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King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa (Picador Classic)

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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 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 movement of 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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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 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 movement of 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.

30 review for King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa (Picador Classic)

  1. 4 out of 5

    William2

    A few things. First, I have read widely about Mao's Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward (40 to 70 million dead), Stalin's purges and programs of collectivization (20 million dead) and Hitler's genocide (11 million dead). I am largely unshockable. However, the avarice and deceit of King Leopold II of Belgium in the Congo (15 million dead) has been something of a revelation. I hereby enter his name in my Rogues Gallery roster. It is important that we remember what he perpetrated for his own A few things. First, I have read widely about Mao's Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward (40 to 70 million dead), Stalin's purges and programs of collectivization (20 million dead) and Hitler's genocide (11 million dead). I am largely unshockable. However, the avarice and deceit of King Leopold II of Belgium in the Congo (15 million dead) has been something of a revelation. I hereby enter his name in my Rogues Gallery roster. It is important that we remember what he perpetrated for his own personal gain. Adam Hochschild's book does an excellent job of registering these crimes in the collective memory. The book has been justly praised. Let me add my own. Also, it turns out the first great unmasker of Leopold was an American, George Washington Williams. He was a lawyer, minister, popular author and activist. He wrote an open letter to Leopold that was published in the Times in 1890 and which might have saved millions of lives had he been listened to. Williams was a man of considerable intellectual acumen and courage. Largely because he was black, however, he was ignored. I had always thought that that great whistleblower was Roger Casement. And certainly Casement's key contribution is recounted here, as is that of the great popularizer of the Congo cause, E.D. Morel, but Williams' audacious early warning was a surprise to me. I hereby enter his name into my book of latter-day Cassandras, and suggest he be given greater emphasis in all relevant texts and courses.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey Keeten

    ”The Congo in Leopold’s mind was not the one of starving porters, raped hostages, emaciated rubber slaves, and severed hands. It was the empire of his dreams, with gigantic trees, exotic animals, and inhabitants grateful for his wise rule. Instead of going there, Leopold brought the Congo—that Congo, the theatrical production of his imagination—to himself.” King Leopold II Belgium was simply not big enough for the future king. ”When he thought about the throne that would be his, he was openly ”The Congo in Leopold’s mind was not the one of starving porters, raped hostages, emaciated rubber slaves, and severed hands. It was the empire of his dreams, with gigantic trees, exotic animals, and inhabitants grateful for his wise rule. Instead of going there, Leopold brought the Congo—that Congo, the theatrical production of his imagination—to himself.” King Leopold II Belgium was simply not big enough for the future king. ”When he thought about the throne that would be his, he was openly exasperated. ‘Petit pays, petits gens’ (small country, small people), he once said of Belgium.” He watched as countries like Holland, Great Britain, France, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Germany were colonizing Africa and other exotic isles and becoming rich off the plunder. In the 1880s, he saw his chance and claimed the lands of the Congo. He did this without any kind of referandum from his people. He knew what was best for Belgium. ”Most Belgians had paid little attention to their king’s flurry of African diplomacy, but once it was over they began to realize, with surprise, that his new colony was bigger than England, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy combined. It was one thirteenth of the African continent, more than seventy-six times the size of Belgium itself.” They had no idea the level of atrocities that would be perpetrated in the name of Belgium. I’ve always thought of Leopold II as a 2nd tier genocidal maniac. I’d always reserved the 1st tier for Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, but after reading this book and hearing the estimated number 10 million associated with the deaths in the Congo, I have officially moved Leopold II to the 1st tier genocidal maniac. So why don’t we know more about Leopold II? Why don’t we see him as the genocidal maniac that we associate with the names Hitler and Stalin? Could it be because he was killing black people? Another factor is the way Leopold worked tirelessly to convince people he was a great humanitarian. He found people who would help support him in this endeavor and paid them to write reports that were favorable to his reputation in Africa. He worked equally tirelessly to squash those who came back from the Congo with the lists of atrocities they had witnessed while in Africa. The biggest thorn in Leopold’s voluminous backside turned out to be a British shipping clerk named Edmund Morel, who noticed the amount of goods coming from the Congo that were being traded or sold at prices that would not support a living wage in the Congo. The math did not add up. The only way that Leopold could be selling goods this cheaply was if they were being acquired through slave labor. Morel went on to found a paper that continued to expose Leopold’s criminal activities in the Congo. Morel hammered away at him for the rest of his life. Additionally, Roger Casement was an Irish man who risked life and limb to obtain evidence that directly refuted the rosy picture that Leopold was selling Europe. There were also two American black men, George Washington Williams and William Sheppard, who did everything they could to expose Leopold’s monstrosities to the world. There were many other people who tried their best to stop what was happening, unchecked, in the Congo. The problem was that Europe and the United States wanted to believe Leopold. The most famous book of celebrated author Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness was set in the real Leopold’s Congo. The famous character of Kurtz was based on a man Conrad met in the Congo. Should I chase butterflies today or should I lob off a few heads? ”One prototype for Conrad’s Mr. Kurtz: Léon Rom. This swashbuckling officer was known for displaying a row of severed African heads around his garden. He also wrote a book on African customs, painted portraits and landscapes, and collected butterflies.” Léon Rom was a civilized, well educated man. So how does decorating your garden with severed African heads equate with butterfly collecting and painting portraits and landscapes? Leopold flooded the Congo with the right sort of men. Mercenaries capable of chopping off hands, raping uncooperating women, murdering men, women, and children, and lashing men who didn’t bring enough rubber back from the jungle with ”the chicotte—a whip of raw, sun-dried hippopotamus hide, cut into a long sharp-edged corkscrew strip.” The strip this would cut off a man’s back, buttock, and legs would leave deep, permanent scars if the man was lucky, or in many cases unlucky, enough to live. *shudder* White men felt free of all law in the Congo. “We have liberty, independence, and life with wide horizons. Here you are free and not a mere slave of society. . . . Here one is everything!” So to live as free as one would like, one must enslave others? These men had harems, money, and status, something they could never achieve working as clerks or plumbers in Europe. In the Congo, they were warlords. They killed so many Congolese that they feared not having enough slaves to maintain the plundering of the Congo. “‘We run the risk of someday seeing our native population collapse and disappear,’ fretfully declared the permanent committee of the National Colonial Congress of Belgium that year. ‘So that we will find ourselves confronted with a kind of desert.’” It reminds me of hunters who hunted species to extinction and then bemoaned the fact that they couldn’t hunt those animals anymore. At no point did they think to themselves, maybe we are killing these animals faster than they can reproduce. So why cut off the hands? It seems counterproductive when you need these men to work. Every bullet had to be accounted for with Leopold’s mercenaries, so if a man used a bullet to kill game, he had to have an African hand to account for that bullet. Every African hand was then turned in for a reward. It is too sick to comprehend. Every country in Africa has tales of horror and outrage at the hands of European colonizers. I do believe that what happened in the Congo was by far the worst atrocities on a native population in Africa. The sad part of it is that most of us don’t know anything about it. I knew some, but I didn’t know enough. The “cake” that was Africa was cut up into portions and served to the white European countries as casually as if they were discussing the fates of Africans at a garden party with their children playing at their feet and their wives bringing them slices of the Congo, Nigeria, Kenya, Algeria, South Africa, and Senegal with which they could gorge themselves. Adam Hochschild had a difficult time getting this book published. It was as if the ghost of Leopold was still haunting and suppressing the truth. This is a brilliant and important book that exposes the truth of the Congo and the complicity which every “civilized” country played in allowing such atrocities to occur. If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten

  3. 4 out of 5

    Beata

    The book was written 20 years ago, and yet, it is so eye-opening! The theme has not been covered enough …. My idea of atrocities committed in the Congo in the second half of the 19th century were more than basic and narrowed to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, which I read (and now should re-read) but didn’t take too much interest in Conrad’s time in the Congo, which was a mistake … Author who undertakes a most difficult task to write about crimes against humanities (term used for the first ti The book was written 20 years ago, and yet, it is so eye-opening! The theme has not been covered enough …. My idea of atrocities committed in the Congo in the second half of the 19th century were more than basic and narrowed to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, which I read (and now should re-read) but didn’t take too much interest in Conrad’s time in the Congo, which was a mistake … Author who undertakes a most difficult task to write about crimes against humanities (term used for the first time by one of the 19th century journalist with regard to the Congo) pays respect to all the victims of one’s madness, greed, cruelty, indifference or hatred. And I read this book, or rather listened to it, with precise the same intention. There are several characters central to the unravelling the crimes that must be mentioned: William Sheppard, George Williams, E.D. Morel and Roger Casement. They were the first to report openly on the cruelty towards the indigenous tribes and campaign against it. Ordinary people and yet extraordinary in those days to speak and write openly of what they witnessed. I can do nothing more than pay respect to the millions of victims who happened to live in the area rich in resources exploited to the full by white men. This book is both overwhelming and depressing, however, it is one that should be read along with all the others that cover any crime against human beings. PS Writing these few sentences was not easy for me as I found this book too upsetting and painful to comment on .... Thank you to my GR Friends who drew my attention to this book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Trevor

