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King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa Paperback – Unabridged, 2 Feb 2012

4.6 out of 5 stars 96 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Pan; Main Market Ed. edition (2 Feb. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1447211359
  • ISBN-13: 978-1447211358
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.5 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (96 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 7,569 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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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

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

"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." --The Guardian

"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

"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." --The Observer

"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

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

"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." --The Mail on Sunday

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

"Hochschild's outstanding study, unmatched by any other work on the Congo, reveals how all Europe--and the USA--contributed to the making of King Leopold's holocaust of the Congolese people."
--Nadine Gordimer

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book was somewhat of a revelation when it was first published back in 1998, Hochschild managed to do what no Belgian had done before him, expose the true horror and the devastation wreaked by their former ruler, King Leopold II. There were many aspects that made his expansionism a fairly unique scenario, Leopold had never once set foot in the vast country and it was also regarded as his own personal property and not a Belgian colony. Not only that, but all of this was given the full blessing of an incompetent and ignorant US president as well as many other European leaders.

The situation in the Congo was already bad when Leopold and his men got a thirst for the cheap (often free) access to huge amounts of ivory, but far worse was still to come for the people of the Congo, in the advent of tyres. The growing global demand triggered a chaotic and murderous scramble for rubber and this is when the heartless madness really amped up in the region and would result in the deaths and displacement of millions of innocent men, women and children.

A number of disastrous ventures pepper this book, whether it’s one of Stanley’s many bungling expeditions, like the Emin Pasha Relief or the building of the railroads, where thousands of natives perished and hundreds of whites died too and many cemeteries lined the edges of the tracks as a result.

Hochschild introduces us to a whole panoply of truly awful characters. Starting off with Henry Morton Stanley, we get a fascinating insight into his terribly cruel and impoverished beginnings in Victorian Britain and we see how his brutal and grim upbringing would impact on his adult life.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a beautiful book that uncovers one of gravest pillage, rape and injustices of recent human history. The negligence of what I call "Africa injustices" in editors of the global system is staggering.

One problem i have with the book is that the collection of stories and accounts that makes up this volume are told almost exclusively from the "benevolent White man's view". Missionaries. Good Europeans. Good Americans, there is something old about that. This is a serious problem because it cuts across all spheres of relations - western international aid and so-called international development organizations are created to help the "poor and voiceless Africans. Bono, World Bank and IMF. And it is not true that local accounts are inaccessible on the Leopold pillage - there was a book published 1909 by a Congo native (I will provide the name if i remember) on this subject AND more local account if you dig deeper. This idea that the suffering Africans have to be rescued by the benevolent European either in lost history or the present economic problems is problematic and deeply rooted in a nameless idea that renders Africans passive and unable to tell their own stories. The problem is that, if this book was written by Africans none of you guys would have paid for it. There is something rotten about that. The effort to do it for them is actually denying them the space to act.

But to stay on the book, well researched and almost perfectly written. Hochschild is a good writer and i like the way he tackles Stanley who is almost a cult in British exploration history. I would have liked him to focus a little more on the role of Catholic Church and the pope in providing the moral backup needed for the atrocities Leopold committed.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A shocking heart rending book which gives a real understanding of Leopolds Congo. It's an area we don't know enough about
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I thought this was a fairly comprehensive historical account of the acquisition and exploitation of the Congo by the royal family of Belgium. The book graphically describes the scale and extent of brutality that befell the people of the Congo at the hands of King Leopold's representatives and in the name of profit. Worth reading.
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Format: Paperback
A masterly work looking at the hideous colonial rule of the Congo by the Belgians. King Leopold II was a dissatisfied monarch of a small land, casting about for colonies to give him money and prestige. Alerted to the vast area and possibilities of the Congo Basin by recent explorations by Henry Moreton Stanley, Leopold made it his mission to acquire the region.
This was not (originally) a Belgian possession but "a secretive royal fief". Leopold was a master propagandist, calming the fears of other European powers by focussing on his philanthropic motives for entering the Congo. In reality, his interests lay in the ivory, the rubber and the potential for slave labour. Reports on the actual awful goings-on - the murders, floggings, mutilations and people worked to death - were largely quashed by Leopold's charm, his bribes and his seeming kindly nature.
A few heroes made a stand against him however, notably ED Morel and Roger Casement (who I'd only heard of as an Irish 'traitor' before - he was actually a fine and principled individual on this matter.)
Very readable book on a topic that has been conveniently forgotten.
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