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Paperback King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa Book

ISBN: 0618001905

ISBN13: 9780618001903

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

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Format: Paperback

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Book Overview

Documents the plundering of the territory.

Customer Reviews

4 ratings


I ordered this book for my husband in paperback. When it got to him he wasn't allowed to get it because it had a hard cover on it. Was so disappointed i didn't get what i ordered. Now i have to reorder this book.

"The horror! The horror!"

Many of us who have read Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" think of it as an allegory tinged with racism--a tale of a European, Kurtz, who has abandoned the restraints of civilization and has surrendered himself to the barbaric despotism and primitive rituals innate to Africa. Yet Hochschild spends a full chapter of his excellent history reminding us of the novel's historical context: the figure of Kurtz is based on at least one real-life colonial administrator, and the barbarity is not one that is indigenous to Africa but imported from Europe. Conrad's contemporary readers understood that his novel was a condemnation more of colonial tyranny rather than of African primitivism. And the ringleader of these gang of hoodlums who invaded the Congo and massacred its inhabitants was King Leopold II of Belgium. In a tour de force of characterization, Hochschild portrays Leopold as a petulant and greedy monster who decided at a young age that the way to wealth was ownership of an African colony and the subjugation of its inhabitants. Leopold initially made his profits through the exportation of ivory, but his bureaucrats struck gold with the expansion of the international rubber market. The victims were the natives, who lost not only their land and their freedom, but often their lives. There is no pretty way for Hochschild to tell this story: Leopold's officials used unbelievably harsh methods to force the locals to collect rubber--all in the name of bringing them European civilization, Christian charity, and a Western work ethic. In addition to taking wives and children hostage (in subhuman conditions) until the men made their quotas, soldiers would torture or kill the inhabitants if they faltered. One of the most grisly aspects of this calculatingly orchestrated version of modern slavery was the severing of hands--and their collection into baskets as proof of killings--as a means of terrorizing the population. The wonder of it all is that Leopold and his agents managed to keep most of these deeds secret and even disguised his colony as a charity for the benefit of "pagan" African natives. Yet Hochschild's narrative is not simply a gruesome account of the horrors of Leopold's personal fiefdom--which the king himself never once visited. The most fascinating part of this tale is the creation of what might reasonably be called the world's first human rights movement. George Washington Williams, the first and perhaps bravest campaigner, initially sounded the alarm, but he was ignored largely because he was African American. Later rabble-rousers had better success: E. D. Morel, whose suspicions were aroused when he noticed the imbalance of trade to the colony while working at the docks; William Sheppard, a Presbyterian missionary who provided first-hand accounts; and Roger Casement, a British consul who became an important anti-Leopold activist (and who later became an significant figure in the Irish independence movement whose closeted homosexualit

Absorbing and horrifying!

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!

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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