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King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed,…

King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial… (1998)

by Adam Hochschild

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,932961,961 (4.3)239
  1. 70
    Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (chrisharpe)
  2. 40
    Exterminate All the Brutes by Sven Lindqvist (Anonymous user)
  3. 30
    We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch (paulkid)
    paulkid: Complementary accounts of international interest in Central Africa's material resources, but disinterest in its people.
  4. 10
    Congo: The Epic History of a People by David Van Reybrouck (otori)
  5. 00
    Presbyterian Pioneers in Congo by William H. Sheppard (Stbalbach)
    Stbalbach: Sheppard's book is discussed in King Leopold's Ghost. It's a vivid account and visually interesting to use Google Maps to track Sheppard's trail through the Congo.
  6. 00
    The Inheritors by Joseph Conrad (bertilak)
    bertilak: A character in The Inheritors by Conrad and Ford is based upon Leopold II, King of the Belgians
  7. 00
    Tears of the Tree: The Story of Rubber--A Modern Marvel by John Loadman (KayCliff)

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» See also 239 mentions

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Showing 1-5 of 91 (next | show all)
"A fine chance to secure for ourselves a slice of this magnificent African cake"
By sally tarbox on 4 April 2017
Format: Kindle Edition
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. ( )
  starbox | Apr 3, 2017 |
Essential history of the horror of Congolese history in colonial times. The King of Belgium wanted to make his country a colonial power. At the same time, the boom in demand for rubber created a market for exactly the product that he could "harvest" from the area around the Congo river. King Leopold ended up with a reputation as a humanitarian for "suppressing the slave trade" as well as making a fortune off of rubber. 10 million Congolese ended up dead. ( )
  kaitanya64 | Jan 3, 2017 |
‘Exterminate all the brutes!’ – Kurtz

A very readable summary of one of the first real international human rights campaigns, a campaign focussed on that vast slab of central Africa once owned, not by Belgium, but personally by the Belgian King. The Congo Free State was a handy microcosm of colonialism in its most extreme and polarised form: political control subsumed into corporate control, natural resources removed wholesale, local peoples dispossessed of their lands, their freedom, their lives. To ensure the speediest monetisation of the region's ivory and rubber, about half its population – some ten million people – was worked to death or otherwise killed. And things were no picnic for the other half.

Hochschild's readability, though, rests on a novelistic tendency to cast characters squarely as heroes or villains. Even physical descriptions and reported speech are heavily editorialised: Henry Morton Stanley ‘snorts’ or ‘explodes’, Leopold II ‘schemes’, while of photographs of the virtuous campaigner ED Morel, we are told that his ‘dark eyes blazed with indignation’. This stuff weakens rather than strengthens the arguments and I could have done without it. Similarly, frequent references to Stalin or the Holocaust leave a reader with the vague idea that Leopold was some kind of genocidal ogre; in fact, his interest was in profits, not genocide, and his attitude to the Congolese was not one of extermination but ‘merely’ one of complete unconcern.

Perhaps most unfortunate of all, the reliance on written records naturally foregrounds the colonial administrators and Western campaigners, and correspondingly – as Hochschild recognises in his afterword – ‘seems to diminish the centrality of the Congolese themselves’. This is not a problem one finds with David van Reybrouck's Congo: The Epic History of a People, where the treatment of the Free State is shorter but feels more balanced. (Van Reybrouck, incidentally, regards Hochschild's account as ‘very black and white’ and refers ambiguously to its ‘talent for generating dismay’.)

