An insightful and well-researched account of one of the forgotten genocides in Africa. The author narrates with great warmth the tenacity of individuals such as ED Morel, who fought so hard to stop the slavery and abuse in the Congo. I had never heard of ED Morel before reading this book. Hochschild also expresses regret that he could not record the efforts of more African people who fought against the awful circumstances they found themselves in, but does draw on the rare remaining scraps of historical evidence so that their voices can be heard as far as is possible. His insights into the less savoury characters involved in the scramble for rubber in the Congo - Stanley and King Leopold - are also well-researched. He avoids demonising them, despite his abhorrence of their behaviour and values, which few people in Europe would have challenged at the time. A masterful analysis of a much forgotten genocide.
I purchased this book after reading The Heart of Darkness by Conrad (this is the book that was the inspiration for the film Apocalypse Now). Believe me this book is far more interesting and sinister than the fiction. It tells of the way in which King Leopold treated this part of Africa as his personnel source of income, attempting to cover up the acts of slavery, torture and exploitation by presenting his interests and actions as those of a benevolent monarch. For many years he was answerable to no one and his legacy still lingers. It also has parallels in today's world of mass exploitation e.g. For "rubber" read "palm oil" for just one example. The similarities are disturbing to say the least.
I own both the book and kindle version and for some reason there are none of the photographs on the Kindle that are found in the paperback, which is a shame. I do not know if this is common practice with a Kindle version as i have only just got it!! Actual content of book is very good though and well worth a read!
Quite an amazing story. The 1 about the welshman,the belgian and the frenchman. ie. john rowlands, king leopold and e d morel. Morel as a clerk dealing with the stats and logistics realizes that huge wealth is being reaped and raped for virtually no cost by the King of the Belgians. The man with phenomenal energy and principles takes on Leopold and wins. Rowlands is a mere puppet who has a whole life of lying for self-promotion and destruction in trying to escape from his poverty-stricken upbringing. he helped destroy anything from 6 to 10,000,000 black lives, and he gets punished by being made an MP, then knighted and then statues raised in his dishonour. Harrowingly detailed with great sources, the author has covered his back by this ie. very difficult to attack the book by the immense research. However, the truth hurts so he still gets attacked. Once again man's inhumanity to man laid bare. Apocalypse Now and the Heart of Darkness are part of the story bringing it up to date. Another episode in the SCRAMBLE FOR AFRICA. The mutilation of that continent by the civilized europeans, just before the european civilized world war 1 maims that land. We ridicule the democracies there which are a legacy of what we have done. Rowlands cant even tell the truth about his own name.
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.
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.
The history of the Congo, Africa and even colonialism isn’t something I was ever taught in school and it’s never really been brought to my attention what’s gone on. I found the book really informative and easy to read as someone who was completely clueless about it all. Really interesting and utterly devastating what we have done to each other. Really well written and researched and I feel like it’s a book we should all read and a topic westerners should have some understanding of.
Having lived in DR Congo for 3 years I can only have wished I had had this available before spending my time there - the horror of the Leopold years of Imperial Rubber led rape of villages, and whole tracts of this wonderful country is pretty unspeakable - and is announced with full clarity by Hochschild's careful research of the archives. Lord have Mercy - a must read for any seeking to understand the legacy which this part of Africa is having to deal with.
Excellent historical accounting of what happened to the Congo Free State under Belgian King Leopold II reign. The story is so riveting it has compelled me into activism - to tell story here in Belgium. Belgians know of some of the atrocities committed against Congolese like amputations but they are not told of the systemic forced labor and other abuses that enriched Leopold. To this day there is not a single monument in all of Belgium that commemorates Congolese sacrifices. We are told Leopold was a great philanthropist, building all sorts of structures at great expense but we are never told how the financing came about. Leopold kept that information largely secret. This book helps with a bit of the unraveling and we can safely assume the money came from the blood, sweat and tears of Congolese.
My only quibble with the author is the term 'genocide' which is actually a big concern when trying to pinpoint accountability with mass death and suffering. A lot rests on how history is told with that single word. Omit the word and the history becomes a footnote. He says the death of millions of Congolese was not genocide but from a series of human rights atrocities and disease. To demonstrate the implications, for instance, take the situation with the African American in the United States. We are witnessing before our eyes lots of men dying as a result of systemic abuses - economic, social, justice, etc. Statistics tell us African American men have the life span comparable that of some Third World countries. Cities like Detroit and Baltimore are turning water off mostly in black communities because rates are too high. Because people are not connecting the dots many people are not taking the situation seriously. A huge turning of the blind-eye.
People are hung up on the idea that defining genocide is based solely on intent. As we've seen time and time and again in history ruthless systems have ways of causing mass death as a result of state sponsored policies. Genocide is really a destruction of human life on a large scale whether it is intended or not.
Everyone should read this book. It is a very carefully researched work which brings together many different strands - Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, Imperialism, Colonialism, Roger Casement, genocide, mass murder, mass enslavement, Henry Morton Stanley, slavery, "the white man's burden", I could go on.