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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A mighty history of a mighty country, 17 July 2014
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This review is from: Congo (Paperback)
From the explorer and colonial operator Stanley’s activities until 2010, David Van Reybrouck’s book covers 140 years of life and, it must be said, a horrific amount of death in the Congo. Almost as epic as the history of its subtitle, ‘Congo’ is a thrilling and informative read.

As you’d expect, the book includes all the tropes of Central Africa down the years: the violence and corruption; the exploitation and the greed; institutional frailty and the fecklessness of politicians; the cruelty, chaos and waste. But there is much more here, and a lot of it surprising right up to the last chapter, a coda set in the Chinese powerhouse metropolis of Guangzhou.

Van Reybrouck’s approach has been to overcome acronym-fatigue by personalising his account as far as possible, so that his impressive sifting of secondary sources is leavened with episodes from his travels to the four corners of Congo over several years. In fact the glory of the book is the author’s first-person interviews with a whole string of engaging Congolese characters, of all ages and from all walks of life.

It would be churlish to deduct a star for the numerous typographical errors and occasional clunkiness of the English version (surely not down to the translator, who has also produced wonderful renderings of Otto de Kat’s novels). This is a piece of work that transcends such gripes. Africa’s second largest country is increasingly receiving the historiographical and literary attention it deserves and this book is a glittering addition to the canon.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Best all in one Congo title... but better works for specific epochs, 14 Nov. 2014
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Giles M. Smith (Zurich, CH) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Congo (Hardcover)
Having raced through a number of books on the Congo, I can say for completeness this has the title pipped. For particular epochs of the Congolese history there are however better. David van Reybrouck 'beginning to end' story gives you - in a large volume - a real A-Z of Congo and the FULL story. The pre-Mobutu part (60% of the book) is as good as you will find, with the chapters covering the process of independence to Mobutu taking full control the notably highlight in writing, research scope and narrative. From there onward into the civil wars and Congo today the book becomes in part a series of interviews and observations. All very readable with first class writing and insights.

For a shorter history and better starter I would recommend In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz. For Congo post Mobutu there is no beating Dancing in the Glory of Monsters. If you want it all in one volume and are not put off by the size, go with David van Reybrouck brilliant work.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb work of modern history, 3 Dec. 2014
This review is from: Congo (Hardcover)
It is a pity that the Congo elicits such little interest in the West. It is the eleventh largest country in the world, is home to 77 million people, and contains vast mineral resources, including many scarce and strategically important metals. It is positioned in the very heart of Africa. Not the least pity of it is that so few people will ever read this superb book. Van Reybrouck has chronicled the story of this huge territory from pre-colonial times right up to today. He tells this epic with incredible clarity and lucidity, unpicking the many complex strands with admirable focus. He manages to range from superpower interests and big-power politics all the way to the authentic voice of ordinary Congolese who have been eyewitnesses to their history, without ever losing the plot. Most impressive of all, despite being the son of a Belgian colonist, he has achieved a remarkable neutrality: fairness, sympathy, compassion and an understanding of all sides, while entirely clear-eyed about their stupidities, their cruelties, and their failures. In this work - a terrific fusion of primary and secondary sources - Van Reybrouck has done the Congo itself a true service. Future Congolese will undoubtedly return to it time and again to understand their past. But in this highly intelligent analysis and narrative, Van Reybrouck goes beyond the Congo itself to offer us perhaps one of the best cogitations ever on the whole subject of the west and its relations with its colonial past, and one of the most insightful discussions of the challenges besetting post-colonial societies. I really can't recommend it too highly - read it even you know nothing or care nothing about the Congo. You will be greatly enriched.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars superb, 25 April 2014
This review is from: Congo (Hardcover)
though this is a book about a country that was sunk from the start corrupt government,cronyism,tyranny,factionalism and endless war.the way the book is written with loads of interviews with a wide range of people still leaves you with hope,the author manages to chronicle the story in a very readable way showing more than a cold history
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5.0 out of 5 stars Van Reybrouck's is an epic tale!, 16 Sept. 2014
This review is from: Congo (Hardcover)
This is a great book! It is a stimulating non-patronising read whose only purpose is to contextualize one of the greatest tragedies of Africa, or humanity for that matter. I found the personalised anecdotes very enriching to the story as they enabled me to connect with the lives of a people whose choices have been profoundly affected by decisions they had little to do with. Van Reybrouck captures certain nuances that clarify the mess that has been Congo since before colonisation. I was unable to put it down once I picked it off a shelf at an airport terminal. It's a book I would recommend any day to any person interested in history.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fine history of Congo, 19 Jun. 2014
By 
William Podmore (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Congo (Hardcover)
This is an excellent, and very readable, history of the Congo since 1870.

