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King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa (Picador Classic Book 93)

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  37,694 ratings  ·  2,503 reviews

With an introduction by award-winning novelist Barbara Kingsolver

In the late nineteenth century, when the great powers in Europe were tearing Africa apart and seizing ownership of land for themselves, King Leopold of Belgium took hold of the vast and mostly unexplored territory surrounding the Congo River. In his devastatingly barbarous colonization of this area, Leopold

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Kindle Edition
Published March 7th 2019 by Picador (first published September 21st 1998)
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Start your review of King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa (Picador Classic Book 93)
William2
A few things. First, I have read widely about Mao's Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward (40 to 70 million dead), Stalin's purges and programs of collectivization (20 million dead) and Hitler's genocide (11 million dead). I am largely unshockable. However, the avarice and deceit of King Leopold II of Belgium in the Congo (15 million dead) has been something of a revelation. I hereby enter his name in my Rogues Gallery roster. It is important that we remember what he perpetrated for his own ...more
Jeffrey Keeten
The Congo in Leopolds mind was not the one of starving porters, raped hostages, emaciated rubber slaves, and severed hands. It was the empire of his dreams, with gigantic trees, exotic animals, and inhabitants grateful for his wise rule. Instead of going there, Leopold brought the Congothat Congo, the theatrical production of his imaginationto himself.

 photo King20Leopold20II_zpsx1f6dans.jpg
King Leopold II

Belgium was simply not big enough for the future king. When he thought about the throne that would be his, he was openly
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Beata
Apr 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
The book was written 20 years ago, and yet, it is so eye-opening! The theme has not been covered enough . My idea of atrocities committed in the Congo in the second half of the 19th century were more than basic and narrowed to Joseph Conrads Heart of Darkness, which I read (and now should re-read) but didnt take too much interest in Conrads time in the Congo, which was a mistake Author who undertakes a most difficult task to write about crimes against humanities (term used for the first time by ...more
Trevor
Mar 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, race
This is a remarkably painful book. There are a number of estimates given throughout of the extent of the extermination of people in the Congo under King Leopold the author says perhaps 8-10 million people, but he also quotes someone who believes it might have been as many as 13 million people. This does not include, obviously enough, the children who were not born because their parents could not face bringing them into such a world. I mention this because at one point the author quotes people ...more
Beverly
Dec 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
The best non-fiction book I've ever read. The hyphenated title on the book is a story of greed, terror and heroism in colonial Africa and that sums it up very well. Such horrific treatment including brutal maiming and killing of workers, including children, who refused to work for King Leopold's rubber plantations is a story untold for centuries and deserves this fine treatment by Adam Hochschild. King Leopold of Belgium was an unrepentant monster.
Michael
Apr 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Michael by: chrissie
This work of popular history does a great job of bringing to life the story of King Leopold of Belgiums orchestration of a private empire in the Congo near the end of the 19th century. His greed driven campaign presaged the 20th century shenanigans with its use of political intrigue, bribery, media manipulation, and lies. The popular explorer Henry Morton Stanley was wooed and appropriated to make his dream become a reality. Its economic success was founded on the institutionalization of slave ...more
Warwick
Exterminate all the brutes! Kurtz


A very readable summary of one of the first real international human rights campaigns, a campaign focussed on that vast slab of central Africa once owned, not by Belgium, but personally by the Belgian King. The Congo Free State was a handy microcosm of colonialism in its most extreme and polarised form: political control subsumed into corporate control, natural resources removed wholesale, local peoples dispossessed of their lands, their freedom, their lives. To
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Malia
Oct 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a difficult book to review, because I am still thinking about it and probably will for some time. Of course I knew about King Leopold and his cruelty in the Congo, but nothing to this extent. The story Hochschild tells is one that left me consistently shocked, disgusted and deeply saddened and yet this is a book I would recommend to just about anyone. It strikes me again and again how cruel and vicious people can be to those they view as the "other", to those they view as someone less ...more
Sebastien
Nov 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Phenomenal book. I can't recommend this enough. Impeccably researched and told in a narrative style that is incredibly accessible. Hochschild focuses on a small cast of characters, follows their stories in such an intimate way that the history and the story come to life in a novelesque way.

