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

by Adam Hochschild

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3,6761132,399 (4.3)258
In the 1880s, as the European powers were carving up Africa, King Leopold II of Belgium seized for himself the vast and mostly unexplored territory surrounding the Congo River. Carrying out a genocidal plundering of the Congo, he looted its rubber, brutalized its people, and ultimately slashed its population by ten million--all the while shrewdly cultivating his reputation as a great humanitarian. Heroic efforts to expose these crimes eventually led to the first great human rights movementof the twentieth century, in which everyone from Mark Twain to the Archbishop of Canterbury participated. King Leopold's Ghost is the haunting account of a megalomaniac of monstrous proportions, a man as cunning, charming, and cruel as any of the great Shakespearean villains. It is also the deeply moving portrait of those who fought Leopold: a brave handful of missionaries, travelers, and young idealists who went to Africa for work or adventure and unexpectedly found themselves witnesses to a holocaust. Adam Hochschild brings this largely untold story alive with the wit and skill of a Barbara Tuchman. Like her, he knows that history often provides a far richer cast of characters than any novelist could invent. Chief among them is Edmund Morel, a young British shipping agent who went on to lead the international crusade against Leopold. Another hero of this tale, the Irish patriot Roger Casement, ended his life on a London gallows. Two courageous black Americans, George Washington Williams and William Sheppard, risked much to bring evidence of the Congo atrocities to the outside world. Sailing into the middle of the story was a young Congo River steamboat officer named Joseph Conrad. And looming above them all, the duplicitous billionaire King Leopold II. With great power and compassion, King Leopold's Ghost will brand the tragedy of the Congo--too long forgotten--onto the conscience of the West.… (more)
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    Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (chrisharpe)
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    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.
  3. 40
    Exterminate All the Brutes by Sven Lindqvist (Anonymous user)
  4. 10
    Congo: The Epic History of a People by David Van Reybrouck (otori)
  5. 00
    Presbyterian Pioneers in Congo by William Henry 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
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    Tears of the Tree: The Story of Rubber--A Modern Marvel by John Loadman (KayCliff)
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» See also 258 mentions

English (107)  Swedish (2)  Dutch (2)  Spanish (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (113)
Showing 1-5 of 107 (next | show all)
This book revolutionized my understanding of the history of the slave trade and the relationship between Europe and Africa. It's not exactly what they taught me in school... ( )
  johnthelibrarian | Aug 11, 2020 |
Countless (but not all, the author is careful to note) problems in the Congo can be traced to Belgian King Leopold’s making it his own personal property to fund his massive building projects in Belgium. The horrors are unreal and the death toll of millions rivals the worst mass killings in history. A snapshot of the effect of foreign colonialism, by king or country. Excellent research, detailed, and well-told. ( )
  KarenMonsen | Feb 16, 2020 |
Review: King Leopold Ghost by Adam Hochschild.

This was a long interesting book. I couldn’t believe some of the information I read, not just about King Leopold but other famous people who was acquainted with King Leopold. The many different characters made the book long pace but the author gave plenty of information on each character and their history and how they impacted on the world, which I found helpful. The solitude of the area and the time period brought up many happenings, good and bad. The author at the time had a hard time finding a publisher because of some of the research he accumulated was foreign to the world because many people wanted nothing to do with the Congo’s information that was carried out at that time.

King Leopold was obsessed with expanding Congo even when it was not his land. He was harsh, greedy, selfish, and insatiable and his unfair treatment towards the people in the Congo which he pressed for punishment by his officials was truly gruesome leaving many disfigured, and some without limbs. The author stated that King Leopold wasn’t the only brutal person in this book. Many Belgians never told their stories and were tired of the embarrassing extravagance and selfishness that the officials put before them.

