I found the topic fascinating and enlightening but the narration by Geoffrey Howard was a bit dry making it come off as the reading of a high school textbook. At first I thought it might be the writing but then I determined it was the narrator and his delivery. The late Edward Herrmann would have been able to deliver much more drama into the narrative. In addition, the editing of the recording was terrible. 30 or 40 times the narration repeated itself with previously read lines.
That being said, overall I really enjoyed the book. It's a part of history I didn't know and the book really touched on the pulse of the times. As the book states, history is written by the victors so the rape and torture of the Dark Continent did not make it into any of the textbooks of my youth. If you can put aside the editing issues and the dry narration it's work your time. Adam Hochschild did his part. My suggestion would be to purchase the book and read it if you can.
This needs either an executive summary or "hatchet" edit. Pun intended.
The author's relentless fury.
There are no good scenes to be favorable with. The book itself demonstrates first hand, up close and personal "Heart of Darkness".
I really tried, with time-outs. Just could not do it. Eventually started large scale skipping at the end.
This well written, researched and narrated book exceeded my expectations. It well exhibits what can go wrong when civilization of the savages is espoused as a coverup for sadistic cruelty, greed, and lust for power.
This is one of the many sad realities of colonialism.
This had long been on my wish list and I am glad to have finally read it. The story of Belgian King Leopold's acquisition and rape of the Congo and its indigenous people will surely rank as one of the most brutal campaigns of pillage and murder in recent history but also an epitaph to any remaining romantic notions of colonialism in the dark continent. Hochschild's book skillfully links the character and ambitions of Leopold, a second rate monarch and first rate despot, with his desire to acquire, for his own wealth and vanity, a colony in Africa to exploit in the late 19th century. Aided along the way by Livingston and Stanley, as well as the naïveté and racism of rulers in the new and old worlds, he eventually seizes the Congo and therein establishes a colonial regime based on rubber cultivation that succeeds in lining his own pockets, achieves little for his Belgian subjects, and unleashes immeasurable exploitation and suffering on the Congolese people, the ramifications of which arguably still reverberate today. Anyone familiar with Conrad's Heart of Darkness (referenced throughout) will recognize what Leopold had wrought in the Congo. Credit to Hochschild's though for letting the facts speak for themselves rather than sermonizing. Throughout, he does not dwell solely on the evil but also focuses on the few brave activists who first sought, to little success, to expose what was going on. To me, it was this aspect that elevated the book from a run of the mill expose to a remarkable history of a little know and mostly forgotten genocide. As Mr. Kurz would say, "the horror, the horror."
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.