King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa Hardcover – September 1, 1998
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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The story is just incredible. Chronologically, Hochschild does a great job at tying together a complex story over decades and even centuries, beginning with tale of the European discovery of the Congo river and then honing in on Leopold's obsession with colonial expansion and the Congo specifically. He describes the casual brutality of Leopold's regime extremely effectively before skillfully introducing the figures in the movement that rose up to make the world aware of what was happening in Africa. Along the way, the author does a great job of putting the events into historical context and addressing likely counterarguments made be pro-Leopold sources (e.g. why there was outrage about the Congo specifically despite equally brutal colonial regimes elsewhere in Africa, the pre-existence of continental African slavery, etc). Hochschild does a great job of developing characters and presents a mountain of irrefutable evidence to back up his main arguments, all of which is done in an extremely engaging manner. The author's epilogue, written 10 years after the initial publication, is also even handed and insightful.
If I have any complaint with the book, it's that the author sometimes makes leaps of judgement in the narrative that aren't necessary, especially when it comes to speculating whether certain characters in the story previously l crossed paths or allowed specific people/events to privately influence their decisions. The story is compelling enough without these speculations. He also (rightfully) demonizes Leopold and other figures in the regime, but spends less time characterizing anti-colonial figures whose backgrounds and personal lives are shady at best. While certain players are demonstrably more despicable than others, I felt that Hochschild could have been a little more even handed in describing the faults of his protagonists at times, if for nothing else than to appear more impartial as a narrator and derail his critics.
Overall, the book is outstanding and I would recommend it to anybody looking for a fast paced story, context about the European scramble for Africa, or insight as to how Africa developed through the 20th century.
Top international reviews
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!
Rowlands cant even tell the truth about his own name.
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.
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.
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.
I could write a much longer and exhaustive review, but this this book is just so gripping, powerful and eye-opening that even asking you to read these is words is keeping you from something that will bring you, as a human being, to a higher level of consciousness.
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.
Buy, read and talk about this book.
This book still remains of the most difficult books that I have ventured to open and read.
It is written, "the heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked."
Many lost their lives in the line of desperate greed, well there is nothing new under the sun.
For what is in the past is still in the present.