This book begins with the assertion of evil. It made me uneasy. I prefer to hear the facts and draw my own conclusions. But I felt far less willing to grant King Leopold’s side another instant of attention after realizing that the facts had been obscured for a century or more by repression of documents relating to the case in Belgian state archives. Better that we finally uncover the ugly truth and take its lesson: unbridled greed may be the ugliest, most unforgivable, most unnecessary sin of all.
How can we not have known this horrible history? It happened only a hundred years ago. Though I am embarrassed I did not know the anguished history and perpetuation of evil in the Congo, I stand in good company. Hochschild tells us of a Belgian diplomat serving in the 1970’s Congo who learned of the atrocities by a chance remark from a chieftain recalling “the first time” of rubber collection. This diplomat-turned-historian, Jules Marchal, spent decades after his retirement from civil service investigating and documenting King Leopold’s personal fiefdom in the Congo and its long list of crimes there at the beginning of the Twentieth Century.
What does become amply clear from Hochschild’s account is how it is possible to mount a resistance to a great evil. Resistance requires exceptional people willing to bear witness, but also organization and persistence. Edmund Dene Morel, the shipping clerk who recognized in the 1890’s what was happening in the Congo, immediately called out the injustices he saw there and never hesitated in his mission to publicize it in the years that followed. Fortunately, he was an articulate man with a convincing speaking style and he had enormous drive. He managed to gather like-minded folk to himself to voice a larger protest.
The life of Irishman Roger Casement, the gay man knighted by the Queen for his work as a diplomat and later hanged by Britain as a traitor to the crown for his work as an Irish patriot, stands as an example of the strange dissociation countries in power display when someone challenges their economic and political interests. I fell in love with him a little, Sir Roger Chapman, as a man of great courage and vision: he saw what men are and did not despair, though one might say that, in the end, he died of it. Black Americans who spent their adult lives speaking out against the horror happening in Africa, the Reverend William Henry Sheppard and George Washington Williams, have finally found their way back into history. Many Christian missionaries, though notably, not Catholic missionaries, did their part in publicizing crimes in pursuit of endless demand for rubber.
What I liked most about the book was the way Hochschild brought us past the period of the Congo revelations to the present day, telling us how we could have been ignorant of the time and the period. He followed the lives of Morel and Chapman to their ends, and introduced us to Ambassador Marchal of Belgium. He follows the Congo after Leopold through its Belgian colony status to the demand for self-rule and the murder of Patrice Lumumba, the Congo’s first legally-elected prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He tells us of Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, Congolese President who continued crimes against his country that Leopold had begun, this time with American support.
I began to realize that some of the surviving chiefs of Leopold’s crimes were sometimes collaborators. Their behaviors have been perpetuated over the generations until there is nothing but misery left in that place. Now I understand better how a country so rich in natural resources could be so socially impoverished. The crimes continue to the present. What can be the solution to this kind of moral destitution?
For anyone interested in Africa, or in European history, this is an important read. Economics and politics -- along with the obsessions of the Belgian monarch -- give structure to relentless tales of torture and murder. This is not a book for the faint of heart. Alas, the flow comes to a stop every 40 minutes or so, and for that I downgraded the performance. Clearly Audible bought an earlier, taped audio book, which in the old way of listening repeated the last line of the previous tape to orient the reader to the next one. New technology makes this not only unnecessary, but annoying, and I hope Audible will edit out these repetitions..
It is among the tope 3 books I have ever heard.
A good history book
no and I actually didn't like his voice at the beginning but he grw on me.
This book made me sick to my stomach as I learned of all the injusticies and atrocities committed by King Leopold.
Before I heard this book, I had such an incomplete history/view of what happened in the congo. Yes, I read heart of darkness and knew that there was truth to that but my goodness, this book got me fired up and angry that more people don't know about the infamous King Leopold.
I like history and biography, novels too. I do have a thing for zombie books as well. I need crappy thrillers now and then.
Fascinating, horrible history. Good research, but the the voice comes off more academic than necessary.
This is such an epic story of greed, pure evil, lies, but also nobility, truth and heroism -- it's hard to believe that the entire thing is true.