All the information about King Leopold who seized the vast unexplored territory surrounding the Congo River was overpowering the people’s rights. He was corrupted by stealing Belgium’s main industrial lifeline of rubber; he brutalized Belgium’s people, and decreased their population by millions. ( )
  Juan-banjo | Jan 26, 2020 |
Sharp and pungent account of the colonization and exploitation of the Belgian Congo by King Leopold II, who to say the least comes across as a conniving hypocrite in this account. Little wonder it isn't popular in Belgium, but the author does a good job in marshaling the facts to argue his case. With millions dead, directly or indirectly, this is one of the forgotten demographic disasters of the colonial era. Recommended. ( )
  EricCostello | Dec 29, 2019 |
This was the best non-fiction I've read since The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, which means it's one of the top histories I've read in my life. It taught me a history I was only passingly familiar with, and it examined the legacy of slavery in a way that was engaging: not overwhelming, not oversimplifying. I cannot recommend this book strongly enough. Read it now. ( )
  jscape2000 | Jul 20, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 107 (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 (24 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hochschild, AdamAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
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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White officers were shooting villagers, sometimes to capture their women, sometimes to intimidate the survivors into working as forced laborers, and sometimes for sport. "Two Belgian Army officers saw, from the deck of their steamer, a native in a canoe some distance away...The officers made a wager of 5 pounds that they could hit the native with their rifles. Three shots were fired and the native fell dead, pierced through the head."
A Force Publique officer who passed through Fievez's post in 1894 quotes Fievez himself describing what he did when the surrounding villages failed to supply his troops with the fish and manioc he had demanded:" I made war against them. One example was enough: a hundred heads cut off, and there have been plenty of supplies at the station ever since. My goal is ultimately humanitarian. I killed a hundred people ...but that allowed five hundred others to live."
Witness Mingo of Mampoko: "While I was working at brick-making at Mampoko, twice the sentries Nkusu Lomboto and Itokwa, to punish me, pulled up my skirt and put clay in my vagina, which made me suffer greatly. The white man Likwama [a company agent named Henri Spelier] saw me with clay in my vagina. He said nothing more than,"If you die working for me, they'll throw you in the river."
Once underway, mass killing is hard to stop; it becomes a kind of sport, like hunting. Congo annals abound in cases like that of Rene de Permentier, an officer in the Equator district in the late 1890's. The Africans nicknamed him Bajunu (for bas genoux, on your knees), because he always made people kneel before him. He had all the bushes and trees cut down around his house at Bokatola so that from his porch he could use passersby for target practice. If he found a leaf in a courtyard that women prisoners had swept, he ordered a dozen of them beheaded. If he found a path in the forest not well-maintained, he ordered a child killed in the nearest village.
Two Force Publique officers, Clement Brasseur and Leon Cerckel, once ordered a man hung from a palm tree by his feet while a fire was lit beneath him and he was cooked to death. Two missionaries found one post where prisoners were killed by having resin poured over their heads, then set on fire. The list is much longer.
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In the 1880s, as the European powers were carving up Africa, King Leopold II of Belgium seized for himself the vast and mostly unexplored territory surrounding the Congo River. Carrying out a genocidal plundering of the Congo, he looted its rubber, brutalized its people, and ultimately slashed its population by ten million--all the while shrewdly cultivating his reputation as a great humanitarian. Heroic efforts to expose these crimes eventually led to the first great human rights movementof the twentieth century, in which everyone from Mark Twain to the Archbishop of Canterbury participated. King Leopold's Ghost is the haunting account of a megalomaniac of monstrous proportions, a man as cunning, charming, and cruel as any of the great Shakespearean villains. It is also the deeply moving portrait of those who fought Leopold: a brave handful of missionaries, travelers, and young idealists who went to Africa for work or adventure and unexpectedly found themselves witnesses to a holocaust. Adam Hochschild brings this largely untold story alive with the wit and skill of a Barbara Tuchman. Like her, he knows that history often provides a far richer cast of characters than any novelist could invent. Chief among them is Edmund Morel, a young British shipping agent who went on to lead the international crusade against Leopold. Another hero of this tale, the Irish patriot Roger Casement, ended his life on a London gallows. Two courageous black Americans, George Washington Williams and William Sheppard, risked much to bring evidence of the Congo atrocities to the outside world. Sailing into the middle of the story was a young Congo River steamboat officer named Joseph Conrad. And looming above them all, the duplicitous billionaire King Leopold II. With great power and compassion, King Leopold's Ghost will brand the tragedy of the Congo--too long forgotten--onto the conscience of the West.

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