    This is a remarkably painful book. There are a number of estimates given throughout of the extent of the extermination of people in the Congo under King Leopold – the author says perhaps 8-10 million people, but he also quotes someone who believes it might have been as many as 13 million people. This does not include, obviously enough, the children who were not born because their parents could not face bringing them into such a world. I mention this because at one point the author quotes people This is a remarkably painful book. There are a number of estimates given throughout of the extent of the extermination of people in the Congo under King Leopold – the author says perhaps 8-10 million people, but he also quotes someone who believes it might have been as many as 13 million people. This does not include, obviously enough, the children who were not born because their parents could not face bringing them into such a world. I mention this because at one point the author quotes people who say exactly that and goes on to say that one of the things people noticed at the time was the all too obvious gap in the population of the unborn. The hellish extent of the nightmare inflicted on these people by Western greed simply beggar’s belief. Kidnapping family members to force other members of their family to work for you to pay off your ransom, mutilating and whipping them when they do not reach the quotas and production targets you have set, killing people horribly for the most minor infractions – this is the horror story white people have repeated time and time again upon people in the developing world. This is the origin of Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’. And that dark heart continues to beat in our chests. What makes this story particularly disgusting is that King Leopold of Belgium was, for far too long, praised as a philanthropist and anti-slave crusader while he was turning a nation into a killing field. That is, while he was conducting one of history’s worst acts of slaughter – one where there were perhaps twice as many victims as in the holocaust – he was fated as a great and humane leader. Having just read ‘Small Change’ by Michael Edwards, it is all too easy to can see where our modern day philanthropists learnt their trade. There are heroes in this book too – none greater than the nameless Africans who fought and died unrecorded and unremembered – something the author as one of the cruel silences here. This is part of the reason I’m drawn to Critical Race Theory – written in recognition of the fact that the oppressed are too often without a voice, and so finding ways of presenting sociological research that privileges their stories and gives them voice is an act of justice and humanity. The work of W.E.B. Du Bois, and in particular his masterful ‘The Souls of Black Folk’, provides a tour-de-force of what can be achieved by such presentations of sociological research. But of the named heroes here, and I’m not saying this because I was born in Ireland, the one I found most compelling was Roger Casement. As a homosexual who lived his life in fear of being outed, as a visionary who believed the riches of the Congo should have gone to the Congolese, as a protestor against imperialist wars, it is hard to think of someone braver, more visionary or further ahead of his time. “It is dark, dark, With the swarmy feeling of African hands Minute and shrunk for export, Black on black, angrily clambering.” Silvia Plath – The Arrival of the Bee Box As always in life, it is the appallingly simple images that stay with you long after reading a book like this – and in this book the inescapable image is also a rather bizarre one – that of severed African hands that have been smoked, and also their nightmarish metaphorical doubles, made of Belgium chocolate and still sold without shame today. The hands were cut off and smoked to be given to the administrators to prove the bullets used to kill their victims had not being wasted (they mention later that the administrators were concerned that female hands were being used and so dried penises were later used as proof of kill). You can Google ‘Belgium chocolate hands’ if you have a stomach to. A couple of years ago London’s financial district offered an apology for the role it had played in the Slave Trade. It is all very nice to apologise – but there are a couple of things that make such apologies sound somewhat hollow. The first is that London continues to benefit from the money made from that trade – even today, and the benefits of those dead and tortured Africans are still tangible in glories and wealth of Europe. And yet, the apology certainly did not extend to any question of the payment of reparations for the crimes of our past that we continue to benefit from. The other uncomfortable fact is that we continue our rape of Africa and African resources even today while, just as our forefathers did whose actions we apologised for, we continue to leave those who ought to benefit from those resources destitute and worse. I will now need to read more about the US government’s murder of Patrice Lumumba – something else that, as with so many US interventions in foreign countries, provide yet another crime against humanity to be stacked against the litany of others. You know, when you invariably chose the side of the oppressor over the liberator, maybe it says something about your own preferences… This book should be compulsory reading. Not least because horror did not end a hundred years ago, it is all still happened now.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Beverly

    The best non-fiction book I've ever read. The hyphenated title on the book is a story of greed, terror and heroism in colonial Africa and that sums it up very well. Such horrific treatment including brutal maiming and killing of workers, including children, who refused to work for King Leopold's rubber plantations is a story untold for centuries and deserves this fine treatment by Adam Hochschild. King Leopold of Belgium was an unrepentant monster. The best non-fiction book I've ever read. The hyphenated title on the book is a story of greed, terror and heroism in colonial Africa and that sums it up very well. Such horrific treatment including brutal maiming and killing of workers, including children, who refused to work for King Leopold's rubber plantations is a story untold for centuries and deserves this fine treatment by Adam Hochschild. King Leopold of Belgium was an unrepentant monster.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    This work of popular history does a great job of bringing to life the story of King Leopold of Belgium’s orchestration of a private empire in the Congo near the end of the 19th century. His greed driven campaign presaged the 20th century shenanigans with its use of political intrigue, bribery, media manipulation, and lies. The popular explorer Henry Morton Stanley was wooed and appropriated to make his dream become a reality. Its economic success was founded on the institutionalization of slave This work of popular history does a great job of bringing to life the story of King Leopold of Belgium’s orchestration of a private empire in the Congo near the end of the 19th century. His greed driven campaign presaged the 20th century shenanigans with its use of political intrigue, bribery, media manipulation, and lies. The popular explorer Henry Morton Stanley was wooed and appropriated to make his dream become a reality. Its economic success was founded on the institutionalization of slave labor, terrorism, and intimidation of both the population and participants long before Stalin and Hitler adopted such methods. In one way the tale represents a special case of evil genius; in another way it is a case study of approaches broadly common to European colonialism in Africa. When the atrocities behind Leopold’s money machine for ivory and rubber were first recognized, they sparked a brilliant protest movement led by two notable Englishmen. Hochschild makes their story is as interesting as that of Leopold and Stanley’s. Belgium was late to the feeding frenzy of carving up Africa, and Leopold developed a gnawing hunger for a piece of the pie. Stanley’s forays through central Africa brought Leopold’s attention to the vast area of the Congo River basin, an area the size of India or much of Europe. As an example of Hochschild’s knack of characterization, check out his profile of Stanley at the point of his first meeting of Leopold at age 37: The ne’er-do-well naval deserter of a mere thirteen years earlier was now a best-selling author, recognized as one of the greatest of living explorers. His stern, mustachioed face appeared in magazines everywhere beneath a Stanley Cap, his own invention …which, in a way, summed up Stanley’s personality: one part titan of rugged force and mountain-moving confidence; the other a vulnerable, illegitimate son of the working class, anxiously struggling for the approval of the powerful. In photographs each part seems visible: the explorer’s eyes carry both a fierce determination and a woundedness. Stanley’s job over a five year period was to establish a transportation system and treaties with the populace that gave Leopold carte blanche. His well-paid tasks included building a road past the 200 plus miles of falls in the coastal segment of the river, hauling a disassembled steamship to the navigable portion, and the establishment of many trading posts/military bases along its 1,000 mile main course of the Congo River. Above all he was to buy with goods like clothes and alcohol written deals with all the chiefs and village leaders along the way that handed over a trading monopoly to Leopold under the guise of his benign sounding “International Association of the Congo”. The illiterate chiefs couldn’t have known what they were signing. “The treaties must be as brief as possible,” Leopold ordered, “and in a couple of articles must grant us everything.” Their text promises that the signers would: freely of their own accord, for themselves and their heirs and successors for ever … give up to the said Association the sovereignity and all sovereign and governing rights to all their territories …and to assist by labor or otherwise, any works, improvements or expeditions which the said Association shall cause any time to be carried out in any part of these territories …All roads and waterways running through this country, the right of collecting tolls on the same, and all game, fishing, mining, and forest rights, are to be the absolute property of the said Association.” By labor or otherwise. Stanley’s pieces of cloth bought not just land, but manpower. It was an even worse trade than the Indians made for Manhattan. The territory included at least 200 different ethnic groups speaking more than 400 languages and dialects, ranging from “citizens of large, organizationally sophisticated kingdoms to the Pygmies of the Ituri rain forest, who lived in small bands with no chiefs and no formal structure of government.” Through intermediary companies which Leopold held at least half the shares, the men of the tribes were forced into labor as porters, food producers, and gatherers of ivory and, later, rubber. Force was effected by making a hostage of wives, children, or chiefs as hostages and intimidation through razing of villages, chopping off of children’s hands, or public whippings of those who did not make their quotas. A lot of this dirty work was carried out be a cadre of black people controlled by their own system of carrots and sticks. Although other European colonies used these practices, Leopold’s intermediaries advanced their use on an unprecedented scale. What was especially outrageous was that the takeover of the Congo was sold to world under the humanitarian guise of eradicating the slave trade and civilizing the savages with the light of Christianity. Some of this duplicity was captured by Conrad in his “Heart of Darkness”. The concept that the evil incarnate of the company agent, Kurz, was a fictional parable is dismissed by Hochschild, who comes up with several candidates for realistic models that Conrad could have met or learned of during his employment on a river steamer. In the absence of official national military to back up his claim to the Congo, Leopold’s ability to get a consensus of powerful countries to accept his new “Congo Free State” was his next amazing accomplishment. It started with getting the U.S. Congress to recognize it as a sort of protectorate, a coup based on bribery, harnessing missionary groups, and a massive lobbying campaign. Playing Germany, France, and England against each other at a conference in Berlin was the second phase; i.e. the pretension of a free-trade region under harmless Belgian hands was better than the threat of takeover by a more powerful nation. Early heroes of this sad tale include two black Americans. George Washington Williams, an ex-Union soldier in the Civil War, journalist, and budding historian, showed up in the Congo in 1890 to explore the potential for the region as a place for American blacks to emigrate to. His investigations led him to the first media expose of the true situation. His open letter to Leopold called a spade a spade: the trading sites were labeled “piratical, buccaneering posts” that operated chain gangs and village burnings, and the conclusion was that “your Majesty’s government is engaged in the slave trade, wholesale and retail.” He got the letter published in newspapers and a long report disseminated; it had less impact than it might have if he hadn’t died soon thereafter from TB. The contributions of the black missionary William Henry Sheppard as a brave witness to the atrocities continued into the later phase of whistle blowing. A few years later, a Liverpool shipping administrator, E.P. Morel, developed into a more unlikely fly in the ointment for dear Leopold. In a leap of logic, he inferred from all the goods shipped on his ships out of the Congo compared to primarily weapons and ammunition sent on returning trips that the colony had to be founded on slavery. Who could have guessed that this apolitical man would feel such outrage and be driven to masterful such effective skills in marshaling information, journalistic and speaking presentation, shaping his message to his audience, and use of celebrities in fund raising. A powerful ally was enlisted in the form of a respected diplomat, Roger Casement, the first British consul to the Congo Free State. His own investigations brought a lot of documentation and recorded testimony to the advocacy efforts. The avalanche of public outcry they raised would rival that of the anti-slavery campaign of decades before and presage some of the more successful strategies of advocacy groups in present modern era. Photographs of Congolese in chains and of individuals with their hands cut off as punishment made good fuel for the fire. A book by Arthur Conan Doyle and satirical pamphlet roasting Leopold by Mark Twain are examples that amplified the impact of Morel and Casement's work. Eventually, Leopold was forced to transfer his colony into Belgian state control. But not before a week of burning all official records of the reign of terror in Belgium and Africa. Hochschild credits Morel for the success, but he takes pains to educate the reader how the big picture of brutal exploitation of the people of the Congo did not change. He also highlights the blindness of Morel to the possibility of self-rule in the Congo and to the adverse impacts of British excesses in its own colonies. The CIA led assassination of the democratically elected president of Republic of Congo in 1961 and installment of the brutal dictator Mobutu, who ruled in Zaire for three decades, follows the same mindset of imperial entitlement among developed countries with respect to the fate of African peoples. While evidence of a population loss of half of Congo’s residents under Leopold’s commercial regime can be used to claim some level of guilt for the death of 8-10 million people, Hochschild points out that similar population losses have been estimated for colonies under French control over a similar period. Hochschild’s highly readable history of the rape of the Congo was a great education for me how one king’s bizarre successes could represent in microcosm the more complex and lengthy process involved with other cases of colonial subjugation.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Malia

