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Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  2,878 Ratings  ·  231 Reviews
“The best account [of the conflict in the Congo] so far….The task facing anyone who tries to tell this whole story is formidable, but Stearns by and large rises to it.” —Adam Hochschild, New York Times Book Review “[A] tour de force, though not for the squeamish.” —Washington Post “This is a serious book about the social and political forces behind one of the most violent ...more
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Published (first published March 29th 2010)
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It's often claimed that the Congo Wars are too confusing for outsiders to understand. Pshaw.

It's really quite simple. The RFP pushed into DRC in the guise of the AFDL, originally pursuing ex-FAR. Naturally with UNITA and FLEC in the area Angola had an interest in getting involved and Uganda was wrestling with the WNBLF, UMLA, the ADM and of course the NALU; the Burundians, meanwhile, were contending with the FDD and FNL, all of whom were laden with RPGs and AKs. OK? After Kabila père turned on t
May 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you want to understand the tragedy that is the Congo, put aside the mythology and read Dancing In The Glory of Monsters. Jason Stearns has untangled the snarling mess that is the history of this sad nation.

As someone who's researched and written about the Congo myself (Heart of Diamonds: A Novel of Scandal, Love and Death in the Congo), I found new insights into the interminable conflicts that have wracked the country for it's entire modern history. Stearns delineates the players, putting th
Aug 25, 2012 rated it it was ok
This book has been called the "best" current nonfiction about the violence in the DRC - which I think says far more about the dearth of good books on the subject than on this one's merits.

While the book is a useful primer on the facts and political history of the violence in the DRC, I frankly disagree with most reviewers (and the author himself) that it somehow manages to achieve a more nuanced understanding of the country, the actors, or their motivations.

Stearns claims to be weary of the Cong
Mass violence does not just affect the families of the dead. It tears at the fabric of society and lodges in the minds of the witnesses and perpetrators alike. A decade after the violence, it seemed the villagers were still living in its aftershocks. They had all fled after the massacre; no one wanted to stay in town. They fled deep into the jungles, where they crossed the strong currents of the Luindi River. It was only on the other side that they felt safe. They lived in clearings, where they ...more
Nov 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: africa
Jason Stearns set a formidable task for himself in the Introduction to his excellent “Dancing in the Glory of Monsters”, taking Hannah Arendt memorable “the banality of evil” as the starting point for his investigation into the decades long war in the Congo. He doesn’t personalize the murderous violence and the evil behind it but tries to define the political system that allowed or encouraged such perversions of “normal” humanity. Instead of the faceless bureaucratic machine of the Third Reich h ...more
Richard Williams
Easy recommendation to the govt. put this author in charge somewhere in how western govt money is spent in the area.

1st read the last chapter. then set aside an evening to read the whole thing. then give it to a friend to read.

because people matter. their pain and suffering matter. killing people is wrong, killing lots of people is evil and must to fought.

it's first an examination of the history of the rwandan tutsi genocide and it's effects on the congo from 1990 to the present. it's secon
Mikey B.
Dec 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: africa, journalism, war
This book provides clarity to the quagmire of wars that have been happening in the Congo since the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

Mr. Stearns explains well the personalities involved and also brings us face to face with the brutality undergone by ordinary people in the many shattered villages and cities. The Tutsi-Hutu animosities are a recurring theme – but in the Congo, nothing is so simple and Mr. Stearns always qualifies his explanations.

The Congo is a land blessed with many natural resources. It
This is the book I chose for the 2016 world literature challenge. March - Sub-Sahara.

5 stars

Very interesting book. Also very enlightening. Don't really hear what is happening in Africa.

"... 'They didn't make any sense,' Nabyolwa remembered. 'First they accused me of deserting-which was strange coming from a bunch of deserters. Then they said I wanted to kill them by going back. Finally, an officer said, 'We think you are a traitor. Every time you send us into battle, we get attacked!'
'But that
An important book, with some valuable insights -- but terribly (and pointlessly) over-long. Could have been, and should have been a 180-page monograph. Still, a quick read if you know how to. Review will follow if I get some time.
Apr 13, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
About 10 years ago, Philip Gourevitch wrote "We Regret to Inform You ..." about the Rwandan massacre. You read it and are filled with moral outrage about the horrible acts of the Hutus and the relatively innocent victims Tutsis. This is the next chapter in that story and it is much a harder and more complicated read, as the Rwanda massacre turned into a proxy war in Congo killing 5 million in which there are no heroes, every side has committed horrible atrocities, and it is hard to see anyone as ...more
Adithya Vs
Mar 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics
African history is something that we hear of very rarely from our news sources. For most of us Africa is like a closed unknown box. Neither do we know anything, nor do we care to know. In fact a continent which is ten times the size of India, with a billion people rarely enters the mind of rest of humanity.