In the Congo Free State, “with profit maximization as the alpha and omega of the entire enterprise, people at all levels of the administration were pressured to collect more taxes, bring in more rubber, tighten the thumbscrews even further.” The estimated ten million deaths were the result of “a perfidious, rapacious policy of exploitation, a living sacrifice on the altar of the pathological pursuit of profit.”

The Belgian state mercilessly crushed strikes in 1941, 1944 and 1945, killing hundreds of workers. When in 1960 the people elected an anti-colonialist president, “U.S. president Eisenhower personally ordered the CIA to liquidate Lumumba.” The US government was allied with the dictator Mobutu from 1960. Britain, France and Belgium backed him too.

In 1976, the IMF imposed its usual programme on Congo, with the usual results. GNP per head fell from $600 in 1980 to $200 in 1985. Teacher numbers fell from 285,000 to 126,000.

In the 1990s, “The old-fangled cynicism that the Clinton administration wanted to do away with made way for a new-fangled cynicism: humanitarian in its intentions, highly naïve in its analyses and therefore disastrous in its consequences. .... The backing for Rwanda and the rebels would unleash years of misery.” But it was humanitarian only in its rhetoric and not naïve at all - how can cynicism be naïve? – and yes, disastrous in its consequences.

The US-backed, US-trained and US-armed Paul Kagame of the Rwandan Patriotic Front helped to overthrow Uganda’s President Obote. The RPF then killed Rwanda’s president, invaded Rwanda, leading to the killing of a million civilians, seized power there and then attacked Congo, starting the Second Congo War (1997-2002), in which 5.4 million people were killed.

A 2002 UN report concluded, “These deaths are a direct result of the occupation by Rwanda and Uganda.” The US, British, French and Dutch governments all backed Kagame: they share the responsibility for the deaths.

The French government protected the perpetrators of genocide. The author writes, “The chronic conflict has now lasted for more than fifteen years. The suffering in the area around the Great Lakes can be traced back to that fateful day in spring 1994 when the French government decided to allow the Hutu regime to escape to eastern Congo, weapons and all.”

Van Reybrouck sums up, “The economic history of Congo is one of improbably lucky breaks. But also of improbably great misery. As a rule, not a drop of the fabulous profits trickled down to the larger part of the population.” Foreign powers have always looted Congo’s wealth, rubber and ivory in the 19th century, copper, cobalt and coltan now. As he points out, “Free trade, as roundly promulgated for decades by the prophets of the international economic institutions, could be a form of plunder as well.”

For many years, the IMF demanded that Congo repay the $13 billion debt to the IMF and World Bank, run up by Mobutu. In 2007, China and Congo agreed a joint venture – China would invest $9 billion in Congo’s railways, hospitals, housing and universities, and Congo would excavate ten million metric tons of copper and 600,000 metric tons of cobalt. Then in 2009 the IMF agreed to demand ‘only’ $4 billion, if Congo revised its contract with China. Subsequently, China cut its investment by $3 billion.
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Congo
Congo by David van Reybrouck (Hardcover - 27 Mar. 2014)
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