    This is a difficult book to review, because I am still thinking about it and probably will for some time. Of course I knew about King Leopold and his cruelty in the Congo, but nothing to this extent. The story Hochschild tells is one that left me consistently shocked, disgusted and deeply saddened and yet this is a book I would recommend to just about anyone. It strikes me again and again how cruel and vicious people can be to those they view as the "other", to those they view as someone less th This is a difficult book to review, because I am still thinking about it and probably will for some time. Of course I knew about King Leopold and his cruelty in the Congo, but nothing to this extent. The story Hochschild tells is one that left me consistently shocked, disgusted and deeply saddened and yet this is a book I would recommend to just about anyone. It strikes me again and again how cruel and vicious people can be to those they view as the "other", to those they view as someone less than themselves or even less than human based on their skin color, religious differences or any manner of means by which to conjure prejudice and hatred. We see it in the news every day, and though it feels overwhelming at the moment due to the nature of modern media, I venture to say it has always been this way, "us" pitted against "them" with the result of violence. That being said, I want to inject a note of hope here as well, just as Hochschild does in his book. There are always, too, those that recognize this injustice, who are willing to speak up and to risk their own safety and peace to fight for those who cannot. King Leopold's Ghost is a book I won't be quick to forget and it makes me all the more aware of how much I do not know about this world, and how much is not taught in schools and it is up to us to learn if we want to try to understand the world and humanity or a lack thereof. This is a bit of a ramble, but hopefully I am getting across how impactful this book is and how worth the read. Find more reviews and bookish fun at http://www.princessandpen.com

  8. 5 out of 5

    Warwick

    ‘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. ‘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.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sebastien

    Phenomenal book. I can't recommend this enough. Impeccably researched and told in a narrative style that is incredibly accessible. Hochschild focuses on a small cast of characters, follows their stories in such an intimate way that the history and the story come to life in a novelesque way. I don't know much about colonialism. This book was a great way to get a sense of it and its exploitative evils and how imperialistic capitalism can bring out the absolute worst in human beings. The cool thing Phenomenal book. I can't recommend this enough. Impeccably researched and told in a narrative style that is incredibly accessible. Hochschild focuses on a small cast of characters, follows their stories in such an intimate way that the history and the story come to life in a novelesque way. I don't know much about colonialism. This book was a great way to get a sense of it and its exploitative evils and how imperialistic capitalism can bring out the absolute worst in human beings. The cool thing is there is a counter to this, there are people who combatted this evil, often times at great peril to their own selves and reputations. The author does tend to give a nuanced assessment of the historical figures involved in this story, no one is overarchingly good or evil. Everyone has a variety of motives, everyone has their own flaws and blindspots and ideological strengths and weaknesses. I absolutely loved Hochschild's chapters on Joseph Conrad. Conrad is an interesting character, an immigrant to the UK, he vehemently opposed Belgian colonialism and its dark evils of murderous exploitative genocide. He spent time in the Congo and was utterly appalled, appalled enough to write a book about it. And yet Conrad was a major cheerleader for his adopted country's own colonialism. Wtf! it showcases a striking hypocritical blindspot, a complete breakdown in ideological consistency. But Conrad was in love and had such faith in British colonialism and its positive impacts on the world that he was blinded to its dark crimes and exploitative aspects. It's noteworthy that a man as smart and talented as Conrad was not impervious to a shocking breakdown in ideological consistency. A good reminder that shows any one of us can fall into such traps with ease, we can find self-serving justifications for anything and execute the most incredible somersaults of logic to provide cover (most especially for thing/paradigms that benefit us personally). And I have no doubt I do so on various issues. Hochschild also gives a great overview and insights into Conrad's book Heart of Darkness, which was based on Conrad's own time in the Congo. Makes me really want to reread this book. As disgusted as he was by the Belgians treatment of the African natives, Conrad still portrayed them as uni-dimensional savages which is another example showing how hard it is to transcend one's culture and time. We are people of our own time and place, and societal and cultural constraints and habits can blind us to what might now/or in future seem obvious truths or justice. Lord knows how many things I'm blinded to due to my own circumstances. But that's what I loved with reading this kind of analysis and critique of Conrad, it makes me contemplate myself, my conduct, my life. Where are my failures and inconsistencies, where am I blind to truth and justice due to my cultural habits and upbringing? How am I contributing to problems and how can I open my eyes and discover what I cannot currently see? The hope is that I will find ways to challenge myself to not be lazy in my thinking, in my views, and to continually search and seek the truth and trying to be honest and self-critical in analyzing my conduct and ideologies. Such things are hard, it is very easy to slip into defensiveness and anger when our world views/values/ideologies are challenged, our hypocrisies or double standards pointed out, so this is something I have to continually work on... Ok I'm deviating into self-indulgent self-reflection here, but come on, it's good fun haha... My favorite character in this story was Roger Casement. A man of ideals. I found him inspiring. His story is so interesting, he was an anti-colonialist and Irish nationalist. I won't give away the arc of his narrative but it is really good. Leopold was a fascinating character in his own right. A devilishly clever man who expertly manipulated media to control public opinion so he could continue his criminal enterprises. But his ambition and lust for power corrupted his soul, at least that's how I see it. George Washington Williams, another complex and fascinating figure featured in this book... Another great aspect of the book was its insights into the workings and nuances of European and American diplomacy. Diplomacy played a large role in shaping and legitimizing colonialism. The US had an interesting role in this, being the first country to legitimize the Belgian Congo. What else what else... so many things to say on this book I'm losing track... Oh yeah. Another interesting point. The Belgians, even long after leaving behind colonialism in the Congo, continued to hide and bury the history of what they had done. They did not want to own this history or have it widely known. It was because of the dogged tireless work of a Belgian foreign minister that the documents and archives were finally opened and revealed (I think this happened in the 80s), allowing the scope and depth of the crimes to be more fully understood and acknowledged. I cannot emphasize enough how important I think it is to own one's history, which is why I applaud what this Belgian foreign minister did. As we much as we wish to own and celebrate the beautiful aspects of our history (or what we consider such), we must also embrace and recognize the dark crimes within our past. They are both equally important. The other bummer with this story, which Hochschild laments, is that there were few African natives from the Congo who left behind a written record of their experiences. So we are left to have this story told to us through the eyes of outsiders. There is some documentation and testimony from the victims, but sadly it is relatively scant.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Dmitri

    This is a tragic history of the Belgian Congo at the turn of the 19th century as the 'Scramble for Africa' began. Adam Hochschild is an American writer and journalist for the New Yorker, NY Times, NY Review of Books and Times Literary Supplement. His work has combined history with human rights advocacy. The events in this book are a shameful chapter in the era of colonialism of which there were many. It is portrait of Leopold likely to inspire loathing in any who reads it. Beside an account of a This is a tragic history of the Belgian Congo at the turn of the 19th century as the 'Scramble for Africa' began. Adam Hochschild is an American writer and journalist for the New Yorker, NY Times, NY Review of Books and Times Literary Supplement. His work has combined history with human rights advocacy. The events in this book are a shameful chapter in the era of colonialism of which there were many. It is portrait of Leopold likely to inspire loathing in any who reads it. Beside an account of a colony he archives the lives of activists who fought to free it. In 1482 Portuguese sailors braved the ocean beyond the Canary Islands and discovered a fresh water flow off the coast of Central Africa. Following a silt trail, fighting a fast current, they found the mouth of a vast river. Nine years later priests and emissaries arrived and began the first European settlement in a black African kingdom. Small scale slavery existed but a booming slave trade developed with the Americas to grow cotton and cane. During the 19th century slavery was abolished in Britain and America yet continued in Afro-Arab commerce. Leopold II (1835-1909) was the King of the Belgians and obsessed with obtaining colonies. He studied records of the conquistadores in Seville, sailed to India, Ceylon, Burma and Java noting lucrative concerns. Plantations depended on forced labor to lift profits and civilize the lazy natives. He looked at land in Brazil, Argentina, Phillipines and Taiwan. Frustrated in these attempts he focused his sights on Africa. Humanitarian pretenses of freeing Africa from slavery and bringing enlightenment to the Dark Continent disguised his dreams of ivory and rubber. Henry Morton Stanley led a Dickensonian life. Abandoned to a poorhouse as a child he sailed to America and became a soldier in the Civil War, first for the Confederacy and then for the Union. He became a newspaper correspondent and tracked down explorer David Livingstone during his search for the source of the Nile. Returning to Africa in 1874 to map the waterways of the interior he discovered the source of the Congo River. Upon reaching the Atlantic he was hired by Leopold to establish trading posts and railroads and trick tribal leaders to cede land. King Leopold and an American ambassador formed fake philanthropic associations for evangelism and scientific study of the region. In 1884 he lobbied the US to recognize the Congo Free State, in reality a colony owned by himself. Post-Civil War politicians were interested in sending freed slaves back to Africa. The area annexed was as large as the land east of the Mississippi while Belgium was half the size of West Virginia. In diplomatic deals France and Germany fell into line and Britain became invested. The challenge was to carry steamboats over the falls. By 1890 trading stations had been secured. Elephants were hunted by conscripted natives or their ivory simply seized. Vacant land was leased to private companies with shares of the profit retained. Legions of Africans were used as porters through jungles chained by the neck. So many were needed agents began to purchase them from the slave traders they purported to abolish. Security officers of the Free State were Europeans, half from Belgium, with soldiers drawn from the Congo. They chose to join the conquerors, their spears and shields no match for machine guns. Leopold's agents set up orphanages run by Catholic missions to train future troops. Captured women were kept in harems by agents or held hostage to coerce their men to harvest rubber. Discipline was enforced with the whip and counted in severed hands of dead rebels. To exact penalties entire villages were often burned down. The human toll over a quarter century is not known for certain but is estimated at 10 million, or half of the population. The causes included murder, starvation and disease due to inhuman working conditions, and lowered birth rates. Joseph Conrad was briefly a steamboat pilot on the Congo, his novel 'Heart of Darkness' a depiction of what he saw. Displays of decapitated heads were not only a metaphorical critique of colonialism. Black Americans G.W. Williams, a polymath, and W.H. Sheppard, a missionary, exposed the conditions in 1890. Few voices of natives were recorded but are included where possible. In 1898 British shipping clerk E. D. Morel and Irish diplomat R. Casement suspected forced labor and began campaigns. Mark Twain and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote exposés on Leopold. As opinion turned Leopold waged propaganda wars. Self-appointed commissions criticized his regime. The only option was to sell Congo to Belgium as self rule was unthinkable. In 1908 Leopold was given a billion dollar bonus and billions remained in his name. Wild rubber was replaced with farmed. Atrocities declined but forced labor persisted. Head taxes kept people in mines and plantations until independence in 1960. PM Lumumba seen as hostile to business was killed with Belgian and US assistance and replaced by kleptocrat Mobuto until 1997.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Will Byrnes

    A compelling history of the impact of the West on the Congo

  12. 5 out of 5

    David

    Horrifying story, rivetingly told. Regrettably, much of my reading of history has been centered primarily on the history of Europe and of the U.S. Hochschild's account of Belgium's exploitation of the Congo left me appalled. Despite the accounts of some truly savage atrocities, I ended up reading it in a couple of marathon sittings. A disturbing book, but one so well-written, I highly recommend it. Horrifying story, rivetingly told. Regrettably, much of my reading of history has been centered primarily on the history of Europe and of the U.S. Hochschild's account of Belgium's exploitation of the Congo left me appalled. Despite the accounts of some truly savage atrocities, I ended up reading it in a couple of marathon sittings. A disturbing book, but one so well-written, I highly recommend it.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Eric_W

    The Belgian Congo, as Zaire and now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, were formerly called was the creation of King Leopold of Belgium who desperately wanted a colony. By the late 19th century there was little land left for the taking except in Africa and it had become obvious that taking over independent lands was neither wise nor practical. King Leopold II, King of the Belgians, was a man of enormous appetites both for land and food—he once ate two whole pheasants at a restaurant in Paris, The Belgian Congo, as Zaire and now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, were formerly called was the creation of King Leopold of Belgium who desperately wanted a colony. By the late 19th century there was little land left for the taking except in Africa and it had become obvious that taking over independent lands was neither wise nor practical. King Leopold II, King of the Belgians, was a man of enormous appetites both for land and food—he once ate two whole pheasants at a restaurant in Paris, and it was not unusual for him to order several entrees. His colony was 75 times larger than Belgium. Stanley’s explorations in Africa were becoming well known and sensational, and Leopold carefully wooed him into striking a bargain--Stanley wisely requested his payment in advance – that would have Stanley lead an expedition to build a road into the heart of Africa. He had learned an important lesson during his search for Livingston: there was little military threat from the local inhabitants who were small in population, encompassed more than 200 ethnic groups speaking more than 400 languages making a joint effort against the white man distinctly unlikely. Leopold was being more than a little disingenuous. In addition to sponsoring Stanley’s expedition, he paid for several others who were attempting to reach the interior from the east. He also used several front organizations in an attempt to hide his financial interest. Stanley himself was unaware that one of the “committees” had expired over a year earlier and was being used by the King in name only. The cost of maintaining the expeditions and building infrastructure to get the immense natural resource wealth out of the Congo soon depleted most of Leopold’s fortune, so he managed to obtain a loan from the Belgian parliament at the same time obtaining permission to become the sovereign of another country while King of Belgium. The rape of the Congo assumed, in Hochschild’s words, “a death toll of Holocaust dimensions.” Despite Leopold’s use of anti-slavery rhetoric to gain acceptance for his strategies, the people of the region suffered horrible enslavement. Any resistance to the country’s plunder was met with strong measures. Failing to meet quotas was a capital offense. Hands of dead Congolese were cut off and kept in storage to account for expended ammunition, although often the natives were killed just for sport. It has been estimated that 50% of the population died between the 1870’s and 1919, approximately 10 million people were killed most often from sickness and starvation. Leopold was a genius at public relations and he knew how to accumulate supporters in other countries through flattery and marketing. Civilization and suppression of the slave trade were words often used to describe his motives He insisted he wanted to create a free state similar to Liberia, an idea that appealed to American white racists who were still looking for places to export America’s blacks. John Tyler Morgan, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Henry Shelton Sanford, wealthy Florida orange planter and strong supporter of President Chester A. Arthur, were easily manipulated by the King into gaining American support for his efforts. Reading this book reinforced my view that, as a society, our values and standards are far superior to those of the nineteenth century. The discovery of rubber and its immense number of uses for an increasingly industrial society made it a valuable commodity that would make Leopold immensely rich. He did so on the backs of the black population of the Congo. He could not countenance slavery, of course, so his soldiers would take hostages, usually women and children, to be returned when the natives had supplied their quota of rubber. Gathering the rubber was dangerous and very painful -- the usual method was to let the rubber sap dry on one's skin and then peel it off. People in communities that showed resistance were shot. The good generals, fearing that soldiers might be saving cartridges for hunting or mutiny, demanded that the soldiers supply the right hand of each victim they killed for each cartridge, presumably only one being needed per victim. One person was in charge of smoking the hands to preserve them so they would remain in condition to be counted by the appropriate authorities. Often soldiers would use bullets to kill animals to eat and sever the hand off a living person to account for the bullets. Women hostages were difficult for the commanders because their men would often demand the prettier ones to rape and this lead to morale problems. I suspect some of the savagery know going on in Africa may have be learned from western Europeans. The savagery did not go unnoticed and several men were notable in their opposition. Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” fictionally revealed the corruption while Edmund Morel, Roger Casement, and George Washington Williams, among others, formed the strongest public opposition to Leopold’s savagery. This is a model account that carries several lessons for us today. The distance consumers are from the location of the raw materials needed to fuel their thirst for ever more goodies—I count myself among the worst offenders, that new PalmPilot is really cool—permits the rape of the less fortunate to proceed behind a fog of marketing and public relations, that bane of the twentieth century that celebrates mendacity as its highest ethic. One has only to review pictures of “smart” weapons and high altitude bombing to understand how savagery has become a game. But, the speed of international communications and the camera have also played a part in exposing and revealing the travesties, so one can still hope that they might belong to the not so distant past.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lisa (Harmonybites)

    If you ask an educated American to name the worst despots and atrocities of the twentieth century, you'll immediately hear such names as Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. Very few would name Leopold II, King of the Belgians and absolute master of the Belgian Congo. I wouldn't have before reading this book, yet a man thousands of miles from a land he never visited is charged with instituting policies responsible for 10 million deaths in the course of a couple of decades, sparking the "first great If you ask an educated American to name the worst despots and atrocities of the twentieth century, you'll immediately hear such names as Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. Very few would name Leopold II, King of the Belgians and absolute master of the Belgian Congo. I wouldn't have before reading this book, yet a man thousands of miles from a land he never visited is charged with instituting policies responsible for 10 million deaths in the course of a couple of decades, sparking the "first great international human rights movement of twentieth century." Hochschild tells us in the introduction that the book "is the story of that movement, of the savage crime that was its target, of the long period of exploration and conquest that preceded it and of the way the world has forgotten one of the great mass killings of recent history." The first third of the book sets out the background--the explorations of the brutal Henry Morton Stanley of "Stanley and Livingston" fame, and the machinations of Leopold to gain a colony. The story of almost every monster of history seems to lie in a hunger for fame, glory or a twisted patriotism or ideology. With Leopold, as he's presented, the motive seems to be pure greed. The next third begins to set out how Leopold's military dictatorship used forced labor to meet demands for ivory and rubber. It explains how Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness was inspired by his own experience in the Congo. Finally, Hochschild tells the story of the protest movement, especially the story of Edmund Dene Morel, "an obscure shipping-company official" who became Leopold's most dangerous enemy. After reading this I certainly will never again be able to see Stanley as a hero or read Heart of Darkness in the same way. Given the material, this is an absorbing book--a five star in terms of the importance of the story, but not, I thought, in presentation. Hochschild, a former editor of the Marxist Ramparts and a co-founder of the far-left Mother Jones, often lets his socialist biases peek out. For instance, he bizarrely expresses his bewilderment over how a businessman like Morel with no attachment to socialism could be so passionate about fighting injustice! Even more than the intrusive socialist lens, I was left uneasy by the whiff of sensationalist journalism in his psychoanalysis and unsupported speculations about motives and actions and focus on scandal. I think in a lot of cases like that, less would have been more. And in the case of what happened in Congo, more would have been more. I felt I got a better sense of how Leopold conducted his affair with his teenage mistress than how he governed the Congo. Hochschild's chronology and evidence for the numbers he claimed killed in the introduction and analysis of what part could be pinned down as due to the direct effect of colonial rule felt sketchy, as did the exploration of Leopold's role beyond press relations and lobbying. (Admittedly, as Hochschild related, difficult precisely because so many documents were ordered destroyed by Leopold.) When I contrast King Leopold's Ghost to say Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich or Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, I just can't rate Hochschild as impressive as a writer or historian.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Rashmi

    This book took me several months to read because it was so disturbing. After reading a chapter and having nightmares, I'd put it away for something else, and then return to it once I'd finished with the other book. The atrocities committed in the Belgian Congo were nothing short of diabolical. And yet, shockingly, one of the worst genocides of the twentieth century remains relatively unheard of. I am a big fan of Adam Hochschild; he makes you feel like you're reading a novel rather than a historic This book took me several months to read because it was so disturbing. After reading a chapter and having nightmares, I'd put it away for something else, and then return to it once I'd finished with the other book. The atrocities committed in the Belgian Congo were nothing short of diabolical. And yet, shockingly, one of the worst genocides of the twentieth century remains relatively unheard of. I am a big fan of Adam Hochschild; he makes you feel like you're reading a novel rather than a historical non-fiction book, without sacrificing thoroughness or detail. It's extremely enlightening, and I recommend it really strongly.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Max

    Ten years before the discovery of America, the Portuguese explorer Diogo Cão discovered the Congo River. 18 years later another Portuguese ship discovered Brazil. Thus began the lucrative slave trade to supply workers for Brazil’s mines and plantations. Congo ivory was sent to Europe in trade for cheap consumer goods but mostly for guns. The exploitation of the Congo’s resources was underway. By the late 19th century the Europeans were scrambling to dominate Africa and the heretofore impenetrabl Ten years before the discovery of America, the Portuguese explorer Diogo Cão discovered the Congo River. 18 years later another Portuguese ship discovered Brazil. Thus began the lucrative slave trade to supply workers for Brazil’s mines and plantations. Congo ivory was sent to Europe in trade for cheap consumer goods but mostly for guns. The exploitation of the Congo’s resources was underway. By the late 19th century the Europeans were scrambling to dominate Africa and the heretofore impenetrable Congo interior was finally penetrated. In an 1871 expedition from Zanzibar, H. M. Stanley found the missing Dr. Livingstone near Lake Tanganyika on the eastern edge of the Congo. In 1877, he cemented his fame trekking east to west across Africa and following the Congo River to its mouth. Watching this was the duplicitous King Leopold II of Belgium. Seeing this unexplored region as a way to make his fortune, he posed as a philanthropist to sponsor Stanley on further trips to set up trading posts and bases. Publicly the goal was to fight slavery, spread Christianity, and offer free trade to all. However the calculating Leopold methodically began exploiting the Congo for ivory and slaves. Through brutal men like Stanley, Leopold brought the Congo under his personal control. Africans were killed without a second thought and anything desired including women for concubines was taken at will. The first person to publicize these atrocities was the minister George Washington Williams, an American black man, who spent six months observing life in the Congo. In 1890 he wrote an Open Letter to King Leopold. This first salvo would not undo Leopold but it paved the way for others. That same year Joseph Conrad trained as a steamship captain on the Congo River. His Heart of Darkness is an accurate description of the Congo drawn from his experience. He witnessed the porters enslaved in chains, the brutal floggings, the death and destruction that the Force Publique, Leopold’s private army, left in its wake. Hochschild posits that the evil Kurtz may have been modeled on the Belgian soldier and later head of the Force Publique Léon Rom who decorated the flower garden in front of his Congo home with the skulls of Africans. Following in George Washington Williams footsteps was William Sheppard, a black American Presbyterian missionary who witnessed some of the most horrific atrocities in the Congo. With the rising price of rubber, it soon rivaled ivory as a valuable export. The Force Publique compelled the local men to collect rubber from jungle vines by taking their wives and children hostage. Only delivery of the allotted quota of rubber could free a man’s family. Those who fell short were flogged to near death. Those who resisted were summarily killed. Hands were cut off the dead and sometimes the living by government soldiers and agents to prove the number killed in order to receive the government bounty. Sheppard published many articles attesting to these crimes. While King Leopold successfully parried these stories, this second salvo widened the cracks in his armor. These cracks were finally broken open by E. D. Morel, a British employee of the shipping company King Leopold used to ship goods to and from the Congo. Morel saw the manifests and realized mostly arms and ammunition for the Force Publique were going to the Congo. Little in trade for the shipments of ivory and rubber was going to the Congo. He quickly deduced that only slave labor could explain this unequal trade. He protested and ended up having to leave his job. He started a newspaper, the West African Mail, developed inside sources and wrote articles exposing Leopold’s operation. This resulted in the British Parliament passing a Congo protest resolution and dispatching its consul in the Congo to the interior to report on the situation. The consul, Irishman Roger Casement, eschewed government guides, interviewed Africans and witnessed their ruthless exploitation. He wrote a scathing report that the Foreign Office due to politics watered down. Casement teamed up with Morel. He donated money to help Morel start the Congo Reform Association in 1904. Morel gained the support of the nonconformist Protestant clergy. Leopold had the Catholic Church in his pocket. The Congo operation came under increasing scrutiny. Leopold countered by setting up a handpicked Commission of Inquiry in 1904. Many of Morel’s and Casement’s charges were validated, but Leopold whitewashed the results and kept all testimony secret. Criticism of Leopold continued to escalate and he continued to match it with skilled obfuscation. Finally in 1908 he had no choice but to sell the Congo to the state of Belgium and in 1910 at 74 he died. His nephew, Prince Albert, succeeded him and came out against the brutal practices of the Congo administrators. However, even though Leopold was gone, the same people were running the country. Still the situation improved enough that Morel dissolved the Congo Reform Association in 1913. Part of the improvement was due to the replacement of wild rubber with cultivated rubber which required plantation workers rather than jungle foragers. However the Congolese were still forced to work on the plantations or worse in the mines which were very dangerous. Hochschild estimates the native population of the Congo declined by about ten million people as a result of Leopold’s exploitation of the Congo. This was due to: Countless murders, massacres, brutal floggings, torture and harsh imprisonment; exhaustion and exposure from forced labor; starvation from the burning of villages, the stealing and destroying of food supplies; European diseases like smallpox to which the Congolese had no immunity; and a large drop in the birth rate since people put off raising children in such circumstances. Africans in adjacent states in equatorial Africa suffered similar fates driven by the rubber trade. These other colonial governments employed the same ruthless tactics. Leopold, it turned out, had ownership in many of the concessions in the French, German and Portuguese territories. The worst situation was in German Southwest Africa, today’s Namibia, where the Germans practiced genocide. As bad as the Congo was, no specific ethnic group was targeted for elimination. The government wanted slave and forced laborers. These people were worked to death or killed for refusing but not solely for who they were. But the Germans formally proclaimed a policy of extermination of the Herero tribe searching them out and killing men, women and children, poisoning their sources of water and driving survivors out into the desert to starve. Casement ultimately left the British Foreign Service and became a rebel fighting for Irish independence. During WWI he sought help from the Germans for his cause. In 1916 he was hanged for treason. Morel became a peace activist and spent six months in hard labor for his opposition. After the war he was elected as a Labour Party Member of Parliament defeating Winston Churchill. Morel died in 1924. In 1960 due to popular uprisings the Belgian government was finally forced to grant the Congo independence. Sadly, Western intervention continued. Eisenhower ordered Allen Dulles to eliminate the duly elected independence leader Patrice Lumumba although it was the Belgians who finally murdered him. They did so with the help of Joseph Mobuto, on the CIA payroll, who proceeded to carry on Leopold’s legacy exploiting his own country for the next thirty years and becoming one of the richest men in the world. But this is another story. Before Leopold turned the Congo over to Belgium he had all of the state archives burned to hide his crimes. However the Belgian government still had the original transcripts from the 1904 Commission of Inquiry. It would be almost 80 years later before the government finally allowed a retired Belgian diplomat and dogged researcher, Jules Marchal, to see these transcripts. The testimonies provided detailed documentation of the many crimes. Marchal would publish the first comprehensive history of Leopold’s rule of the Congo. Hochschild gives Marchal’s books high praise. Hochschild’s book is riveting and revealing. Most of us are familiar with similar atrocities by the Nazis and the Soviets or by Europeans against New World Indians, but the Congo atrocities were under the radar for me and I suspect many others. While it is unsettling to discover still another horrendous chapter in history, it is an important one and well worth the effort to learn about.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Trish

    This book begins with the assertion of evil. It made me uneasy. I prefer to hear the facts and draw my own conclusions. But I felt far less willing to grant King Leopold’s side another instant of attention after realizing that the facts had been obscured for a century or more by repression of documents relating to the case in Belgian state archives. Better that we finally uncover the ugly truth and take its lesson: unbridled greed may be the ugliest, most unforgivable, most unnecessary sin of al This book begins with the assertion of evil. It made me uneasy. I prefer to hear the facts and draw my own conclusions. But I felt far less willing to grant King Leopold’s side another instant of attention after realizing that the facts had been obscured for a century or more by repression of documents relating to the case in Belgian state archives. Better that we finally uncover the ugly truth and take its lesson: unbridled greed may be the ugliest, most unforgivable, most unnecessary sin of all. How can we not have known this horrible history? It happened only a hundred years ago. Though I am embarrassed I did not know the anguished history and perpetuation of evil in the Congo, I stand in good company. Hochschild tells us of a Belgian diplomat serving in the 1970’s Congo who learned of the atrocities by a chance remark from a chieftain recalling “the first time” of rubber collection. This diplomat-turned-historian, Jules Marchal, spent decades after his retirement from civil service investigating and documenting King Leopold’s personal fiefdom in the Congo and its long list of crimes there at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. What does become amply clear from Hochschild’s account is how it is possible to mount a resistance to a great evil. Resistance requires exceptional people willing to bear witness, but also organization and persistence. Edmund Dene Morel, the shipping clerk who recognized in the 1890’s what was happening in the Congo, immediately called out the injustices he saw there and never hesitated in his mission to publicize it in the years that followed. Fortunately, he was an articulate man with a convincing speaking style and he had enormous drive. He managed to gather like-minded folk to himself to voice a larger protest. The life of Irishman Roger Casement, the gay man knighted by the Queen for his work as a diplomat and later hanged by Britain as a traitor to the crown for his work as an Irish patriot, stands as an example of the strange dissociation countries in power display when someone challenges their economic and political interests. I fell in love with him a little, Sir Roger Casement, as a man of great courage and vision: he saw what men are and did not despair, though one might say that, in the end, he died of it. Black Americans who spent their adult lives speaking out against the horror happening in Africa, the Reverend William Henry Sheppard and George Washington Williams, have finally found their way back into history. Many Christian missionaries, though notably, not Catholic missionaries, did their part in publicizing crimes in pursuit of endless demand for rubber. What I liked most about the book was the way Hochschild brought us past the period of the Congo revelations to the present day, telling us how we could have been ignorant of the time and the period. He followed the lives of Morel and Chapman to their ends, and introduced us to Ambassador Marchal of Belgium. He follows the Congo after Leopold through its Belgian colony status to the demand for self-rule and the murder of Patrice Lumumba, the Congo’s first legally-elected prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He tells us of Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, Congolese President who continued crimes against his country that Leopold had begun, this time with American support. I began to realize that some of the surviving chiefs of Leopold’s crimes were sometimes collaborators. Their behaviors have been perpetuated over the generations until there is nothing but misery left in that place. Now I understand better how a country so rich in natural resources could be so socially impoverished. The crimes continue to the present. What can be the solution to this kind of moral destitution? I listened to the Random House Audio of this title, read by Geoffrey Howard.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Charlotte

    A horrifying look at the heart of colonialism: the naked greed, exploitation and dehumanizing racialized violence that are covered by a veneer of humanitarianism and a "civilizing" mission. It's a meticulously researched and incredibly insightful book, and one of the biggest takeaways for me was that most of the activists who fought the horrors of Leopold's Congo didn't actually object to the practice of colonialism in and of itself; they were simply protesting its violent excesses in one coloni A horrifying look at the heart of colonialism: the naked greed, exploitation and dehumanizing racialized violence that are covered by a veneer of humanitarianism and a "civilizing" mission. It's a meticulously researched and incredibly insightful book, and one of the biggest takeaways for me was that most of the activists who fought the horrors of Leopold's Congo didn't actually object to the practice of colonialism in and of itself; they were simply protesting its violent excesses in one colonial state. Morel is a great example of this - he dedicated his life to fighting for this cause but wholeheartedly maintained that the British Empire was doing good in the world. It's astonishing, looking back, but I think it goes to show just how incredibly persuasive the beneficent propaganda of empire can be. Leopold used it to con the world, colonizers used it to rewrite the history of what they did and many people still believe it today. I'll be thinking about this book for a long time.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Pink

    The fault in this book is set out by Hochschild both in the introduction and again in his afterword. Here's what he says - Looking back on this book after an interval of some years has reminded me of where I wish I could have done more. My greatest frustration lay in how hard it was to portray individual Africans as full-fledged actors in this story. Historians often face such difficulties, since the written record from colonizers, the rich, and the powerful is always more plentiful than it is f The fault in this book is set out by Hochschild both in the introduction and again in his afterword. Here's what he says - Looking back on this book after an interval of some years has reminded me of where I wish I could have done more. My greatest frustration lay in how hard it was to portray individual Africans as full-fledged actors in this story. Historians often face such difficulties, since the written record from colonizers, the rich, and the powerful is always more plentiful than it is from the colonized, the poor, and the powerless. Again and again it felt unfair to me that we know so much about the character and daily life of Leopold and so little about those of Congolese indigenous rulers at the time, and even less about the lives of villagers who died gathering rubber. Or that so much is on the record about Stanley and so little about those who were perhaps his nearest African counterparts: the coastal merchants already leading caravans of porters with trading goods into the interior when he first began staking out the Congo for Leopold. Of those who worked against the regime, we know the entire life stories of Europeans or Americans like Morel, Casement, and Sheppard, but almost nothing of resistance leaders like Kandolo or Mulume Niama who lost their lives as rebels. This skews the story in a way that, unintentionally, almost seems to diminish the centrality of the Congolese themselves. And that's what's wrong with it. However I appreciated that Hochschild recognised this problem himself, but still felt it was a story worth telling, even with these limitations.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Laura Noggle

    You think you know, but you actually don’t. This book is the most compelling history on colonial Africa I’ve ever read. It’s on par with The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. “Furthermore, unlike many other great predators of history, from Genghis Khan to the Spanish conquistadors, King Leopold II never saw a drop of blood spilled in anger. He never set foot in the Congo. There is something very modern about that, too, as there is about the bomber pilot in the stratosphere, above the clouds, who You think you know, but you actually don’t. This book is the most compelling history on colonial Africa I’ve ever read. It’s on par with The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. “Furthermore, unlike many other great predators of history, from Genghis Khan to the Spanish conquistadors, King Leopold II never saw a drop of blood spilled in anger. He never set foot in the Congo. There is something very modern about that, too, as there is about the bomber pilot in the stratosphere, above the clouds, who never hears screams or sees shattered homes or torn flesh.” “And yet the world we live in—its divisions and conflicts, its widening gap between rich and poor, its seemingly inexplicable outbursts of violence—is shaped far less by what we celebrate and mythologize than by the painful events we try to forget. Leopold's Congo is but one of those silences of history.”

