Dancing in the Glory of Monsters
The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa
By Jason Stearns
(PublicAffairs, Hardcover, 9781586489298, 400pp.)
Publication Date: March 1, 2011
List Price: $28.99*
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At the heart of Africa is Congo, a country the size of Western Europe, bordering nine other nations, that since 1996 has been wracked by a brutal and unstaunchable war in which millions have died. And yet, despite its epic proportions, it has received little sustained media attention.
In this deeply reported book, Jason Stearns vividly tells the story of this misunderstood conflict through the experiences of those who engineered and perpetrated it. He depicts village pastors who survived massacres, the child soldier assassin of President Kabila, a female Hutu activist who relives the hunting and methodical extermination of fellow refugees, and key architects of the war that became as great a disaster as--and was a direct consequence of--the genocide in neighboring Rwanda. Through their stories, he tries to understand why such mass violence made sense, and why stability has been so elusive.
Through their voices, and an astonishing wealth of knowledge and research, Stearns chronicles the political, social, and moral decay of the Congolese State.
Jason Stearns has been working on the conflict in the Congo for the past ten years. In 2008 he was named by the UN Secretary General to lead a special UN investigation into the violence in the country. He has also worked for a Congolese human rights group, for the United Nations peacekeeping operation, and for the International Crisis Group. He is currently completing a PhD at Yale University.
Kirkus, February 15, 2011
“Impressively controlled account of the devastating Congo war…The book’s greatest strength is the eyewitness dialogue; Stearns discusses his encounters with everyone from major military figures to residents of remote villages (he was occasionally suspected of being a CIA spy)…An important examination of a social disaster that seems both politically complex and cruelly senseless.”
“Covering the devastating effects of these deadly contests on the Congolese infrastructure, Congolese institutions, and people’s lives, Stearns informatively reports on affairs for students of African politics.”
New York Times Book Review, April 3, 2011 “The best account [of the conflict in the Congo] so far; more serious than several recent macho-war-correspondent travelogues and more lucid and accessible than its nearest competitor…The task facing anyone who tires to tell this whole story is formidable, but Stearns by and large rises to it. He has lived in the country, and has done a raft of interviews with people who witnessed what happened before he got there…his picture is clear, made painfully real by a series of close-up portraits.”
Wall Street Journal, March 2, 2011
“He is a cracking writer, with a wry sense of understatement…Mr. Stearns has spoken to everyone—villagers, child soldiers, Mobutu's commanders, Kabila's ministers, Rwandan intelligence officers. In these conversations he found gold, bringing clarity—and humanity—to a place that usually seems inexplicable and barbaric. ‘Dancing in the Glory of Monsters’ is riveting and certain to become essential reading for anyone looking to understand Central Africa.” Foreign Affairs, May/June 2011
“Stearns is more concerned with the perceptions, motivations, an actions of an eclectic mix of actors in the conflict—from a Tutsi warlord who engaged in massive human rights violations to a Hutu activist turned refugee living in the camps and forests of eastern Congo. He tells their stories with a judicious mix of empathy and distance, linking them to a broader narrative of a two-decade-long conflict that has involved a dozen countries and claimed six million victims.”
Washington Post, April 24, 2011“Enter Jason Stearns. One of Congo’s most intrepid observers, he describes the war from the point of view of its perpetrators. He has tracked down and interviewed a rogue’s gallery of them. The resulting book, “Dancing in the Glory of Monsters,” is a tour de force, though not for the squeamish." Economist, April 28, 2011“[Stearns] is probably the most widely travelled and the most meticulous and empathetic observer of the war there. This is a serious book about the social and political forces behind one of the most violent clashes of modern times—as well as a damn good read.” Global Post, April 26, 2011
“Stearns is a leading authority on the region, having lived there for years working for the United Nations and the International Crisis Group. He has built up a superb knowledge of Congo and how it articulates with its neighbours, particularly Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi. He frequently imparts his understanding to journalists far less well-informed than he. And now he has produced a book where he makes the whole convoluted and confusing war in Congo a little more comprehensible, which is quite a feat. If you want to understand modern Congo then Stearns’ book should be required reading.”
Telegraph, May 13, 2011
“A brave and accessible take on the leviathan at the heart of so many of Africa’s problems… Stearns’s eye for detail, culled from countless interviews, brings this book alive… I once wrote that the Congo suffers from ‘a lack of institutional memory’, meaning that its atrocities well so inexorably that nobody bothers to keep an account of them. Stearns’s book goes a long way to putting that right.”
The Spectator, May 8, 2011
“(t)his courageous book is a plea for more nuanced understanding and the silencing of the analysis-free ‘the horror, the horror’ exclamation that Congo still routinely wrings from Western lips.”
Sunday Times, May 1, 2011
“Stearns has done a fine job of amassing vast amounts (of material), much of it based directly on interviews with the participants and victims, to bring to light details of a scandalously under-reported war… (T)his book succeeds in providing a vivid chronicles of this rolling conflict involving 20 rival rebel groups.
“a vivid chronicle of the carnage that helps illuminate a tragedy too enormous to comprehend” Financial Times, June, 24, 2011“A serious, admirably balanced account of the crisis and the political and social forces behind it, providing vivid portraits of both victims and perpetrators and eyewitness accounts of the main events… perhaps the most accessible, meticulously researched and comprehensive overview of the Congo crisis yet.”
Book of the Year, “(a) serious account of the social and political forces behind one of the most violent clashes of modern times… by one of its most meticulous and empathetic observers.”
Times Literary Supplement
“(Dancing in the Glory of Monsters) is both readable and humane. (Jason Stearns) offers an effective narrative of the convoluted regional politics of a conflict that saw the rapid emergence of an alliance of neighbouring governments which gave their support to the rebel army recruited from DRC’s Tutsi population… While Stearns works hard to make his readers understand the violence, it is clear that he is both impassioned and outraged by this story of human suffering… This intelligent and moving book may help us understand some of the people of the Congo better, as humans, tragically liable to do evil rather than as monsters; but unsurprisingly, it provides no clear answer to intractable questions about the scope of international intervention.”
Midwest Book Review
“Any collection strong in African history and culture—as well as many a military collection—will find this a ‘must’”