenya in the 1940s and the viewpoint is mostly from the English white men who own farms and use native labor. Shortly after WWII, the natives in Kenya began a terrorist uprising called The Mau Mau rebellion, which several decades later led to Kenya achieving independence from Great Britain.

Ruark has his own views about all this and they come through transparently. He has sympathies with both white man and native but does not seem to think that colonialism is inherently wrong. He clearly loves Africa and in fact made many trips there, primarily to hunt wild game. But his knowledge of the natives, their customs and superstitions, is extensive and he has as much affinity for them as he does for the rich white farmers.

This the book is a fascinating historical study and appropriate as we move through Barak Obama's presidency. It is also without doubt, one of the bloodiest and most violent books I have ever read. There are scenes of slaughter, at least one hunting trip, incidents of life in the hiding places of the militant natives, etc. Ruark was an unabashed worshiper of Hemingway and aspired to be that writer, though he was at least ten times more wordy. I think that he was even more manly in his writing style.

Truly another adventure in reading the bestsellers of the second half of the 20th century.

(Something of Value is out of print, though available in libraries and from used book sellers. The link here is for alibris.)


  1. Anonymous6:33 AM

    well, at the time, Ruark's book was used as propaganda for the colonial side of the story and certainly played a big role in the conception, which the British wanted, that Africans were savages and permanently primitive.
    We may be able to read Ruark as "historical" now, but at the time, it was a book that did quite a bit of damage. I read it then and I did, for a while, fall for the propaganda. Was also made into a film with Rock Hudson as the hero and Sidney Poitier as the bad guy. The film, too, is not in distribution today.

  2. Thanks Anonymous for adding to the dialogue.