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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An emotional introduction to the history of Colonialism
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...
Published on 1 Sep 2008 by Alexandra Crampton

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32 of 38 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and appalling look at colonial history, 7 Feb 2013
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This review is from: King Leopold's Ghost: A story of greed, terror and heroism (Paperback)
This is a real page turner. I actually bought it for a friend for his birthday but couldn't give it to him before I had finished it (a couple of days late!)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The disease of of bottomless greed, 21 Jan 2013
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Well written about an era of recent history that seems to be ignored and shunted aside. Never more relevant after the atrocities of Rwanda in 1994. It reads like a Peter Hopkirk book full of indepth research which is very easy to keep up with for a layman. You put the book down, shocked by the brutality of it all and almost shamed for not knowing about it in the first place.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars King Leopold's Ghost, 6 Jan 2013
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Miss Juanita A Cox (180 Oxford Street, London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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An absolutely horrifying yet fascinating book. It provides extraordinary insights into the history of the Congo and the role played by Europeans in its destruction.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very informative and insightful, 19 Aug 2012
Finally an unbiased account of african history! Must read for students, natives of Africa or those simply interested in colonial history in this region!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A forgotten genocide., 28 Dec 2011
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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32 of 38 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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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cursed with Wealth, 21 April 2008
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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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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic history of the Heart of Darkness, 20 April 2009
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J. Milton - See all my reviews
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This book explains why Joseph Conrad wrote the Heart of Darkness during his brief forray into the Congo Free State.

It describes in immaculate, but readable, detail the establishment of the Congo Free State by King Leopold of Belgium and how he then managed to make a large fortune through torture, rape, mutilation and murder without ever stepping foot on African soil.

One wonders on reading the book what would have happened if it were not for a few noble humanitarians who exposed the Congo Free State for what it really was.

A fantastic read. Both to see what pure evil is really like and as a guide to why DR Congo is one of the least developed nations in the world today.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Valuable record of a sad man, 14 Sep 2011
The portrayal of Leopold as megalomaniac, obsessed with self aggrandisement is revealing and fascinating. Interesting that his successors were just as keen as he was to milk the country dry. A very worthwhile read.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars General lessons from particular events, 10 Jan 2011
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This is an exceptional book, relating as it does the early colonial period in the history of the Congo with the commercial exploitation, of first ivory and then rubber, as orchestrated by Leopold, King of the Belgians. The book is a serious work of scholarship, well-researched, but at the same time immensely readable. Perhaps the surprise of the book is the emphasis placed on the non-African participants in the story. The author himself highlights the relative paucity of African testimonies and the reasons for this. Despite working hard to extract what is available, there is naturally little heard from those who were conquered.

However, the book is no less fascinating as a result. What is informative and riveting at the same time is the game of chess played out on a background of human suffering by the scheming King Leopold and the irrepressible campaigners, the shipping clerk E.D. Morel, the Irishman and British Consul, Roger Casement and the complex American George Washington Williams, with a sub-cast of missionaries, politicians and other private and public figures.

The most striking lesson is the impact made by just a few dedicated opponents of this exploitation: moving governments, moving monarchies, moving mountains by a combination of passion, principle and incessant letter writing and public speaking. It is however the limitations of these heroes that makes their example both accessible and encouraging. Casement goes on to support the Germans in the First World War in a roundabout bid to liberate the Irish from the British oppressors and is hung for his troubles. Morel campaigns against the Belgian but not British activities in Africa, yet maintains a strong anti-war stance against the British Government that lands him in prison. There is no glossy shine put on these individuals and the book is the richer for its balance. Only King Leopold hides his positive side well, using the weaknesses of those around him to guide them (the explorer Henry Morton Stanley included) to do his will.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in understanding more about colonialism in Africa. In examining a specific case in depth the author illustrates a common pattern. Many of the same political tactics, for good and bad, are just as visible around the world today - albeit, as far as we know, with fewer hands and heads being cut off in the process.
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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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