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King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in the Congo [Paperback]

Adam Hochschild
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)

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King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa 4.5 out of 5 stars (62)
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Book Description

10 Mar 2000
First published in 1999, Hochschild provides a riveting account of the Congo massacres, peopled by callous monarchs, corrupt adventurers and a handful of genuine heroes. This exemplary piece of history writing gives the facts that caused those atrocities.

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King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in the Congo + The Scramble For Africa
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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Papermac; New edition edition (10 Mar 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0333765443
  • ISBN-13: 978-0333765449
  • Product Dimensions: 21.4 x 13.4 x 3.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,090,802 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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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


"Adam Hochschild has a novelist's flare for narrative, and KING LEOPOLD'S GHOST is a horrifically readable history." -- Ian Thomson, The Evening Standard, 12 April 1999

"As Adam Hochschild tells in his fascinating book about the Congo's terrible encounter with Europe. . . . the creation of Zaire under the dictator Mobutu, the break-up of that country and its renaming Congo, and the civil war that rages there now--all of these can be traced back to Leopold's bloody enterprise." -- Giles Foden, The Guardian, 24 April 1999

"As Hochschild's brilliant book demonstrates, the great Congo scandal prefigured our own times. It was the first Orwellian big lie, which sold a gigantic mechanism of greed and terror to the world as a crusade for humanitarian values. . . . that is why this book must be read and reread. In its breathtaking mendacity, in its shameless industry of lies, in its elevation of sadism and greed into a civilised routine, the Congo Free State was a testing-ground for the 20thcentury." -- Neal Ascherson, The Los Angeles Times Book Review, 10 January 1999

"For 23 years the King . . . brought a new dark age to the Dark Continent. In that time some ten million people--half the population--died. . . . The story of this appalling episode, and the remarkable campaign led by an ordinary English shipping clerk, Edmund Dene morel, to bring it to the attention of the world, is told in this brilliant and gripping book." -- Simon Shaw, The Mail on Sunday, 4 April 1999

"Hochschild . . . has produced a history like none other. A hundred years ago, enlightened people in the western world were outraged by a holocaust in Africa which left millions dead. Denunciations thundered from speakers' platforms around the US and Europe. . . . Yet today not one person in a thousand could say what the fuss was all about, unless, of course, they have already read this amazing book." -- Tariq Ali, The Financial Times, 3-4 April 1999

"Hochschild, in his thoroughly researched and engagingly written book, tells the story of one of the greatest human rights crimes in the past hundred years. . . . King Leopold's Ghost has all the tension and drama that one would expect in a good novel. At the same time it is . . . carefully researched and historically accurate." -- Robert Harms, Times Literary Supplement, August 27, 1999

"KING LEOPOLD'S GHOST has a riveting cast of characters: heroes, villains and bit-players, all extraordinary, all compelling tangles of neuroses and ambitions, all wonderfully drawn." -- Ronan Bennett, The Observer, 2 May 1999

"KING LEOPOLD'S GHOST is an exemplary piece of history-writing: urgent,vivid and compelling." -- Robin Blackburn, Literary Review, April 1999

"To an already long list of tyrants which includes Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and Idi Amin, a late addition is required.'Late' only because King Leopold II of Belgium (1835-1909) should always have been there. As 'owner' of the Congo Free State from 1885 to 1908 he was responsible for what Joseph Conrad once called 'the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience.' It is indeed a ghastly story of greed, lies and murder. And Adam Hochschild retells it well. 'King Leopold's Ghost' last week beat several excellent books to win the Lionel Gelber prize. . . . now the world's most important award for non-fiction. . . . Around the turn of this century in the depths of the Congo the bonds of humanity were unbound and the trappings of civilisation cast aside,releasing something diabolical which exists within us all. Mr. Hochschild conveys this particularly well." -- The Economist, Sept. 11, 1999

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cursed with Wealth 21 April 2008
The coldly-executed, bloody-minded exploitation of the Congo by King Leopold and his business partners is a story well-worth repeating. At times his conduct is so disgraceful as to force one to a variety of admiration. The ruthless self-interest has surely been a model for later exploiters of Africa (of whatever hue) but few can have stolen as much (once adjusted for current prices) as the King. Such a great evil summoned forth worthy opponents though at all stages they seem to have had to break through disbelief before they could get on the King's wavelength. The King's ability to understand and exploit European sentiment required his arch-opponent E.D.Morel to raise his game. This is a sorry tale, well-told by its author. However, it is really not quite as unknown as the puffery claims. Hochschild has not discovered a forgotten Holocaust, but he has kept its disgraceful memory "bright".
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
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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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing accomplishment 23 Feb 2012
I have written my review in two parts the first being to actually review the book itself and provide my thoughts on it. Since this is such an emotive and affecting book, I also wrote about how it affected me personally, from a Belgian's perspective who's family lived in the Congo - thought this might be of interest to some readers.