It is that world that this book reveals to us. The world of civil wars, ethnic rivalries, abject poverty and an absolute lack of humaneness. The magnitude of suffering that the people of Afri
Yves Gounin
Le livre de Jason Stearns a reçu des critiques élogieuses de la presse américaine (Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Foreign Affairs …) Elles sont amplement méritées. Il constitue probablement l'ouvrage le plus complet, et surtout le plus captivant, jamais écrit sur le conflit congolais et ses avatars. Un conflit qui, sur un territoire grand comme l'Europe de l'Ouest, opposa pendant près de six ans pas moins de neuf Etats et causa environ 5 millions de morts.
Le succès de ce l
Neill Goosen
May 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am fascinated by the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is just so... huge, and confusing and mysterious. I don't profess to know much about it, even though I have read a book or two dealing with various aspects of it. But in all my previous readings, I have come away with a feeling of 'It is all a mess and I am no closer to understand a thing about it'.
Until I read this book. For the first time, I have found a book that makes some sense out of it all. The (political and humanitarian) situa
Dec 22, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Stearns does two things in this book, first describing conditions in the Congo since Mobutu by interviewing leaders and participants in two Congo wars and the aftermath of it; secondly, suggesting ways Congolese and foreigners can rebuild the country, which fell apart since the days of slave trading, of colonialism and independence, of privatization in mining, and of the cold war up to the present. He compares the Congo of today--characterized by "Machiavellian" politics, by unaccountability to ...more
This is a super important topic and maybe my opinion is added by reading it over several months on a kindle app on my phone, which is never a great reading experience for me. But it was so disjointed and didn’t really follow a chronological narrative—and I know the author did this on purpose and I know the subject is really complicated. But part of the job of a good writer is to take a complex subject and try to make it clear—not simple at all—just clear. I wasn’t clear on who people were or how ...more
Babak Fakhamzadeh
A superbly comprehensive overview of the conflicts in the Congo following the Rwandan genocide, which eventually spilled over into the DRC.
The author himself points out the the successive wars in the Congo from the mid nineties onwards can not be boiled down to a simple narrative. And indeed, summing up the author's book would really result in another book that's only marginally thinner than the original.

Stearns triess to get behind the 'why' of the conflicts and the horrors committed, as oppose
Call Me Ishmael
Mar 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“Do you really think you can get this right?” Bugera asked me over the dinner table, pointing at the notes I was scribbling into my notebook. Like many of the people I interviewed, Bugera was skeptical that I could represent the complexity of his history.

“It is true that the Tutsi killed,” Bugera told me at one point. “But we all had brothers, schoolmates, uncles who had been killed. It’s all part of a whole. Can you portray that to your readers in Arizona or Berlin? - (Deogratias Bugera – One o
Dec 05, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
SO disappointing. I tried to give it 'zero' star but it didn't work. Here's the why:

1) the book doesn't seem to be evidence-based or thoroughly researched but rather it is a compilation of testimonies, sometimes first hand, sometimes not.

2) there is no real story line and this makes the book boring. At the same time, Stearns tries to have some sort of story line but then drops it on the way which have you wonder throughout the book: is this a novel? An academic piece? What is this book? Frustra
Aug 17, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am torn about how to rate this book. I thought it did a good job of breaking down some of the complicated dynamics that led to the Congo War, including lots of interviews from people who were there at the time, on all sides of the conflict. Maybe because it's several years old now, or maybe because there was less research put into the conflict since 2001, but the book felt like it ended fairly abruptly, skimming over the transfer to Joseph Kabila and the end of the official conflict around 200 ...more
Aug 12, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a great book, very captivating and also thoroughly researched over 10 years the author spent working in the Congo. While its nearly impossible to distil this conflict into one simple narrative, he does a good job of explaining the various forces that helped to trigger it and have continued to fuel it intermittently over the years.

In many ways the war in the Congo was a continuation of the violence unleashed by the Rwandan Genocide - at least initially - as the conflict in that country wa
Mar 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book has gone farther than anything else I have read towards explaining what happened in the Congo. The tangle he unwinds makes it obvious why news coverage has often been so unsatisfactory - even the best journalists must find it difficult to do justice to the complexity of the situation in a limited number of words.

Stearns has done a really impressive job of balancing the various needs of such a story: he explains the political intricacies in a clear and readable way, and is honest and cl
Jordan Peacock
Mar 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Heather
Shelves: modern-history
This is the sort of history book, along with Tony Judt's Postwar, that needs to be studied in depth at high schools. It seems as though World War II and the "Hitler = bad, Allies = good" rubric pervades education about historical and modern conflicts; the recent responses to the death of Osama bin Laden simply confirm this.

Jason Stearns digs in and makes a thoroughly illegible conflict understandable, without grossly simplifying it or stamping various sides as "good" or "bad". The neo-conservati
Dec 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Stearns' account of the DRC's recent tragic history is lucid and illuminating. Although the bloody quagmire of rebel coalitions and foreign incursions is never simple, this book does an admirable job in tracking the conflicts as they rage or perhaps ooze across this massive country, sucking in - or driven by - Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, Zimbabwe and the UN.