On the one hand, there is the pure embodiment of lust, greed and sheer evil genius, King Leopold. If Leopold didn't exist, you'd almost have to invent him just to personify all the bad intentions and misdeeds that created the Congo Free State. But that's what's so amazing about this book -- people like Leopold actual existed and did the things that are described here. I always have trouble imagining a person of pure, unadulterated evil, just sheer badness with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. The shorthand view for this person is always Hitler, but I think the cool thing about this book is bringing one to the realization that there are other Hitlers who existed in their own periods of time. Leopold did not have the military might of a Germany at his disposal, but he used every tool at his disposal to build a concentration camp for the people of the Congo -- not for racial cleansing or any high ideals like that, but just to line his own pockets. Wow.
And at the same time, there's the heros of this book -- none of whom have any of the money or power or connections of Leopold, but they use the one thing at their disposal eventually to bring him down. The truth. This part of the book actually made me wish for a time like the early 20th century, when we still had the capacity to be shocked by the sorts of abuses then happening in Leopold's Congo.
Anyway, do not miss this book. It is an awesome story that is all but forgotten in today's history overviews. I would give this book six stars if I could.
This is a fascinating book about the mind of a European monarch who supported one of the cruelest colonizations in history. The absolute brutalization of the Congo has been hidden from most of us. Who studies Belgian history in the US?If you want to begin to understand modern African politics, you have to read this book. Well worth listening to.
One of the best I've listened to this year. Hochschild filled in gaps in my knowledge of Colonial Africa and particularly the history of the exploitation of the Congo and its people.
The several historians, Black and White, who once they knew of the ostrocities, took great risks to get the truth before the world.
The several depictions of the cruelty to the Congo people and how they were forced to work the rubber.
King Leopold's Ghosts works
Anyone who has an interest in understanding how the Congo was colonized, how the authentic history was withheld, and why the region remains exploited and troubled will find this a great read. It is a shame-filled story.
the current one is always the best, but this really is. it is unbelievable, and it was right there under our noses. The period (end of 19th) is fascinating and this was a story I didn't know. Colonialism, Capitalism, Racism, reform-abolition-evangelism in a baroque train wreck.
Heart of Darkness touches the same story and draws the same horror. It also fits in with audible books about US civil war politics (team of Rivals, Catton, Shelby, 1861) and with end of Brit. empire (Gandhi and Churchill, Jan Morris) I'm also interested in the connection with the abortive Mexican Empire of Carlota and Maximilian.
Love to hate? Leopold, the soldiers, Stanley. Then there's Shepherd and Morrison on the good side. Courage!
I had to take some sleep breaks, but yes.
This book told the important story of the rape of the Congo. It's as important to understanding man's inhumanity to man, as the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, or the Japanese Rape of Nanking. I'm embarrassed that I did not know this story before now.
The story is well told. The book gives necessary background, and develops the characters interestingly. It tells you not only what the characters did (such as King Leopold, or Sir Henry M. Stanley (Stanley & Livingston) but who they were, how they became who they were, and where they fit into the scheme of events. It also introduces admirable characters who I had not heard of before, such as George Washington Williams, and William Henry Sheppard, both of whom were essential in getting out the story of Leopold's abuses.
It was also amazing how modern the story was, with Leopold's, and Stanley's, self promotion, manipulation - almost Orwellian - of the English language to serve their needs. The same practices are still alive and well in modern politics, corporate promotions, and special interest promotions.
This is one of the top-rank audiobooks I have listened to.
In terms of telling a necessary story, The Slave Ship. The difference is, the rape of the Congo occurred later than most other slavery, and the enslaved remained in Africa
This book made me think, a lot. Humanity's inhumanity to humanity is hard no matter who is doing what to whom. It was also inspirational to read the stories of those who thought for themselves, and resisted and acted against Leopold's abuses.
Yes, absolutely! This is one of the best books ever written. The narrative is crisp, clean and informative. I could listen or read this book over and over again.. and still learn new things (I've read and listened to this book).
Well, there are other excellent historical narratives out there, one that comes to mind is "Is Paris Burning?", which details the Nazi escape from Paris and Hitler's insistence that Paris burn to the ground, and a little known General disobeying orders. Why I compare it, is that the narrative is crisp, clean and very informative. However, King Leopold's Ghost is in a class unto itself, it's on my top 3 list.
Good, annoying at first, but I warmed up to it...
Yes and No, I certainly enjoyed getting into my car for 7 straight days of one hour commutes and getting through the entire book.
I'm listening to his new book, "To End all Wars.." Hopefully it will be as good as King Leopold's Ghost. I like Hochschild's writing and so far it's been an excellent listen.