1. My Review of Leopold's Ghost

Adam Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghost is an exquisite book - gripping, absorbing, well written and profoundly affecting all at once, I wish more historical novels were like this and would say it was one of the most interesting such books I've read. Mr Hochschild has evidently poured his heart and soul into the book to produce a novel of real depth, passion and benevolence.

Yes, it is fairly one-sided and heavily criticise Leopold, Belgium and less directly European countries with colonial pasts - this didn't bother me given the impact they've had on Africa's destiny, some of which is still being played out today. The numbers of persons that were affected by colonisation and slavery, while by Hochschild's own admission being hard to put an exact number on, still speak for themselves and are sobering.

Obviously the subject-matter is grim and many of Africa's problems are still occurring today, as pointed out by Hochschild. Having said this, I found the author's 2005 afterword (written at the book's tenth year of publication) was very interesting to see because it has had on people - I would count myself as one, as you'll see below.

So in summary, I found King Leopold's Ghost to be an excellent read.

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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Tale of Horror 29 Nov 2009
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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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
The Belgian rape of the Congo is a subject barely touched on in the history books, and is more likely to be encountered as a stimulus to literary genius (witness Conrad's "Heart of Darkness"). This book is well-written and readable, and serves to whet the appetite for the subject. Although it is in many ways a compelling read, it leaves many questions unanswered and the reader will find him/herself wanting more information. As an iconoclastic work it reveals a darker side not only to a particularly "romantic" period of history, but to some feted individuals (for example, Stanley, of Dr. Livingstone fame). It should therefore be regarded as an accessible introduction to the topic which will stimulate the reader to seek further information. Comprehensive bibliography.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Leopold II: King Of The Congo, King Of Hell 22 Sep 2008
By demola
This is a stunning account of Belgium's King Leopold II's rape and plunder of the Congo. His agents and officials dealt misery and death to millions of Congolese and subjugated the unfortunate natives with ferocious brutality. Meanwhile the King of the Congo (and Belgium) got fat off the staggering profits of ivory and rubber. This greedy consuming devil was master of planting friendly stories in the western press, cajoling, bribing, threatening and shouting to the world how much good he was doing in the Congo. Fortunately you can't fool all the people all the time. A group of very brave men (some who paid with their lives) soon expose the truth and hellish conditions of the the Congolese. Under severe pressure Leopold gifts (sells) the Congo to Belgium for a considerable sum. Half a century later after Belgium is forced to grant independence, the CIA assassinate the prime minister. A gruesome start for the young country.

The story is as upsetting as it is distasteful. Sad, sad, sad. The civilized shown up for their raw animism and the "uncivilized" pay the price for being behind the curve. I visited the Central Africa museum in Brussels shortly after finishing this book. It is truly frightening how the Belgians place virtually all blame on a few colluding chiefs and the competing Arab slave traders. It is said that history is written by the victors and state versions are the worst - nothing but brazen propaganda. With luck some day the Congolese will tell their own story. In the meantime, Hochschild does a wonderful job.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars I bought this for my husband who says it is ...
I bought this for my husband who says it is, "Horrifying but very well written."
Published 3 days ago by Mrs P A Welham
5.0 out of 5 stars a riveting enlightening read
Not knowing the history of the Belgian Congo, this book gives an excellent insight into the greed that destroyed this part of Central Africa, it's people and it's natural... Read more
Published 24 days ago by marie boyle
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Interesting and well researched. A little slow and disjointed in parts.
Published 1 month ago by Gilla Leigh
4.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic and tragic read
A really in depth and detailed look into the horrific colonization of the Congo by one of the best history writers around.
Published 2 months ago by James Mair
5.0 out of 5 stars An inspired tale with colourful characters, An author at ...
An inspired tale with colourful characters,An author at the peak of his powers writing with such precision storytelling. book got delivered on time too
Published 2 months ago by Jeffrey Douglas
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Achievement!
This book is spellbinding, the research needed to pull it together, staggering. The content, of course, alarming and sickening. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Tim Chaney
5.0 out of 5 stars I had no idea, until I read this book
Everybody in the world should read this book. Until we do crimes against humanity will continue.
This book is well researched yet easy to digest (but hard to swallow). Read more
Published 3 months ago by Jujhar Singh
5.0 out of 5 stars Shocking and eye opener
The book is very shocking. It opens the very heart of humanity. And on how people in Europe managed to cover up the evil of humanity.
Published 3 months ago by Mr G Masauso
5.0 out of 5 stars Horrific, who knew?
I, (as the author admits of himself some years ago) had no idea that Belgium, under the direction of one man, committed a holocaust of unbelievable horror in Africa not that long... Read more
Published 3 months ago by M. Robins
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth Reading
I thought this was a fairly comprehensive historical account of the acquisition and exploitation of the Congo by the royal family of Belgium. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Nico
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