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King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa Paperback – September 3, 1999
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King Leopold of Belgium, writes historian Adam Hochschild in this grim history, did not much care for his native land or his subjects, all of which he dismissed as "small country, small people." Even so, he searched the globe to find a colony for Belgium, frantic that the scramble of other European powers for overseas dominions in Africa and Asia would leave nothing for himself or his people. When he eventually found a suitable location in what would become the Belgian Congo, later known as Zaire and now simply as Congo, Leopold set about establishing a rule of terror that would culminate in the deaths of 4 to 8 million indigenous people, "a death toll," Hochschild writes, "of Holocaust dimensions." Those who survived went to work mining ore or harvesting rubber, yielding a fortune for the Belgian king, who salted away billions of dollars in hidden bank accounts throughout the world. Hochschild's fine book of historical inquiry, which draws heavily on eyewitness accounts of the colonialists' savagery, brings this little-studied episode in European and African history into new light. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Hochschild's superb, engrossing chronicle focuses on one of the great, horrifying and nearly forgotten crimes of the century: greedy Belgian King Leopold II's rape of the Congo, the vast colony he seized as his private fiefdom in 1885. Until 1909, he used his mercenary army to force slaves into mines and rubber plantations, burn villages, mete out sadistic punishments, including dismemberment, and committ mass murder. The hero of Hochschild's highly personal, even gossipy narrative is Liverpool shipping agent Edmund Morel, who, having stumbled on evidence of Leopold's atrocities, became an investigative journalist and launched an international Congo reform movement with support from Mark Twain, Booker T. Washington and Arthur Conan Doyle. Other pivotal figures include Joseph Conrad, whose disgust with Leopold's "civilizing mission" led to Heart of Darkness; and black American journalist George Washington Williams, who wrote the first systematic indictment of Leopold's colonial regime in 1890. Hochschild (The Unquiet Ghost) documents the machinations of Leopold, who won over President Chester A. Arthur and bribed a U.S. senator to derail Congo protest resolutions. He also draws provocative parallels between Leopold's predatory one-man rule and the strongarm tactics of Mobuto Sese Seko, who ruled the successor state of Zaire. But most of all it is a story of the bestiality of one challenged by the heroism of many in an increasingly democratic world. 30 illustrations. Agent: Georges Borchardt. First serial rights to American Scholar. Author tour.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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In addition to profiling Leopold throughout his life and reign, the book draws in other key figures in the story of African colonization. Henry M. "Dr. Livingstone, I presume" Stanley, a Welsh orphan who escaped to America where he became a journalist and steamboat captain, is one of the book's main subjects. Stanley served as a Congo "promoter" and agent for Leopold for many years.
Irish diplomat and nationalist Roger Casement, who worked for Stanley, went to the Congo in 1884 to supervise construction of a railroad from the ocean up the river to the interior rubber plantations. Later he issued a scathing report on the brutalities inflicted by government and corporate overseers.
Other figures -- crusader Edmund Morel, writer Joseph Conrad, Secretary of State Elihu Root, Sen. Nelson Aldrich, and many other international political figures -- all appear in the history.