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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cursed with Wealth
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...
Published on 21 April 2008 by Charles Vasey

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32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An epic theme that deserves a better treatment
The process by which the Congo was opened and colonised was unique in African history. This book details Leopold II of Belgium's acquisition and ruthless exploitation of the region as a personal fief, an undertaking that was simultaneously epic and squalid. Untold hundreds of thousands of Africans - perhaps even millions, the statistics are uncertain - died under...
Published on 23 Nov 1999


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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cursed with Wealth, 21 April 2008
By 
Charles Vasey (London, England) - See all my reviews
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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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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An emotional introduction to the history of Colonialism, 1 Sep 2008
By 
Alexandra Crampton "Alex" (Bermuda) - See all my reviews
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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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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing accomplishment, 23 Feb 2012
By 
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.

2. The Book's Effect on Me

This book's affect on me was particularly personal and poignancy given I'm a Belgian by birth (although I've spent most of my life elsewhere) and am very familiar with many of the Brussels landmarks mentioned in the books, such as the chateau de Laeken and Tervuren. More importantly, my mum, uncles and aunties were all born in what was in the 1950s Stanleyville of the then Belgian Congo. Most significantly of all, we have many artifacts in the family that were bought back to Belgium on their return - including a table which has legs made of three whole elephant tusks and a piano of pure ivory keys. While I had always had some knowledge that colonial power was an evil it took Mr Hochschild's book to make me realise how likely it is such artifacts where extracted through slavery.

In a way reading Adam Hochschild's book makes us face our own ghost's, especially if we have a European background. While I can only hope that my family and ancestors did not have a direct role or impact in this horrendous and brutal part of history, which is still being played out because of colonial 'divide and conquor' strategies - it is, to say the least, quite confronting to realise that your country and what I would think are generally mild-mannered and gracious people could have contributed to such misery and destruction.

Interestingly, when I tried to broach the book with my family, they were quick to downplay any negative talk about Belgium's colonial past - reverting to saying that Africa has always been tribal and that Belgium wasn't the only colonial power - all true but still interesting for me to see how dismissive we can be given that our generation is still somewhat profiting from a colony that only ceased about 60 years ago.

As a final thought, I'd be interested in getting other reviewer's comments/thoughts about whether we (Europeans) need to, should do or if we have any responsibility to countries such as Congo and Rwanda. Of course it's easy to say that they must take responsibility for themselves but given what I have read in this book, I am not satisfied with such a response - after all most of the wealth that flowed out of Africa was never returned when colonial powers left. What are your thoughts?

For my part, I am actively looking for a charity that specifically targets the Congo and hope to make regular donations to them. So in my own way, one Belgian is trying to make a tiny reparation for their forefather's sins.
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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
4.0 out of 5 stars Eye-opening account of a contemporary horror story., 3 Sep 2000
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A planted evil, 25 Jan 2013
By 
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The best and worst examples of humanity are in this book, 26 Jun 2012
By 
F Henwood "The bookworm that turned" (London) - See all my reviews
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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. Once established, his political acumen was able to conceal from the rest of the world the full extent of the violence and atrocity within his personal domain.

But Leopold was to meet his match. Two men struck up an alliance, a British shipping clerk E. D. Morel, who as a shipping agent based at Antwerp could see vast amounts of rubber and ivory shipped out of the Congo, in exchange for rifles and chains going in, and Roger Casement, an Irishman in British diplomatic service, who saw at first hand the extent of Leopold's depredations in the country. Together they instigated a campaign that, after various vicissitudes, out manoeuvred Leopold, who was forced to sell the colony to his own country Belgium in 1908, marking the end of the two men's campaign. They had brought the world's attention to the plight of the colony's inhabitants, but justice was not quite done. The colony went from worst to bad: although the most egregious excesses of Leopold's rule were curtailed, the colony remained in thrall to an oppressive regime which existed principally to extract the colony's wealth. The legacy of this time remains with us still.

Nowadays, the Democratic Republic of Congo supplies us with essential raw materials and unhappy headlines (when journalists can be bothered to report from there). How many people one wonders know where the country is? And of those that do know, how many know anything of its recent history? So many memories of the evils and injustices have simply fallen down the memory hole - Hochschild's book serves to rescue these from this pit, for the benefit of posterity.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A well written but disturbing history of Belgium's African history, 18 Oct 2010
The author does a remarkable job of explaining how King Leopold managed to carve out his personal empire amid the height of the scramble for Africa. The result was one of Africa's most repressive and mismanaged colonies.
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32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An epic theme that deserves a better treatment, 23 Nov 1999
By A Customer
The process by which the Congo was opened and colonised was unique in African history. This book details Leopold II of Belgium's acquisition and ruthless exploitation of the region as a personal fief, an undertaking that was simultaneously epic and squalid. Untold hundreds of thousands of Africans - perhaps even millions, the statistics are uncertain - died under conditions of the most appalling suffering to satisfy this mean-spirited egomaniac's greed. Worse still, the whole callous process, which descended at times into orgiastic sadism, was aided and abetted by a range of administrators, business interests and even missionaries. Leopold dominates the narrative, a malign, hypocritical and wealth-obsessed spider at the centre of a vast business web, busy until his deathbed in creating schemes of breath-taking ambition and of true, unadulterated evil, never visiting the lands he made a hell, never glimpsing the wretches whose lives he ruined. Almost as an aside he also very competently cheated his own Belgian subjects as part of his profit-maximisation and, when international pressure finally made continued running of the Congo as a private estate impossible, dumped it upon them, so creating the seeds of another tragedy from the 1960's onwards. Villains outnumber the heroes in the story by a substantial margin, and the efforts of the magnificent trio of E.D. Morel, Roger Casement and the Liverpool shipping magnate John Holt to expose the scandal and end the abuses were rewarded with only qualified success. This book is readable, and covers the basic facts of the story, often in a somewhat sketchy manner, but one longs repeatedly for more detail and for imposition of a firmer chronological sequence on the events described. The writing lacks a real sense and feel for Africa, its landscapes and its peoples, and indeed Thomas Packenham's treatment of the same topic in his "The Scramble for Africa", though more summary, is considerably more convincing and rewarding. An interesting footnote is that when Irish forces went to the Congo in 1960 as part of the UN response to the secession of Katanga, they did so as "The Casement Brigade" and the airbase near Dublin they flew out from has been known thereafter as the "Casement Airfield". One feels that the old champion of Congolese rights and of Irish independence would have approved fully.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Macabre but worth reading, 6 Mar 2009
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I want to say that I enjoyed this book, but enjoy is not really a word I would use when dealing with such a grim subject. King Leopold III of Belgium decided that to compensate for the fact that his country was so small, he would take a large slice of Africa and use it for his own personal fiefdom. He didn't want to visit it, he didn't especially want to bring religion to the area, he wanted to bleed it dry so he could live in even more splendor than he had grown accustomed to. By setting up several phony organisations and claiming to bring civilisation to the area, Leopold tricked countless people, companies and even entire countries into thinking that he was doing the noble thing and bringing free trade to area. Instead countless millions of African men, woman and children lost their homes, their villages, their hands, their freedom and their lives in the race for ivory and rubber while the white colonists swept up the profits.
It's an excellent book and one which goes a long way to explains the Congo's troubles but be warned, it's grim reading. The brutality meted out to the locals and the casual disregard of human life by the White officers is appalling, but it's a subject you can't shirk if you're interested in the history.
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King Leopold's Ghost: A story of greed, terror and heroism
King Leopold's Ghost: A story of greed, terror and heroism by Adam Hochschild (Paperback - 2 Feb 2012)
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