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








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.





Adam Hochschild was born in New York City in 1942. As a college student, he spent a summer working on an anti-government newspaper in South Africa and worked briefly as a civil rights worker in Mississippi in 1964. He began his journalism career as a reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle. Then he worked for ten years as a magazine editor and writer, at Ramparts and Mother Jones, which he co-founded. He has also written for The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Magazine, and The Nation. His first book, Half the Way Home: A Memoir of Father and Son, was published in 1986. His other books include The Mirror at Midnight: A South African Journey; The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin; Finding the Trapdoor: Essays, Portraits, Travels; King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa; Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves; and To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918. He teaches writing at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. (Bowker Author Biography)





Having had two books named to LJ's Best Books list in the past‘Half the Way Home in 1986 and The Unquiet Ghost in 1994‘Hochschild wins the Triple Crown with this powerfully moving account of enslavement, mutilation, and murder in 19th-century Africa. Though it is not well known today, five to eight million African lives were lost when the Belgians colonized the Congo under King Leopold‘a slaughter that, as Hochschild points out, proves Conrad's Mr. Kurtz to be no exaggeration. Hochschild is quietly devastating: he's got the facts, gleaned from prodigious research, and they speak‘damningly‘for themselves. (LJ 9/15/98) (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.





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. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved





The intersection of the boundless egos of Henry M. Stanley (the writer and explorer famous for having found Dr. David Livingstone) and King Leopold II of Belgium resulted in the colonizing of the Congo region of Africa and a period of slave labor, torture, and mass murders to rival the Holocaust. Hochschild magnificently renders a period in the 1880s little acknowledged in history, and includes the perspective of black Americans and black Africans, a perspective not often included in history books. Under the subterfuge of civilizing Africans and saving them from Arab slave traders (with no mention of the recently halted European slave trade), Leopold enlisted Stanley in colonizing a region 76 times the size of Belgium for his own personal benefit. This is a finely detailed account of the arrogance and hypocrisy of Europeans of the era in carving up Africa, appropriating land and resources in the name of humanitarian and scientific advancements. Hochschild's impressively researched history records the roles of the famous and obscure, missionaries, journalists, opportunists, politicians, and royalty in this long-forgotten drama.--Vanessa Bush






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