  21. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    I had 2 interesting experiences relating to this book while I was reading it. First, I recieved a call from an Airmiles rep who spoke with a thick African accent, he had no difficulty spelling my last name. He told me he came from the Congo, previously a Belgian colony where many names start with "van", hence his ease with my name. After telling him I was reading "King Leopold's Ghost", we talked for quite some time about the state of his homeland. He remarked that the people of the Congo are in I had 2 interesting experiences relating to this book while I was reading it. First, I recieved a call from an Airmiles rep who spoke with a thick African accent, he had no difficulty spelling my last name. He told me he came from the Congo, previously a Belgian colony where many names start with "van", hence his ease with my name. After telling him I was reading "King Leopold's Ghost", we talked for quite some time about the state of his homeland. He remarked that the people of the Congo are in more dire straights today than when they were colonized by Belgium. He said that colonization brought many benefits such as medical care, education, and wages that were paid regularly. The present day dictatorship has all but erased these advances with selfish corruption. "Patrice" is a father of seven children, all seeking to educate themselves here in Canada. This encounter was a bit of a light bulb momment for me: reading is not just about a book or what you learn from it, it's about how it opens your world to people... The other point of interest came on the last page of the book. The author writes, "One factor is the abysmal position of women and all of the violence, repression and prejudices that go with it." He writes this regarding the fact that Africa has not developed like many other countries that were also brutally colonized but are now democratic. For those of you who have read "Infidel", our discussion of that book included the realization that a culture/religion where women are abused, unloved & disrespected cannot thrive. This book deserves to be read, though horrifying at times the tenacity of those advocating anti-slavery for Africa & the world came through as a light in darkness. (No pun intended, but Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" is often refered to in the book.) For a first review I've certainly gone on for a bit, sorry!

  22. 4 out of 5

    AC

    A very troubling look at the Belgian involvement in the Congo -- a chapter in the European 'Scramble for Africa' -- that I had not known much about. Leopold, in particular, comes out looking very bad. The book (which I listened to as an audio) is still a bit too long and spends too much time on narrow topics -- and engages in a bit of hagiography of E.D. Morel and Roger Casement. In other words, the author is trying to appeal to the pathos in the reader, where more detachment would have made for A very troubling look at the Belgian involvement in the Congo -- a chapter in the European 'Scramble for Africa' -- that I had not known much about. Leopold, in particular, comes out looking very bad. The book (which I listened to as an audio) is still a bit too long and spends too much time on narrow topics -- and engages in a bit of hagiography of E.D. Morel and Roger Casement. In other words, the author is trying to appeal to the pathos in the reader, where more detachment would have made for a duller but stronger book. In other words, it is a good book, but the author was concerned about sales..., as well as about the truth. What the people of the Congo suffered, however, from the Rubber Terror was truly horrific: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congo_Fr...

  23. 5 out of 5

    Bettie

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. (view spoiler)[Bettie's Books The shelving, status updates and star rating constitute how I felt about this book. (hide spoiler)] (view spoiler)[Bettie's Books The shelving, status updates and star rating constitute how I felt about this book. (hide spoiler)]

  24. 4 out of 5

    Tanja Berg

    This is a brilliant achievement: a history book of horrors which turns out to be a riveting read. I did not know much of King Leopold before this book, but I did know that he was responsible for many atrocities in his private colony Congo. This book paints a portrait of a greedy but intelligent man who knew how to use propaganda to achieve what he wanted: a colony and riches. Leopold also had a taste for very young girls - at the age of 65 years his mistress was a 16-year old prositute who event This is a brilliant achievement: a history book of horrors which turns out to be a riveting read. I did not know much of King Leopold before this book, but I did know that he was responsible for many atrocities in his private colony Congo. This book paints a portrait of a greedy but intelligent man who knew how to use propaganda to achieve what he wanted: a colony and riches. Leopold also had a taste for very young girls - at the age of 65 years his mistress was a 16-year old prositute who eventually bore him two sons. His daughters by his first, early marriage were supposed to marry well. When two of them opposed him, he never talked to them again. An evil, stubborn man. King Leopold wanted a a colony. The explorer Stanley - a short-tempered, cruel man - helped him with this. At first what was being exported out of Congo was ivory, later it became rubber. To make the African men collect rubber, the women and children were held hostages. Bullets had to be used to kill people - there were many mutinies and rebellions to quench - and to prove this, hands had to be chopped off. If a bullet was used in hunting to acquire dinner, hands were cut off living people. An estimated 10 million people died through murder, disease, starvation, exhaustion, exposure and a plummeting birth rate. There were a few people who caught onto this and made for horrific accounts and a call to end King Leopold's rule of terror. That is what makes this book so interesting, it is not merely an account of victimization, it is an account of people who fought back. Of missionaries and journalists who reported atrocities and demanded an end to it. Nothing in Africa is simple. Hochschild is very cautious on blaming all the continent's trouble on colonialism. Sure, there are other causes, slavery existed in Africa for hundreds of years before white man came, and women are severely repressed. White men have caused trouble even after colonization ended. When Lumumba was elected prime minister in Congo after it had been declared free, he was thought of as too outspoken and disposed of by the CIA and Belgians in favor of the dictator Mobutu. He was an African, but bore striking similarities to Leopold, particularly when it came to greed and for pocketing state profits as his own. There is also a steady supply of weapons and training: "during the 1990's alone, the United States gave more than $200 million worth of equipment and training to African armies, including six of the seven that had troops in the Congo's civil war". "At the time of the Congo controversy a hundred years ago, the idea of full human rights, political, social and economic, was a profound threat to the established order of most countries on earth. It still is today." It still is today. That makes this an important book about things best not forgotten, lest they be repeated. Read it.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jacob Overmark

    This is not a book for the faint-hearted. It reveals the massive abuse of the Congo from the very day the Belgian King Leopold II laid his eyes on it and till the end of colonial days. You may ask why we cannot let bygone be bygones, why we cannot get out of our mind the pictures of severed hands and heads, flogging, rape and murder. You may ask why treating other human beings like animals or at best like second-class citizens in the past should not just be buried as something we have dealt with al This is not a book for the faint-hearted. It reveals the massive abuse of the Congo from the very day the Belgian King Leopold II laid his eyes on it and till the end of colonial days. You may ask why we cannot let bygone be bygones, why we cannot get out of our mind the pictures of severed hands and heads, flogging, rape and murder. You may ask why treating other human beings like animals or at best like second-class citizens in the past should not just be buried as something we have dealt with already, a mass-trauma which over the years have been successfully suppressed. The answer to this is the same as to when asked if Holocaust was real. “The Manic Street Preachers” put it into song with the proverbial lines: “… And if you tolerate this then your children will be next”. This is exactly what this is about. Congo – and Africa was not new to violence and slavery when the colonialization fever broke out. However, with the industrial era beginning in Europe it took a new turn. Whereas most nations agreed about abolition of slavery, though for many different reasons, “forced labor” was something entirely different. While it is hard to defend the practice seen through 2019 eyes, the conditions of chimney sweeper boys and children working in coal mines were extremely harsh as well. In Victorian times “them and us” were much more the order of the day than at present and the “them group” of society did not fare well. As in other aspects it is very convenient being able to present an even lower status group, the poor uneducated and pagan natives of the Congo. By putting up several smokescreens King Leopold under cover of humanitarian work and development goes into Congo to empty it for any profit possible. For a long number of years, the Congo is the personal possession of King Leopold and public eyes have no access to the bookkeeping. Concessions are given, bonds issued, and people killed on regular basis, if not directly then as consequence of agricultural land confiscated and forced labor. Killings, famine, sickness, all took its toll and between 10-13 million lives are by a conservative estimate lost during Belgian rule. Today we know a great deal about what happened during these years and as most Europeans had a part to play in either participating directly or being unwilling to investigate, we all must plead guilty. The least we can do is to learn the lessons from this era and not stand by idle when history is repeating.

  26. 5 out of 5

    GWC

    A colonial morality play. The story in "King Leopold's Ghost" is a powerful one -- colonization taken to its extreme -- but the book is rendered mediocre by the author's trite moralizing, lack of historical rigor, and tiresome reliance on depicting every actor with either a halo or horns. Leopold, here an antagonist of extraordinary guile, is only weakly connected to the governmental and business interests with which he worked; the reader is given pages of anecdote concerning the king's depravit A colonial morality play. The story in "King Leopold's Ghost" is a powerful one -- colonization taken to its extreme -- but the book is rendered mediocre by the author's trite moralizing, lack of historical rigor, and tiresome reliance on depicting every actor with either a halo or horns. Leopold, here an antagonist of extraordinary guile, is only weakly connected to the governmental and business interests with which he worked; the reader is given pages of anecdote concerning the king's depravity with nearly no overview of the system in which he operated. The final chapter is a model of the book's flaws. It considers the Belgian process of forgetting which followed their foray into colonialism aided by international sympathy during the first world war. Instead of pursuing this interesting and somewhat complicated topic in more detail, however, we are duly regaled with additional vignettes of heroism and villainy. The book then concludes with a sermon aimed squarely at us in the choir.