I don't know much about colonialism. This book was a great way to get a sense of it and its exploitative evils and how imperialistic capitalism can bring out the absolute worst in human beings. The cool thing
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David
Jul 05, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 5q
Horrifying story, rivetingly told. Regrettably, much of my reading of history has been centered primarily on the history of Europe and of the U.S. Hochschild's account of Belgium's exploitation of the Congo left me appalled. Despite the accounts of some truly savage atrocities, I ended up reading it in a couple of marathon sittings. A disturbing book, but one so well-written, I highly recommend it.
Eric_W
Jan 31, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Belgian Congo, as Zaire and now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, were formerly called was the creation of King Leopold of Belgium who desperately wanted a colony. By the late 19th century there was little land left for the taking except in Africa and it had become obvious that taking over independent lands was neither wise nor practical. King Leopold II, King of the Belgians, was a man of enormous appetites both for land and foodhe once ate two whole pheasants at a restaurant in Paris, ...more
Will Byrnes
A compelling history of the impact of the West on the Congo
Rashmi
Jul 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone, especially Belgians
This book took me several months to read because it was so disturbing. After reading a chapter and having nightmares, I'd put it away for something else, and then return to it once I'd finished with the other book.

The atrocities committed in the Belgian Congo were nothing short of diabolical. And yet, shockingly, one of the worst genocides of the twentieth century remains relatively unheard of.

I am a big fan of Adam Hochschild; he makes you feel like you're reading a novel rather than a
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Trish
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 Leopolds 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 ...more
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Jan 02, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lisa (Harmonybites) by: The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Ultimate Reading List
If you ask an educated American to name the worst despots and atrocities of the twentieth century, you'll immediately hear such names as Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. Very few would name Leopold II, King of the Belgians and absolute master of the Belgian Congo. I wouldn't have before reading this book, yet a man thousands of miles from a land he never visited is charged with instituting policies responsible for 10 million deaths in the course of a couple of decades, sparking the "first great ...more
Max
Oct 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world-history
Ten years before the discovery of America, the Portuguese explorer Diogo Cão discovered the Congo River. 18 years later another Portuguese ship discovered Brazil. Thus began the lucrative slave trade to supply workers for Brazils mines and plantations. Congo ivory was sent to Europe in trade for cheap consumer goods but mostly for guns. The exploitation of the Congos resources was underway. By the late 19th century the Europeans were scrambling to dominate Africa and the heretofore impenetrable ...more
Laura Noggle
Jan 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, nonfiction, 2020
You think you know, but you actually dont.

This book is the most compelling history on colonial Africa Ive ever read. Its on par with The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.

Furthermore, unlike many other great predators of history, from Genghis Khan to the Spanish conquistadors, King Leopold II never saw a drop of blood spilled in anger. He never set foot in the Congo. There is something very modern about that, too, as there is about the bomber pilot in the stratosphere, above the clouds, who
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Pink
Sep 30, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The fault in this book is set out by Hochschild both in the introduction and again in his afterword. Here's what he says -

Looking back on this book after an interval of some years has reminded me of where I wish I could have done more. My greatest frustration lay in how hard it was to portray individual Africans as full-fledged actors in this story. Historians often face such difficulties, since the written record from colonizers, the rich, and the powerful is always more plentiful than it is
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Karen
Jul 05, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had 2 interesting experiences relating to this book while I was reading it. First, I recieved a call from an Airmiles rep who spoke with a thick African accent, he had no difficulty spelling my last name. He told me he came from the Congo, previously a Belgian colony where many names start with "van", hence his ease with my name. After telling him I was reading "King Leopold's Ghost", we talked for quite some time about the state of his homeland. He remarked that the people of the Congo are in ...more
AC
A very troubling look at the Belgian involvement in the Congo -- a chapter in the European 'Scramble for Africa' -- that I had not known much about. Leopold, in particular, comes out looking very bad.

The book (which I listened to as an audio) is still a bit too long and spends too much time on narrow topics -- and engages in a bit of hagiography of E.D. Morel and Roger Casement. In other words, the author is trying to appeal to the pathos in the reader, where more detachment would have made for
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Bettie
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Tanja Berg
Oct 30, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
This is a brilliant achievement: a history book of horrors which turns out to be a riveting read. I did not know much of King Leopold before this book, but I did know that he was responsible for many atrocities in his private colony Congo. This book paints a portrait of a greedy but intelligent man who knew how to use propaganda to achieve what he wanted: a colony and riches. Leopold also had a taste for very young girls - at the age of 65 years his mistress was a 16-year old prositute who ...more
Jacob Overmark
This is not a book for the faint-hearted.

It reveals the massive abuse of the Congo from the very day the Belgian King Leopold II laid his eyes on it and till the end of colonial days.

