King Leopold's Ghost
A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa
By Adam Hochschild
(Mariner Books, Paperback, 9780618001903, 400pp.)
Publication Date: September 1999
Other Editions of This Title: Hardcover
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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 has written for The New Yorker, Harper's, The New York Review of Books, Granta, The New York Times Magazine, and many other newspapers and magazines. In King Leopold’s Ghost, Bury the Chains, and other books, Hochschild has earned a reputation as a master of suspense and vivid character portrayal. His skill at evoking such struggles for justice has made him a finalist for the National Book Award and won him a host of other prizes.
- Between 1880 and 1920, the population of the Congo was slashed in half: some ten million people were victims of murder, starvation, exhaustion, exposure, disease and a plummeting birth rate. Why do you think this massive carnage has remained virtually unknown in the United States and Europe?
"An enthralling story, full of fascinating characters, intense drama, high adventure, deceitful manipulations, courageous truth-telling, and splendid moral fervor . . .A work of history that reads like a novel." Christian Science Monitor
"As Hochschild's brilliant book demonstrates, the great Congo scandal prefigured our own times . . . This book must be read and reread."--Neal Ascherson The Los Angeles Times
"A vivid, novelistic narrative that makes the reader acutely aware of the magnitude of the horror perpetrated by King Leopold and his minions." The New York Times
"King Leopold’s Ghost is a remarkable achievement, hugely satisfying on many levels. It overwhelmed me in the way Heart of Darkness did when I first read itand for precisely the same reasons: as a revelation of the horror that had been hidden in the Congo." -- Paul Theroux
"Carefully researched and vigorously told, King Leopold’s Ghost does what good history always does -- expands the memory of the human race." The Houston Chronicle