My top pick for 1955: Something of Value

I had no difficulty picking my favorite of the 1955 bestsellers. Something of Value by Robert Ruark is head and shoulders above the rest.

Marjorie Morningstar would be my number two choice of the best of 1955 bestsellers. Herman Wouk’s exploration of a start-struck girl’s growing up won’t ever go out of date, but it’s too personal to have the impact that Ruark’s broad canvas achieves.

Photo of Robert RuarkNot only is Something of Value well-plotted and peopled with believable fictional characters, but it is written with a reporters eye for telling detail.

With Africa’s rise as a center of influence, the background Ruark presents in an accessible fashion presents a timely introduction to one of its most rapidly developing nations: Kenya.

In the foreword written in 1954, Ruark says

This is considerably more than a book about the Mau Mau terror which has claimed constant attention on the front pages of the world for the last two years. A great deal has been written about the Mau Mau. A great deal of foolishness has been committed in the failure of the British to recognize that what they saw happening to themselves in Kenya was not, as they first thought, a local brush fire but a symptomatic ulcer of the evil and unrest which currently afflict the world.

…..

This might be possibly a true story of Kenya and of the events over the last fifty years which lead to the present tragedy of the Mau Mau uprising, with all its sadistic murder and counter-murder. The book is completely true in reporting that its early skeletal structure rests on stony fact, which may be found in reference as fact. Some of these facts have been altered and condensed to comply with novel form, a it always customary But they remain facts. The characters in this book are entirely fictitious.

There is much blood in the book. There is much killing. But the life of Africa was washed earlier by blood, and its ground was, and skill is fertilized by the blood of its people and its animals. This is not a pretty book….And it certainly is not a political book.

A North Carolina native, Ruark served in the navy during World War II.  Afterward, he became a newspaperman. achieving national prominenance as a syndicated columnist for the Scripps Howard newspaper chain.

Ruark’s love of hunting, fishing, and the outdoors in general led him to Africa. That in turn inspired him to abandon the security of New York and a regular paycheck for the uncertainty of freelance writing.

Ruark said , “Without the African experience, there would have been no topics for the scores of articles and stories and the two books which have combined to make me financially secure…”

He had published five nonfiction books and 500 magazine articles before Something of Value. In all, Ruark published 12 novels, including the 1959 bestseller Poor No More. A list of his novels are on the Robert Ruark Society website.

On his death in 1965 at age 49, Ruark left all his letters (including one containing the quote above), manuscripts, and published work to the The University of North Carolina.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Something of Value: Timely and timeless novel of Africa

Robert Ruark’s Something of Value is a gory and compassionate novel about Kenya that will fascinate readers and leave them with plenty to think about as well.


Something of Value by Robert Ruark

Doubleday, 1955, 566 pages. 1955 bestseller #6. My grade: A+.


Spine of "Something of Value" shows tangle of long grassPeter McKenzie and Kimani, his Kikuyu pal, were raised together in Kenya.

When Kimani’s father lands in jail for failing to prevent midwives from killing a baby in accordance with native customs, Kimani blames himself: He brought a curse on his family by allowing  Peter’s brother-in-law to slap him.

Kimani has to kill the white man to remove the curse.

Thinking he has murdered a white man, Kimani flees and stumbles into a band of renegade blacks.

The outlaws become a guerrilla army, the Mau Mau, poised to throw off white rule.

Kimani is one of their leaders.

Peter, meanwhile, has become a great hunter. When an overeager Mau Mau band slaughters his sister’s family, Peter finds himself hunting his boyhood pal.

Travel, adventure, history, romance, politics—all are within these pages.

Without being preachy, Ruark makes the point that whites deprived black Africans of their religion and gave them in sham Christianity in its place, leaving them with no moral compass.

Renewed interest in Africa—particularly by communist China—make this novel timely.

Compelling writing makes it timeless.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni