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King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa Paperback – October, 1999
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
More About the Author
"To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918," Hochschild's latest book, was a New York Times bestseller. It was a finalist for the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction and won the 2012 Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Nonfiction.
The American Historical Association gave Hochschild its 2008 Theodore Roosevelt-Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service, a prize given each year to someone outside the academy who has made a significant contribution to the study of history.
"Throughout his writings over the last decades," the Association's citation said, "Adam Hochschild has focused on topics of important moral and political urgency, with a special emphasis on social and political injustices and those who confronted and struggled against them, as in the case of Britain's 18th-century abolitionists in 'Bury the Chains'; 'The Mirror at Midnight', a study of the struggle between the Boers and Zulus for control over South Africa in the 19th-century Battle of Blood River and its contentious commemoration by rival groups 150 years later; the complex confrontation of Russians with the ghost of Stalinist past in 'The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin'; and the cruelties enacted during the course of Western colonial expansion and domination, notably in his widely acclaimed 'King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa', among his many other publications. All his books combine dramatic narratives and meticulous research. . . .
" 'King Leopold's Ghost' had an extraordinary impact, attracting readers the world over, altering the teaching and writing of history and affecting politics and culture at national and international levels. Published in English and translated into 11 additional languages, the book has been incorporated into secondary school curricula and appears as a key text in the historiography of colonial Africa for college and graduate students. But it is within Belgium that Hochschild's work has had the most dramatic impact, demonstrating the active and transformative power of history. The publication of 'King Leopold's Ghost' forced Belgians to come to terms for the first time with their long buried colonial past and generated intense public debate that so troubled Belgian officials that they reportedly instructed diplomats on how to deflect embarrassing questions that the book raised about the past. The book offered welcome support for others in Belgium who sought acknowledgment and accountability for Belgian actions in the Congo. . . . Few works of history have the power to effect such significant change in people's understanding of their past."
Hochschild teaches narrative writing at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley. He and his wife, sociologist and author Arlie Russell Hochschild, have two sons and two granddaughters.
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
The story is told through a succession of biographical sketches of the principal villains and heroes, the former being Leopold's accomplices and the latter his opponents. Hochschild, though bent on illuminating a great human tragedy, allows himself and the reader several curious and even piquant digressions. The first suspicion that these digressions are only there to spice up the story is belied when the author manages to make them highly relevant, such as the connection between Leopold's unsuccessful wedding night and his all-consuming desire in the Congo.
Hochschild begins this book by reminding us of the figure of Affonso I, the sixteenth-century Christian King of the Kongo, pious son of a ruler converted by the Portuguese. Affonso wrote a series of eloquent letters to the Portuguese king complaining that the slave traders were depopulating his kingdom and even seizing members of the royal family. The Portuguese, however, had meanwhile discovered a traffic more profitable than gold and they were not about to give it up.
Leopold, the figurehead monarch of a small country, successfully acquired a realm larger than France, Italy and Germany combined. For many of the new imperial powers, collecting colonies was not particularly profitable, but Leopold, through a strange mix of luck, cunning, ruthlessness and breathtaking hypocrisy, managed to gain a huge fortune.Read more ›
This is not a criticism of the author, who likely didn't select his own title anyway. If you look at the book from the standpoint of what Hochschild wanted to write, it is a good but not great work. Hochschild was mostly interested in European/American personalities and focuses on them instead of a chronology of events either in the West or in Africa. At times, this makes the book confusing, as Hochschild does not use a lot of dates to help the reader sort out the order of events. On the other hand, the personalities of the day are vivid and fascinating. Hochschild has mined the vast majority of the available evidence to give us stunningly detailed (and at times salacious) details on King Leopold and his major opponents.
Perhaps the most important feature of Hochschild's writing is that he doesn't shy away from the imperfections of his heros or try to brush away the moral ambiguities of his subject. He is the first to admit that slavery was a problem even before the first major European contact with central Africa even while showing how the European/American system was far more pernicious and devastating than anything the natives had devised.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is a well written and engaging book about a part of history I knew next to nothing about. I found the links to modern African politics and the author's conclusions very... Read morePublished 4 days ago by A. Frazer
Anyone interested in the history of Africa, colonial exploitation, or unrestricted capitalism should read this book. Well written & researched, it is a landmark work.Published 12 days ago by K317X
This book has been downplayed because the wealtly do not want the common folks(me) to read it. The first pages tell full story, just that the reader is searchig for African... Read morePublished 16 days ago by Kathy J
Fascinating snapshot into a not too long ago but different past. Sets very useful context for understanding race in America in 21st century.Published 21 days ago by Chicago Reader
My college friend picked King Leopold's Ghost as our book club read and I was excited. It's been a long while since I've read a history or a biography and I do enjoy both. Read morePublished 29 days ago by Utah Mom
A must read! Hochschild paints a vivid well-written narrative of the terror that plagued the Congo during King Leopold's reign.Published 1 month ago by student09