One of the best indictments of colonialism that I have ever read, King Leopold's Ghost is obsensively a book about power and greed. Leopold, a King of a small country and a man with very limited powers, decides that he desperately needs to find a colony where he can reign supreme. He finally discovers Central Africa, a place that hasn't been gobbled up by the other colonizing powers, and claims it for his own. What ensues is one of the most brutal subjegations in recorded history. King Leopold's reign in the Congo was so vicious that even the other colonial powers of the day had to condemn him.This book is the story of a man that was so greedy- even the pretext of humanitarian aims were summarily ignored during his rule.One of the things I liked most about this book is that it deflates the hero status of people like Henry Morton Stanley- an insecure man who shot Africans for sport. In his place, Hochschild has given us people like E.D.Morel, William Sheppard, Roger Casement and Hezekiah Shanu to look up to. People who tried to make a difference when it wasn't popular to do so. This book is the very sad story of how the ego of one puny despot lead to the deaths of millions.Informative, honest and well written- I highly recommend this book.
Fascinating and thought-provoking!
Published by Thriftbooks.com User , 23 years ago
I have read 3 books on the subject of Leopold and the Congo: Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness; Neal Ascherson's The King Incorporated; A. Hochshild's King Leopold's Ghost. All 3 are well worth reading. I find Hochschild's to be the easiest one to read and the most entertaining and thought-provoking; also the latest; and well documented. Ascherson's goes into more detail and is very thorough and equally well documented, but probably harder work. I didn't particularly enjoy Heart of Darkness; granted it's the classical work on the subject, but I didn't find it particularly enjoyable. All 3 works refer to how King Leopold of Belgium managed to carve out for himself a personal, yes, personal colony in the 1880's against all odds in the heart of black Africa, which had made him a colossal fortune by the time that, bowing to international pressure,he handed it over to the Belgian Government shortly before he died in 1909, after having destroyed the majority of the colony's records. The King is shown to be a man of exceptional intelligence and cunning, hypocritical and deceitful and totally deprived of morality. These works suggest that the enormous profits he got out of the Congo were based on his ruthlessly forcing the natives to work for him in shipping to the international markets huge quantities of ivory and later of rubber. His brutal tactics resulted in the population literally being halved in the Congo during the 24 years that he was in charge. I would recommend that you begin with Hochschild and then go to Ascherson for more detail and a somewhat different perspective.
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