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on 19 June 2007
I wish to take issue with Bwana Bunduki. Anderson's book was about more than the use of law in counter-insurgency. It detailed, as few other books have done, the extraordinary complexity of the Kenya crisis, with deep insight into what divided the Kikuyu people. It went on to analyse the great divisions on the British side, between senior judges and senior policemen, and generals, on the one hand, most of whom tried to uphold the laws of war and, on the other, magistrates, members of the security forces and, perhaps above all, the Provincial Administration who judged that loyalty to their Kikuyu allies required that the former avert their eyes from, and connive in the cover-ups, of the misdeeds of the latter. While Anderson is unsparing in his criticism, he is also deeply compassionate towards the victims of both Mau Mau and of British counter-insurgency, conscious of the historian's duty to understand, and sympathise with the conflicting demands of the past, as much as to pass judgment. The judgments he arrives at are, very properly, largely from the mouths of British actors at the time.
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on 19 June 2007
This book is a powerful, revelatory and balanced account of the Mau Mau rebellion and the British response to it. Because Anderson's conclusions are grounded in documentary evidence produced by the colonial authorities, his criticisms of the counter-insurgency campaign carry much weight. Well-written and incisive, Anderson treats all of his subjects judiciously and in an even-handed manner. This book is undeserving of the misguided criticisms made of it by Bwana Bunduki below. This is a fine example of historical scholarship at its very best.
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on 22 July 2013
Ten years ago I was played a recording of a 1957 talk about the Mau Mau uprising. Years later as I studied various aspects of history I started to question what I had been told. It prompted me to read more about the history of Kenya and Africa and I have to say this book is one of the best I have read. Yes, I still have 90% to read but already this is a book I struggle to put down. The author honestly and openly presents the facts and openly admits when opinion is given, he doesn't try to disguise opinions as facts and this work can only help to heal many deep wounds... if only we would listen.
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on 19 June 2007
For those interested in the historical and social processes through which the law becomes the condition of possibility for the extreme persecution not only of political adversaries but of entire categories of citizens, read "Histories of the Hanged." Anderson has provided a careful interrogation of the colonial legal record that seriously undermines any easy claim to the legitimacy of systematic and lethal state force carried out in the name of the law.
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on 7 May 2015
Outstanding work and strongly based on primary sources. The anger at the excesses of both sides sometimes shows, but why should it not? A very balanced book in a field full of partisan comment, even from historians from respectable universities.
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on 23 June 2007
Anderson's 'Histories of The Hanged' is captivating. It details a part of Kenyan history which has until recently been overlooked and misunderstood, and is therefore a vital read. Though packed with academically useful insights and information, it is also accessible to even the most casual of audiences. It is a useful read for Kenyans and non-Kenyans alike.
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on 21 June 2007
David Anderson's 'Histories of the Hanged' offers what most other narratives of this period have failed to do: a highly complex, balanced, and rigorously documented account of Mau Mau. His analysis of the counter-insurgency is detailed; and given the world we live in today, his assessment of the use of law to justify increasingly repressive measures in the name of security is important. It is a finely balanced narrative, which combines a passionate commitment to addressing some of the misconceptions and myths that have grown up about this period in Kenya's history, without losing a deep sense of sympathy and outrage at the violence perpetrated by all sides.

An excellent work for academic and non-academic audiences alike. Thoroughly recommended.
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on 15 June 2006
The early chapters of Anderson book give a concise background to the Mau Mau emergency, rooting it in the land hunger of the Kikuyu people, exacerbated by land seizures, population growth and the expulsion of Africans from white-owned farms and the towns. He includes a survey of Kikuyu political mobilisation from the 1920s and their growing frustration with government stonewalling.

The main section contains a harrowing account of the use of the death penalty to combat the Mau Mau insurrection. Anderson draws particular attention to the extension of the death penalty from murder to new offences, and its use as a political weapon.

Anderson is best when he lets the testimonies of the trials speak for themselves. Although he is generally fair in presenting the evidence, his conclusions seem to treat those condemned largely as victims. There were something like 2,000 Kenyans murdered by Mau Mau, who were the truer victims. He presents some evidence of judicial bias, dubious evidence, excessive punishment and failure to follow due process, although many of the most unjust sentences were overturned on appeal. Many of those convicted where in fact guilty of the crimes charged, and much of Anderson's objection seems to be to the use of the death penalty.

One of the less satisfactory parts of the book is Anderson's attempt to argue that Britain was hanging Kenyans when abolishing capital punishment at home, but this seems to misrepresent the general support for hanging in Britain until after the 1950s. Another is his treatment of the Lari massacre, where he says the killers (mainly of women and children) were calling to account the chiefs guilty of corruption in land distribution. Other writers have suggested a less simplistic interpretation of the background to the massacre, but using a phrase like "call to account" for what was mass murder is taking moral relativism too far. Finally, although Anderson identifies land hunger as a cause of discontent, and notes that many Kikuyu had less access to land after the Mau Mau struggle, he does not examine the broader issue of access to land in modern African societies, whether Kenya, Zimbabwe or elsewhere.

Despite his agenda of rehabilitating the Mau Mau condemned and his repugnance for capital punishment (which is of the present century, not the 1950s) this is still a book worth reading for its evidence, but draw your own conclusions.
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on 9 January 2007
This is a somewhat more subdued and reasoned account of the Kenya Emergency that Elkins' "Britains Gulag". This is not to say that it is by any means the best account of the Emergency, since it still revels in histrionic language such as "dirty war". All counter-insurgencies are dirty, as are all civil wars, and Kenya was no exception - a rebellion against Britain and civil war amongst the Kikuyu combined.

What really is missed in this book is the very significance of fact that Britain used the force of law, not just the force of arms, to defeat the Mau Mau. The Attorney General of Kenya was exceptionally careful not to allow the government to excede their lawful powers, and insisted that all trials that took place were rigorously within the norms of civilian justice. Many Mau Mau were acquitted for lack of evidence, a point that this book skims over. Doubtless there were mistakes and miscarriages of justice - and perhaps that brings in the whole issue of the moral status of the death penalty - but what the book fails to convey is that given the dire danger facing Kenya from the Mau Mau, the campaign against Mau Mau was conducted with remarkable restraint and regard for the legal process. Those who were hanged had a trial, unlike the thousans of Africans butchered by the Mau Mau.
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on 3 December 2006
Anderson presents his reader with a wonderfully detailed account of the Mau Mau trials and their concequences for all of Kenya. However Anderson's real strength is in his ability to put accross precise information in an interesting, engaging manner, and with a fantastic turn of phrase.
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