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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

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2,880952,006 (4.3)235
Recently added byprivate library, HollandseClub, AdamHyatt, JEEmerson, starbox, rbachman
  1. 70
    Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (chrisharpe)
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    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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Showing 1-5 of 90 (next | show all)
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 |
Tragically, inhumanity on an epic scale is not reserved to a single time or a single place. Which is why Francis Ford Coppola could so effortlessly pluck Kurtz out of Joseph Conrad’s Africa and deposit him into the Southeast Asian milieu of Apocalypse Now. The original Kurtz of Heart of Darkness was indeed a fictional character, but nevertheless served as an emblem of authenticity for historic individuals, actual events, a specific geography and an almost unimaginable cruelty that has been virtually forgotten by much of the world, even by the descendants of the victims. In King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terrorism and Heroism in Colonial Africa, Adam Hochschild forces us to remember.
During the mad scramble for Africa in the late nineteenth century, European powers ruthlessly carved up the continent into colonial possessions irrespective of historic boundaries or tribal loyalties. But the Congo, where Conrad’s visit found inspiration for Kurtz, was not one of those colonies. It was rather quite remarkably and singularly the vast personal fiefdom of Belgium’s King Leopold II, a constitutional monarch with almost no political power at home, who managed to create his very own African empire and milked it for everything he could with a terror machine worthy of envy by the worst later twentieth century totalitarians. If this is a book of heroes and villains – although Hochschild is too much a student of nuance and complexity to paint with such a broad brush – Leopold was indeed a great villain. Still another was the famed explorer Henry Morton Stanley, of Stanley and Livingstone fame, who manufactured his own identity, managed to serve and subsequently desert from both sides in the American Civil War, routinely brutalized natives on expedition, had such a streak of sadism that he once fed his dog its own tail that he had severed – and through his efforts nearly single-handedly secured the Congo for Leopold to menace and exploit.
But these two pale in comparison to the agents of Leopold’s rule who squeezed the territory and its hapless population for every last drop of wealth, from an initial focus on ivory to the exploding market for rubber. A review such as this is too limited in scope to contain even a summary of all of the atrocities committed in this regard, and it would take a thick tome of single-spaced text in a tiny font to list all of the otherwise nameless and colorless Kurtz’s who dispassionately carried out the long litany of crimes against humanity that characterized Leopold’s rule of the Congo, often magistrates or members of what was called the Force Publique. Some of the more notable mounted heads on poles or collected skulls as souvenirs, inspiring Conrad, but most – like Hitler’s bureaucrats or Stalin’s executioners – were easily forgotten anonymous murderers who quietly went about their sanguinary duties. Hochschild cites Primo Levi’s observations of his Auschwitz experience: “Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the . . . functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.” [p121]
Leopold successfully disguised his appropriation of a huge chunk of Africa for his personal domain through a disingenuous campaign against slavery by Arab traders. But through a clever sleight of hand it was Leopold who enslaved the native population, compelling them to forced labor in unimaginably inhumane conditions, chained together by the neck and routinely punished with hundreds of lashes by a rawhide whip known as a chicotte, while conducting mass campaigns of extermination against those who resisted or ran away. The Force Publique were issued rations of bullets and expected to return with either unused shells or the severed right hands of those they had killed. Thousands of hands were collected, in some cases from living human beings. It was a terror on a scale never before seen on the continent.
There were also heroes, white and black, although like most heroic figures in history they remained unrewarded in life. Leopold’s forces were quite formidable, as were his public relations resources. Still, eventually an odd alliance of brave souls – a black American missionary, a British agitator and journalist, and a British Consul with grave secrets – gradually brought to light the misdeeds that plagued the Congo and spurred an international effort towards redress. The latter, a descendant of the nineteenth century anti-slavery crusade, was the last great Pan-European human rights movement of that era and ultimately proved successful, more or less, by forcing Leopold to divest himself of the Congo, which became a colony of Belgium and saw the end of the worst kinds of abuses that once ran rampant there. This movement is also largely forgotten, along with the cruelties it sought to relieve, eclipsed in human memory by the greater horrors of World War I and sympathy for the victimized and overrun Belgium.
The exploitation of the Congo continued, however, although the terror was much diminished. Few even among the reformers recognized the greater crimes of colonialism and the abuses it spawned. Towards the end of this outstanding book, Hochschild reminds us that although Europe rose in righteous indignation at Leopold’s cruelties, it turned a blind eye to much of the rest of the crimes against humanity that raged in colonial Africa and beyond, including the 1904 mass extermination of tens of thousands of Hereros in German South West Africa, today’s Namibia. The British massacre of aborigines in Australia hardly caused a stir. Few noticed as the United States pursued a counter-guerrilla effort in the Philippines “that killed 20,000 rebels and saw 200,000 more Filipinos die of war-related hunger or disease.” [p282] There were plenty of villains to go around, usually masked by the bureaucracy of the state rather than the figure of a single individual such as Leopold.
As for the heroes, they are forgotten also. The journalist Edmund Morel (who resurfaces in Hochschild’s magnificent book, To End All Wars) is later imprisoned for his loud opposition to England’s involvement in World War I. The Congo experience acted to springboard former British Consul Roger Casement into anticolonial agitation that crossed the line in a wartime collaboration with Germany that sought to effect Irish independence; he later served as an inspiration for Nehru but was smeared for his covert homosexuality and ended his life on the gallows. Black missionary William Sheppard, disgraced for extramarital affairs, returned to an America of second class citizenship; a white woman in his Virginia hometown reminisced that: “He was such a good darky. When he returned from Africa he remembered his place and always came to the back door.” [p283]
In the Congo, the institution of the Force Publique also persisted. When the era of colonialism ended just as the Cold War was heating up, the CIA sponsored a coup that resulted in the overthrow and death of Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba, who was seen as unfriendly to western interests. The thug recruited as a key agent in this effort was Joseph-Desiré Mobutu, a former NCO in the Force Publique, who came to power and – rewarded by US support for his staunch anti-communism – for decades afterwards terrorized and bankrupted his country. In this sense, King Leopold’s ghost is still with us.

My review of: "King Leopold’s Ghost," by Adam Hochschild, is live on my book blog http://wp.me/p5Hb6f-6Q ( )
  Garp83 | Feb 27, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 90 (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)

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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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