  27. 5 out of 5

    A

    In the words of Roger Casement "Infamous. Infamous, shameful system." In the words of Roger Casement "Infamous. Infamous, shameful system."

  28. 5 out of 5

    James

    Update: About damn time. Scrolling through my past reads, almost all of them fiction, it struck me how much my reading could benefit from more variety. The first non-fiction book I bought, as far back as I can remember, had to do with futurism, and I never did finish it. Scandalous! What non-fiction I've dabbled in since then has tended to be predictable and safe: Bill Bryson books monopolize the part of my bookshelf that I, perhaps too idealistically, reserve for non-fiction. My non-fiction ine Update: About damn time. Scrolling through my past reads, almost all of them fiction, it struck me how much my reading could benefit from more variety. The first non-fiction book I bought, as far back as I can remember, had to do with futurism, and I never did finish it. Scandalous! What non-fiction I've dabbled in since then has tended to be predictable and safe: Bill Bryson books monopolize the part of my bookshelf that I, perhaps too idealistically, reserve for non-fiction. My non-fiction inexperience notwithstanding, Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything has been comfortably holding onto its Most Amazing Non-Fiction Book I Ever Did Lay Eyes Upon title without any real danger of losing it. That is, until I read King Leopold's Ghost. I knew beforehand the book promised to be a worthwhile investment. It's a familiar sight wherever requests for non-fiction book recommendations pop up. Initially, there was skepticism on my part; it is easy to be overexcited. But the big surprise driving my thoughts as I was finishing up Ghost, apart from the slight betrayal of the last 60 pages comprising the author's notes, bibliography, and index, was how much people have undersold its quality. Adam Hochschild has done for history what Bryson has done for science: he made it exciting. That's about where the similarities end. Laughs were had while reading Bryson. With Ghost, however, there was just the silence of horrified surprise. Hochschild had the arguably easier job than Bryson's, whose ambitious task was to tackle much of high-school science and not bore us in the process, when the former's was only to focus on one part of history, yet his account is no less comprehensive or compelling for it. Because of the abundance of summaries for the book here as elsewhere, I'll not waste any time in writing another one, but suffice it to say that around the turn of the last century, a king too clever and power-hungry for everyone's own good homed in on the Congo, which he in his rush for profits was quick to squeeze dry, along with ten million lives (as many guesses put it; records were either poorly kept or incinerated), from afar while most of the world watched on. "Leopold" doesn't immediately jump to mind when you think of history's most odious villains, flooded as you are with images of death camps and gulags, and such ignorance is largely thanks to the man's PR machine still operating even after his death. Access to what official records that survived the fire was impossible, and not that much less so even for Belgian ambassador Jules Marchal: "There was a rule in the Foreign Ministry archives. They were not permitted to show researchers material that was bad for the reputation of Belgium. But everything about this period was bad for the reputation of Belgium! So they showed nothing." Through extraordinary organizational skills and political sleights of hand, Leopold had the world fooled. No country that mattered didn't have at least an agent of his waiting for instructions to woo their respective country. "[T]he king reached new heights as a illusionist. He or one of his stagehands managed to open the curtains on a completely different set each time, depending on the audience." For the Americans, Leopold's American agent justified the International African Association, one of Leopold's several front organizations created for supposedly humanitarian reasons, by describing it along the lines of Travelers Aid and appealing to their anti-slavery sentiments; for the British, the organization was painted as "a sort of 'Society of the Red Cross'" that would advance "the cause of progress;" and for "the more military-minded Germans," Leopold compared "his men in the Congo to the knights of the Crusades." Ghost is really most enjoyable when Hochschild, with his straightforward writing and knack for presenting history almost cinematically, delves into Leopold's political machinations. In Ghost's first half, named "Walking into Fire," is mostly world-building, all of it fascinating. Hochschild starts with Leopold's childhood, but doesn't linger overlong on anything before moving on to the next necessary bit to set the stage, the story's as well as Leopold's, of which infamous explorer Henry Stanley Morton is the main event. Next comes a lot of exploring, deception, political maneuvering, land thievery, and regime establishment, followed by the rubber terror of the chicotte, decapitated heads, and chopped-off hands, and Hochschild chronicles all this with fantastically readable writing that, because of its strong narrative and stranger-than-fiction content, made me question reality at times. Watching Leopold getting his way every time can be exasperating, and probably because of that, there was a point around page 140 where, for the longest time, I didn't pick the book back up and continued where I left off. My brain, either being helpful or having fun at my expense, decided that spring cleaning was in order, leaving me at a total loss when I finally got back into Ghost months afterwards, which sent me back to the first page. While knowing that the pacing really picks up 37 pages later, just before Ghost's second half, would've been helpful, re-reading most of the first half was, if possible, even more absorbing than my initial run-through. I caught up in no time at all. Just before the second half begins, we are re-introduced to Edmund Morel, Leopold's loudest opponent yet, who we meet in the book's first few pages as well as in its blurb, and from here, Ghost practically reads itself. Titled "A King at Bay," the second half is the long-awaited payoff of suffering through Leopold's victory after another in the first. Hochschild peoples the rest of the chapters with colorful characters of inspiring courage, breathtaking intrigue, and comical misfortune. Whereas "Walking into Fire" sees Leopold masterminding events, "A King at Bay" finds them unraveling. Hochschild's stellar writing and confident narration here, once again, seldom falter, and it increasingly bummed me out the closer the end seemed. After getting over my irritation at the book ending with 60 pages left to go, I took some time to gather my thoughts. Then I took still more time. Almost a month later, I'm typing up this review, all to say that, despite the reader's block putting a snag in things halfway through, I loved Ghost. Well-written, lucid, and thoroughly supported, Hochschild's exposé should have King Leopold's Ghost quaking in his spectral boots.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    Before Pol Pot's Kampuchea, Hitler's Auschwitz, and Stalin's Gulag, there was Belgian monarch Leopold II's Congo. For over twenty years, Leopold literally owned the Belgian Congo as a personal fief, free of interference from his own people. While in charge, he ruthlessly exploited the native population in collecting rubber. With his Force Publique enforcers, men were sent out to collect rubber from wild trees while their wives and children were held hostage. If they failed to meet their quotas, Before Pol Pot's Kampuchea, Hitler's Auschwitz, and Stalin's Gulag, there was Belgian monarch Leopold II's Congo. For over twenty years, Leopold literally owned the Belgian Congo as a personal fief, free of interference from his own people. While in charge, he ruthlessly exploited the native population in collecting rubber. With his Force Publique enforcers, men were sent out to collect rubber from wild trees while their wives and children were held hostage. If they failed to meet their quotas, all were shot and their hands were cut off as trophies. During Leopold's personal rule of the Congo, some ten to thirteen million Congolese died as slaves. Adam Hochschild's excellent King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa tells how the Belgian king desperately tried to find a large expanse of land that he could personally exploit so that he could afford to build lavish palaces and woo women young enough to be his granddaughters. Using the mendacious Henry M. Stanley (of "Dr. Livingston, I presume" fame) to set up a colony and his own not unappreciable PR skills to buffalo the other European powers, Leopold succeeded for several decades until Evangelical missionaries and such powerful speakers and writers as Roger Casement and Edward Morel led a resistance that forced Leopold to divest himself of his personal African playground. Even Arthur Conan Doyle and Mark Twain (who wrote a savage book entitled King Leopold's Soliloquy attacking the atrocities) got involved in the act. Little is known about the darker moments in African colonialism. In his authoritative study, Hochschild shines a bright light on misdeeds that Belgium and other European powers would have preferred to remain in darkness.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Monica

    After almost 4 years I have finally finished this. Excellent book, written in an engaging way. My issue with it is that the subject matter is horrific. I could only do small doses. But it was worth it. Eye opening doesn't begin to cover it and it has very specific lessons about governing and government that are firmly in place to day (analogous). Leopold was a monster in a world full of monsters. The last chapter "The Great Forgetting" was particularly poignant. Very important book. It couldn't After almost 4 years I have finally finished this. Excellent book, written in an engaging way. My issue with it is that the subject matter is horrific. I could only do small doses. But it was worth it. Eye opening doesn't begin to cover it and it has very specific lessons about governing and government that are firmly in place to day (analogous). Leopold was a monster in a world full of monsters. The last chapter "The Great Forgetting" was particularly poignant. Very important book. It couldn't have been easy to research and put this together as King Leopold burned most of the documentation of his wealth and atrocities. Amazing job. 5 star book Edited to Add: Here is an example of what I mean when I say that it has very specific lessons about governing. This book was written in 1999. I look at this quote and can't help thinking about all the unrest in the world today... “And yet the world we live in—its divisions and conflicts, its widening gap between rich and poor, its seemingly inexplicable outbursts of violence—is shaped far less by what we celebrate and mythologize than by the painful events we try to forget. Leopold's Congo is but one of those silences of history.”

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