The East African Rift (EAR) has fascinated and challenged the geological imagination since its discovery nearly a century ago. A new series of images showing the sequential development of faulting and volcanism along the Rift from 45 Ma to present offers a regional overview of that development. The EAR is the latest phase of the extensive Phanerozoic rifting of the East African continental plate, interwoven with the lithospheric fabrics knitted together during its complex Proterozoic past. South of 5° S, the EAR variously follows or cuts across the Karoo rift trends; north of 5° S, it is almost totally within new or reworked Neoproterozoic terranes, while the Karoo rifts are almost totally outside them. The compilations raise several aspects of rift development seemingly in need of re-imagining, including tight-fit reconstructions of the Gulf of Aden, and the projection of Mesozoic rifts from Yemen to Somalia. Overall, the rifting process does not accord well with a mechanistic paradigm and is better imagined within the Prigoginian paradigm, which accepts instability and disorder within natural processes such as mantle plumes. The structural complexity of Afar and its non-alignment with magnetic anomalies suggests that the seafloor spreading process is, in its beginnings at least, more chaos than order.