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King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa Paperback – 26 Nov 1999


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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin (Trade); 1st Mariner Books Ed edition (26 Nov. 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618001905
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618001903
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.7 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,148,307 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Years ago, Adam Hochschild came across a reference to the "five to eight million lives" destroyed in the colonial exploitation of the Congo. Startled, he realised that this had been "one of the major killing grounds of modern times. Why were these deaths not mentioned in the standard litany of our century's horrors?" His corrective history makes sobering and gripping reading. In King Leopold of Belgium, who decided to buy himself an empire to compensate for his country's smallness, he portrays a villain of Shakespearian dimensions. Aided by Stanley (of "Mr Livingstone I Presume" fame) the king appropriated a section of central Africa the size of Western Europe as his personal territory. The appalling brutality that ensued, as Europeans plundered the country for rubber and ivory, is vividly captured by Hochschild. He manages to leaven the horror with touches of grotesque humour--for instance, when tricking tribal chiefs into signing away their land for bales of cloth, Stanley would, to impress his dupes, secrete a battery in his pocket with the wires in his palm, so that on shaking hands the chief "was greatly surprised to find his white brother so strong that he nearly knocked him off his feet". Hochschild has something of Simon Schama's gift for populist history; and among other things he provides astonishing background to Joseph Conrad's Congo-set masterpiece, Heart of Darkness. --Adam Roberts --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

Brilliant.. this book must be read and re-read' Neal Ascherson'. 'A hundred years ago, enlightened people in the western world were outraged by a holocaust in Africa which left millions dead. Denunciations thundered from speaker's platforms around the US and Europe. One open letter to The Times was signed by 11 peers, 19 bishops and 75 MPs. Viscount Grey, Britain's foreign secretary, declared that no overseas issue had so intensely aroused the British public for 30 years. Conan Doyle wrote a pamphlet on the Congo atrocities which sold 25,000 copies in the first week alone. Yet today not one person in a thousand could say what the fuss was all about, unless, of course, they have read this amazing book.' Tariq Ali, Financial Times 'Fascinating... brilliant and gripping' Mail on Sunday 'An exemplary piece of history writing: urgent, vivid and compelling' Literary Review --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By F Henwood TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 26 Jun. 2012
Format: Paperback
The heart of Africa was merely a blank space on European maps when European colonial expansion was centuries old. Advances in medical knowledge (especially anti-malarial prophylactics) allowed explorers in the 19th Century to penetrate the African interior, into its `dark heart', the land that was to become the Congo.

Thus a possibility presented itself to the minor potentate of a small European country to seize his place in the sun: King Leopold II of Belgium. Employing the ruthless parvenu, Henry Morton Stanley, he staked out his claim to a personal African fiefdom. Establishing the International African Society, in 1885, a private company whereby Leopold literally owned the colony (which he never visited), his agents set about robbing the country blind.

What followed was a perhaps one of the greatest hecatombs of colonial history (and one of the least known), where the wealth of the colony, first ivory and then rubber, was literally whipped and beaten out of its local inhabitants. In the process, perhaps 10 million people, or around half of the colony's population, perished in the space of 20 years.

We will never know the exact figures as the perpetrators weren't counting, and, unlike Nazi Germany, they did not leave a long paper trail behind them. Whatever the exact numbers, the scale of mass death was colossal.

Leopold was a shrewd operator, a consummate political dissimulator, able to conceal what his real intentions were in the first place by appealing to the wishful thinking of other European powers, convincing them that his purposes were honourable, to root out Arab slavers and to bring the benefits of progress and free trade to the benighted natives.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Alexandra Crampton on 1 Sept. 2008
Format: Paperback
I bought this book in a small dusty bookstore in an out of the way town, after reading Barbara Kingsolver's 'The Poisonwood Bible', set in the Congo and following the lives of an American Missionary and his family. I didn't imagine that I would be as moved as I have been having finished Adam Hochschild's book, and now understand so much more about the legacy of colonialism, not just in the Congo, but across the world. Sure, it's written in an easy to understand and follow format which undoubtedly skims certain events, and it's moralising tone does detract a little from other European and American atrocities elsewhere - but this leaves me with a strong desire to now seek out literature which helps me to understand the bigger picture.

I live in a British Overseas Protectorate where the roots of colonialism are still strong, and will be recommending this book to everyone here.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Philip on 25 Jan. 2013
Format: Paperback
The Congo basin is the most cruelly raped part of Africa. It and its immediate northern and southern neighbors were the principal source of slaves for the American plantations. In colonial times, Belgian Congo suffered more than all the other African territories from the harshness of colonialism, a legacy that was carried over to the 1960s when efforts at liberation led to the independence of many African countries. That contemporary legacy of misrule, the fomentation of ethnic strife and genocide is what is haunting the land today, and the Belgian king Leopold played a crucial role in bequeathing that horrible legacy. The genocide in Rwanda and the strife in Burundi are all parts of the legacy. French genocidal legacy abound in Cameroon, Algeria etc. German legacy is felt in Namibia. DISCIPLES OF FORTUNE, LE GENOCIDE FRANCO-AFRICAIN,WHEN VICTIMS BECOME KILLERS, THE HERERO REBELLION IN SOUTH WEST AFRICA , THE TROUBLED HEART OF AFRICA are some of the books that provide an insight into the plague.

Who should be blamed for seed of ethnic strife and genocidal tendencies that has been planted in Africa? Is it the fault of some of those former colonial masters who have not changed their ways and support the African leaders with the evil disposition who have hijacked their nations? On the other hand, is it the inherent fault of the Africans who fail as masses to liberate themselves from the horrible legacies?
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Eartha Josephine on 29 Nov. 2009
Format: Paperback
Adam Hochschild has once again produced a book which has been wonderfully researched and crafted. Parts of the book just make one shake one's head in disbelief. It is quite amazing that the Belgian people up until this day refuse to acknowledge and make part of their history the truth of what really happened. This is the 21st century and someone either from the Congo or Belgium needs to give them a very serious wake up call.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Ross on 28 Dec. 2011
Format: Paperback
King Leopold's Ghost was written to remind the world of a forgotten atrocity- as such it is both highly accessible and informative.

The atrocities in the Congo included mass murder, enslaving the local population and working them to death and stealing and burning their lands. Much of the cruelty was offically sanctioned- with secret instructions to the authorities on how to enslave the natives. Some of it was done by individual sadists who were free to execute Africans for trivial offences or massacre villages at will if they refused to collect rubber.

One of the frustrations that Hochschild repeatedly refers to is that the tale largely has to be told from the point of view of foreigners, as the Congo's native population was not literate at the time and left few direct testimonies. However the records of the colonial authorities, missionaries, traders and diplomats are used to great effect.

The portraits of individuals involved in the story are well done, the story of ED Morel who initiated the international campaign against King Leopold's rule is particularly inspiring- a lowly shipping clerk who used his powers of deduction to realise that the Congo must be a slave state and then devoted his life to exposing it.

Whilst I was vaguely aware of the atrocities in the Congo I had not realised how much of it was the doing of King Leopold II personally. He was a deceitful, manipulative and immensely greedy man and his personal culpability in the genocide is established beyond doubt. He deserves to be considered along with Mao, Hitler and Stalin as one of the great monsters of the 20th Century.
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