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

4.7 out of 5 stars 87 customer reviews

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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: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 104,090 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

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

"King Leopold"s Ghost is a remarkable achievement, hugely satisfying on many levels. It overwhelmed me in the way Heart of Darkness did when I first read it--and for precisely the same reasons: as a revelation of the horror that had been hidden in the Congo." -- Paul Theroux

"A vivid, novelistic narrative that makes the reader acutely aware of the magnitude of the horror perpetrated by King Leopold and his minions."

"As Hochschild's brilliant book demonstrates, the great Congo scandal prefigured our own times . . . This book must be read and reread."--Neal Ascherson

"King Leopold's Ghost is a remarkable achievement, hugely satisfying on many levels. It overwhelmed me in the way Heart of Darkness did when I first read it--and for precisely the same reasons: as a revelation of the horror that had been hidden in the Congo." -- Paul Theroux

"King Leopold' s Ghost is a remarkable achievement, hugely satisfying on many levels. It overwhelmed me in the way Heart of Darkness did when I first read it-- and for precisely the same reasons: as a revelation of the horror that had been hidden in the Congo." -- Paul Theroux

"King Leopold& #39; s Ghost is a remarkable achievement, hugely satisfying on many levels. It overwhelmed me in the way Heart of Darkness did when I first read it& mdash; and for precisely the same reasons: as a revelation of the horror that had been hidden in the Congo." -- Paul Theroux

"Carefully researched and vigorously told, King Leopold's Ghost does what good history always does -- expands the memory of the human race."

"An enthralling story, full of fascinating characters, intense drama, high adventure, deceitful manipulations, courageous truth-telling, and splendid moral fervor . . .A work of history that reads like a novel." Christian Science Monitor
"As Hochschild's brilliant book demonstrates, the great Congo scandal prefigured our own times . . . This book must be read and reread."--Neal Ascherson The Los Angeles Times
"A vivid, novelistic narrative that makes the reader acutely aware of the magnitude of the horror perpetrated by King Leopold and his minions." The New York Times
"King Leopold s Ghost is a remarkable achievement, hugely satisfying on many levels. It overwhelmed me in the way Heart of Darkness did when I first read it and for precisely the same reasons: as a revelation of the horror that had been hidden in the Congo." -- Paul Theroux
"Carefully researched and vigorously told, King Leopold s Ghost does what good history always does -- expands the memory of the human race." The Houston Chronicle"

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4.7 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback
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.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
An instantly absorbing read, graphically telling the tale of King Leopold of Belgium’s astoundingly ambitious African empire.

The author chronicles the despotic actions displayed by those striving to achieve the king’s outrageous aspirations and paints an all too desperate political backdrop of perceived concern.

Populated with characters who better deserve a role in fiction – as their behaviour is so contrary to what is considered even barely acceptable – and dotted with curious facts – such as the first recorded use of the phrase “crimes against humanity” being used to describe the atrocities in the Belgian Congo – this is a book where history is vividly brought to life.

An horrific subject, but brilliant read.
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Format: Paperback
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.Read more ›
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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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Format: Paperback
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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