For all these problems, though, this is a book that succeeds brilliantly in its objective, which was to raise awareness of a period that was not being much discussed. It remains one of the few popular history books to have genuinely brought something out of the obscurity of academic journals and into widespread popular awareness, and it's often eye-opening in the details it uncovers about one of the most appalling chapters in colonial history. The success is deserved – it's a very emotional and necessary corrective to what Hochschild identifies as the ‘deliberate forgetting’ which so many colonial powers have, consciously or otherwise, taken part in. ( )
2 vote Widsith | Aug 2, 2016 |
Easy reading and a very well structured book. The writer enriched the historical characters describing curiosities and bizarre facts about their life, e.g. the heroic explorer Stanley and the Belgian King Leopold that were described not only by historical facts but also using information from other sources that help us (the reader) to draw a better personality picture of them.
A great read, even though we know from the start that the author was determined to prove his point of view on King Leopold
( )
  palu | Jul 9, 2016 |
A horrific account of one man's greed. King Leopold II of Belgium seemed to be after a colony from day one. He found it in the Congo. The book talks about Leopold's unhappiness with his domestic life, and his seemingly incessant need to make up for it with his colonial venture. He literally tried to dry up the Congo's reserves of ivory and rubber, all at the cost of the Congolese people, who suffered starvation, severed hands, death, and other horrible things.

It's a fascinating look at the life of an unsatisfied man and his mission to satisfy his money lust. ( )
  briandrewz | Jul 1, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 91 (next | show all)
Although much of the material in "King Leopold's Ghost" is secondhand -- the author has drawn heavily from Jules Marchal's scholarly four-volume history of turn-of-the-century Congo and from "The Scramble for Africa," Thomas Pakenham's wide-ranging 1991 study of the European conquest of the continent -- Hochschild has stitched it together into a vivid, novelistic narrative that makes the reader acutely aware of the magnitude of the horror perpetrated by King Leopold and his minions.
Adam Hochschild's "King Leopold's Ghost" is an absorbing and horrifying account of the traffic in human misery that went on in Leopold's so-called Congo Free State, and of the efforts of a handful of heroic crusaders to bring the atrocities to light. Among other things, it stands as a reminder of how quickly enormities can be forgotten.
added by lorax | editSan Francisco Gate, Luc Sante (Sep 27, 1998)

» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Adam Hochschildprimary authorall editionscalculated
Björkegren, HansTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For David Hunter (1916-2000).
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The beginnings of this story lie far back in time, and its reverberations still sound today.
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Congo, de grootste en wat bodemschatten betreft de rijkste staat van Midden-Afrika, dankt zijn ontstaan aan een man, nl. de Belgische koning Leopold II. Door uiterst gewiekst te opereren wist hij op de Conferentie van Berlijn (1884/85) internationale erkenning te krijgen voor de Congo Vrijstaat, een staat die in feite niets anders was dan zijn privé kolonie. Onder het mom van strijd tegen de Arabische slavenhandel en het brengen van beschaving vestigde de koning een waar schrikbewind. Dwangarbeid, onderdrukken van opstanden, willekeurige executies, honger, ziekten en uitputting eisten een zware tol. Deze verschrikkingen leidden tot het ontstaan van een internationale protestbeweging. Mede onder de druk van deze beweging besloot de koning Congo te verkopen aan de Belgische staat. Dit boek geeft een uitstekende beschrijving zowel van de geschiedenis van de Congo Vrijstaat alsmede van die van de internationale protestbeweging. De levenslopen van de hoofdrolspelers maken deel uit van de beschrijving. De S. heeft vele bronnen geraadpleegd. Het resultaat is een uitzonderlijk waardevol boek dat wetenschappelijk verantwoord is zonder dat dit ten koste gaat van de leesbaarheid.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0618001905, Paperback)

King Leopold of Belgium, writes historian Adam Hochschild in this grim history, did not much care for his native land or his subjects, all of which he dismissed as "small country, small people." Even so, he searched the globe to find a colony for Belgium, frantic that the scramble of other European powers for overseas dominions in Africa and Asia would leave nothing for himself or his people. When he eventually found a suitable location in what would become the Belgian Congo, later known as Zaire and now simply as Congo, Leopold set about establishing a rule of terror that would culminate in the deaths of 4 to 8 million indigenous people, "a death toll," Hochschild writes, "of Holocaust dimensions." Those who survived went to work mining ore or harvesting rubber, yielding a fortune for the Belgian king, who salted away billions of dollars in hidden bank accounts throughout the world. Hochschild's fine book of historical inquiry, which draws heavily on eyewitness accounts of the colonialists' savagery, brings this little-studied episode in European and African history into new light. --Gregory McNamee

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:26 -0400)

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Documents the plundering of the territory.

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