You may ask why we cannot let bygone be bygones, why we cannot get out of our mind the pictures of severed hands and heads, flogging, rape and murder.
You may ask why treating other human beings like animals or at best like second-class citizens in the past should not just be buried as something we have dealt with
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Aaron
Feb 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
In the words of Roger Casement "Infamous. Infamous, shameful system."
Jim
Jan 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, africa
Before Pol Pot's Kampuchea, Hitler's Auschwitz, and Stalin's Gulag, there was Belgian monarch Leopold II's Congo. For over twenty years, Leopold literally owned the Belgian Congo as a personal fief, free of interference from his own people. While in charge, he ruthlessly exploited the native population in collecting rubber. With his Force Publique enforcers, men were sent out to collect rubber from wild trees while their wives and children were held hostage. If they failed to meet their quotas, ...more
Carol
Mar 18, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Review to follow........
Monica
Jan 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
After almost 4 years I have finally finished this. Excellent book, written in an engaging way. My issue with it is that the subject matter is horrific. I could only do small doses. But it was worth it. Eye opening doesn't begin to cover it and it has very specific lessons about governing and government that are firmly in place to day (analogous). Leopold was a monster in a world full of monsters. The last chapter "The Great Forgetting" was particularly poignant. Very important book. It couldn't ...more
GWC
Oct 02, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
A colonial morality play. The story in "King Leopold's Ghost" is a powerful one -- colonization taken to its extreme -- but the book is rendered mediocre by the author's trite moralizing, lack of historical rigor, and tiresome reliance on depicting every actor with either a halo or horns. Leopold, here an antagonist of extraordinary guile, is only weakly connected to the governmental and business interests with which he worked; the reader is given pages of anecdote concerning the king's ...more
Thomas
This is one of those essential books that anyone who wants to understand the history of Central Africa, and why the Democratic Republic of the Congo is such a difficult place today, should read.

This book also makes clear why King Leopold II of Belgium belongs right up there with Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot as one of the greatest mass murderers in history. Leopold was way ahead of his time when it came to public relations and propaganda and some people, to this very day, still believe that
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Alex
Mar 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: africa, 2010
It's gratifying to get the chance to read a book as powerful and influential as this. King Leopold's Ghost is the book that re-exposed the atrocities Leopold committed against the Congo between 1880 and 1910 - atrocities that sank out of sight after they were finally stopped. An estimated ten million Congolese died during that time.

It's even more gratifying to find that Hochschild's book is well-written, too; it's fast, gripping and clearly laid out. Rarely, I read a book that's so important and
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Hochschild was born in New York City. As a college student, he spent a summer working on an anti-government newspaper in South Africa and subsequently worked briefly as a civil rights worker in Mississippi in 1964. Both were politically pivotal experiences about which he would later write in his book Finding the Trapdoor. He later was part of the movement against the Vietnam War, and, after ...more

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“Most striking about the traditional societies of the Congo was their remarkable artwork: baskets, mats, pottery, copper and ironwork, and, above all, woodcarving. It would be two decades before Europeans really noticed this art. Its discovery then had a strong influence on Braque, Matisse, and Picasso -- who subsequently kept African art objects in his studio until his death. Cubism was new only for Europeans, for it was partly inspired by specific pieces of African art, some of them from the Pende and Songye peoples, who live in the basin of the Kasai River, one of the Congo's major tributaries.

It was easy to see the distinctive brilliance that so entranced Picasso and his colleagues at their first encounter with this art at an exhibit in Paris in 1907. In these central African sculptures some body parts are exaggerated, some shrunken; eyes project, cheeks sink, mouths disappear, torsos become elongated; eye sockets expand to cover almost the entire face; the human face and figure are broken apart and formed again in new ways and proportions that had previously lain beyond sight of traditional European realism.

The art sprang from cultures that had, among other things, a looser sense than Islam or Christianity of the boundaries between our world and the next, as well as those between the world of humans and the world of beasts. Among the Bolia people of the Congo, for example, a king was chosen by a council of elders; by ancestors, who appeared to him in a dream; and finally by wild animals, who signaled their assent by roaring during a night when the royal candidate was left at a particular spot in the rain forest. Perhaps it was the fluidity of these boundaries that granted central Africa's artists a freedom those in Europe had not yet discovered. ”
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“And yet the world we live in—its divisions and conflicts, its widening gap between rich and poor, its seemingly inexplicable outbursts of violence—is shaped far less by what we celebrate and mythologize than by the painful events we try to forget. Leopold's Congo is but one of those silences of history.” 13 likes
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