Angola may be entering a pivotal moment, triggered by persistently low oil prices and its president José Eduardo dos Santos (the world's second longest-serving president) signalling that he may step down in 2018. Will this result in continuity or change? This review article of six books on modern Angola shows that since 1820, significant dips in international commodity prices have marked moments of lasting political change in the country. They also show that the history of Angolan nationalism is one of deep divisions and that political loyalty and support were often more about survival or ambition than about ideology and ethnicity. Throughout modern Angolan history personalities, such as Agostinho Neto, Jonas Savimbi and José Eduardo dos Santos, have also played a critical role in determining the country's fortunes. The single greatest foreign influence on Angola might be Cuba's ‘internationalist solidarity’ of sending up to five per cent of its population to Angola between 1976 and 1991 in support of the Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA). Over a decade later, the Chinese also found that the MPLA government determined their partnership. This review article examines the strength of Angolan agency and how the drivers of change are complex, determined by personality politics, geopolitics, prestige, solidarity, cost–benefit analysis and timing.