The backbone of this book is the wealth of interviews conducted by the author, and Stearns is at his best when depicting the principal players:
Mashrur Khan
Dec 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an excellent book. Dancing in the Glory of Monsters is based on very thorough research and anyone interested in the wars in the Congo should definitely read it. The book covers the history of the Congo, and other African countries that were involved, starting from the times of Mobutu Sese Seko to (Laurent Kabila to) Joseph Kabila. Jason Stearns has conducted many interviews to try to explain what has caused these wars and he does it well. This is a very serious book and there were times ...more
Jul 31, 2011 rated it liked it
The seemingly endless wars in the Congo with the unspeakable atrocities visited upon civilians and the destruction of the infrastructure of government has always been a cipher to me . After reading this book , I can see why. The warring factions are constantly shifting , there are too many to name , the conflicts are overlapping in time and the end goals of the different groups are not even clear. The death count is in the millions and climbing and the hatred between tribes and political faction ...more
Allison Punch
May 23, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fic
Though this took me a long time to read, I would say it was a worthwhile and thought-provoking read. I was minimally familiar with the conflict in the DRC prior to reading Stearns' book, so I learned a lot about the root causes of the conflict, though I would not say I have as in-depth of an understanding as I could. If this was a college class on the DRC since 94, Dancing in the Glory of Monsters would be a step above an intro-level survey course but not yet 300 or 400 level. That said, I reall ...more
Fred Rose
Jul 16, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: africa
This is a pretty readable book for such a complex subject. Over 5 million people have died in the last 15 years or so in the ongoing conflict in the Congo, most in the late 90s. The beginning of the war was a carry on of the Rwanda genocide, but also drew in revolutionaries who wanted to over throw the then-president Mubuto (who was running a kleptocracy for the most part). Throw in a huge amount of natural resources to be mined, and other long simmering ethnic tension, and a mess left by the Be ...more
Jason Stearns did a fantastic job of unraveling the many knotted threads that have contributed to the conflict in Congo. It is very readable and stimulating. He interviewed a wide range of political and military players as well as refugees and villagers. The focus is on the geo-political workings of Central Africa, and inevitably, the minerals, mass rape, massacres, and foreign government involvement are also addressed. There are several maps and a list of acronyms that are very helpful. His ana ...more
Anthony Meaney
May 21, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book on the recent history of the Congo and the wars that have plagued it. Doesn't lapse into lazy stereotyping or conspiracy theories.

Written in a balanced and almost restrained tone which must have been difficult for the author who has spent 10 years in the country and interviewed people who had obviously been guilty (albeit sometimes indirectly) of gruesome atrocities.

Highly recommended.
Michael Flanagan
Jun 13, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: africa
Having very ;little knowledge on the subject matter I found this book a great crash course. The complexity of the politics of the area is breathtaking and the author takes great pains to untangle it for the reader. A great book with a mixture of first hand accounts, history and political analysis this book leaves you gasping for breath as you turn the page.
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bononohs book club: January Book Choice 2 8 Dec 30, 2013 04:08PM  
  • Africa's World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe
  • In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu's Congo
  • A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa
  • Africa: A Biography of the Continent
  • Tropical Gangsters: One Man's Experience with Development and Decadence in Deepest Africa
  • The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence
  • Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles
  • The Graves Are Not Yet Full: Race, Tribe and Power in the Heart of Africa
  • The Scramble for Africa: The White Man's Conquest of the Dark Continent from 1876 to 1912
  • The Wonga Coup: Guns, Thugs and a Ruthless Determination to Create Mayhem in an Oil-Rich Corner of Africa
  • Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya
  • When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda
  • The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget: Murder and Memory in Uganda
  • Facing the Congo: A Modern-Day Journey into the Heart of Darkness
  • Blood River: A Journey to Africa's Broken Heart
  • No Mercy: A Journey to the Heart of the Congo
  • Where We Have Hope: A Memoir of Zimbabwe
  • A Thousand Hills: Rwanda's Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It
Jason K. Stearns is an American writer who worked for ten years in the Congo, including three years during the Second Congo War. He first traveled to the Congo in 2001 to work for a local human rights organization, Héritiers de la Justice, in Bukavu. He went on to work for the United Nations peacekeeping mission (MONUC). In 2008 Stearns was named by the UN Secretary General to lead a special UN in ...more
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“Such is the human being: when he is afraid, he sees enemies everywhere and thinks the only chance to stay alive is to exterminate them.” 5 likes
“As so often happens in politics, what appears to be politically expedient for those in power rarely overlaps with the public interest. The lesser evils of the regime become entrenched, while the greater good is never realized.” 5 likes
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