George Bradford's Reviews > King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa

King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild
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's review
Apr 13, 08

bookshelves: villains
Recommended to George Bradford by: John
Read in April, 2008

The century that gave us Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Chairman Mao and Pol Pot was ushered in by the worst criminal of them all: King Leopold II of Belgium. That's right, BELGIUM!!! For all the evil perpetrated by the 'A-List A-holes of the 20th Century', none of them outdid King Leopold II.

Between 1885 and 1908, under King Leopold II's rule, an estimated 10 to 13 Million human beings were killed in the African Congo. Those Congolese who survived were tortured, maimed, raped, forced into slavery and suffered horrifically under tyrannical colonial rulers.

King Leopold II was motivated by ego and greed. But he never actually set foot in Africa. The crimes were carried out by his agents and enabled by a cast of missionaries. This book documents that (1) Monsters exist and are dangerous,(2) more dangerous are the functionaries ready to believe and act without asking questions, and (3) inexcusable is silence in the presence atrocities against humanity.

Leave it to a young man from Liverpool and another from Ireland to discover what was happening in the Congo and announce to the world that it was wrong. This unlikely pair birthed the first global human rights campaign of the 20th Century. In doing so, they expressed the human capacity for outrage at pain inflicted on another human being, no matter whether that pain is inflicted on someone of another color, in another country, or at another end of the earth.

This book is very well written and very unpleasant to read. The bad guy profits obscenely. The genuine heroes who recognize evil and rise up against it suffer unjust retribution. The unrelenting crimes against humanity perpetrated in the Congo are beyond horrific.

And it all seems to have been erased from our collective history. The efforts to forget this period of human history have been as remarkable as they have been effective.

Case in point: Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness was inspired by and based upon the atrocities in the Congo under King Leopold II's murderous reign. But it's never taught that way in U.S. high schools or universities. Students are given a sanitized 'anti-colonialism' frame work that never mentions 13 million murders. In light of that, all those skulls around Kurtz's residence start to make sense.

Now that I understand it's accurate historical context, the next book I am going to re-read is Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Ron (new)

Ron Palmer Right on, George! Your review makes me want to walk, no RUN, to my computer to buy it on Amazon!
(I'm a big fan of HoD, too -- full disclosure.)

Lady Good review, but you quoted the author virtually verbatim a couple of times without giving credit.

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