African History, History, Imperialism

Book of the Month: King Leopold’s Ghost

A Story Of Greed, Terror, And Heroism In Colonial Africa.
A Story Of Greed, Terror, And Heroism In Colonial Africa.

King Leopold’s Ghost

By Adam Hochschild

“A village which refused to provide rubber would be completely swept clean. As a young man, I saw [Fiévez’s] soldier Molili, then guarding the village of Boyeka, take a big net, put ten arrested natives in it, attach big stones to the net, and make it tumble into the river…. Rubber caused these torments; that’s why we no longer want to hear its name spoken. Soldiers made young men kill or rape their own mothers and sisters.”

The horror of King Leopold’s treachery in Congo is a subject of neglected history, probably because Africa in the face of the world is still seen as a place of no historical significance, and Africans still considered “half devil half child” who must be saved from themselves by charity of Europe, and America. Congo is one of the very few places in the world that has enjoyed or experience a state of peaceful existence at a very short interval since the late 19th century when European imperialism gripped Africa. The experience of Congolese beginning from 1880s onward is yet to be recognized and given proper attention it deserved by the citizens of world, compared to that of the Jew Holocaust of the 20th century. King Leopold is yet to attain the stature of Hitler as “great evil” in spite of the fact that he was responsible for the death of ten million Congolese as against six million Jews murdered by the Nazis under Hitler. We hope that someday the experience of the Congolese when Congo was considered property of King Leopold II of Belgium will appeal to the humanity and sensibility of the world.


In the 1880s, as the European powers were carving up Africa, King Leopold II of Belgium seized for himself the vast and mostly unexplored territory surrounding the Congo River. Carrying out a genocidal plundering of the Congo, he looted its rubber, brutalized its people, and ultimately slashed its population by ten million–all the while shrewdly cultivating his reputation as a great humanitarian. Heroic efforts to expose these crimes eventually led to the first great human rights movement of the twentieth century, in which everyone from Mark Twain to the Archbishop of Canterbury participated. King Leopold’s Ghost is the haunting account of a megalomaniac of monstrous proportions, a man as cunning, charming, and cruel as any of the great Shakespearean villains. It is also the deeply moving portrait of those who fought Leopold: a brave handful of missionaries, travelers, and young idealists who went to Africa for work or adventure and unexpectedly found themselves witnesses to a holocaust. Adam Hochschild brings this largely untold story alive with the wit and skill of a Barbara Tuchman. Like her, he knows that history often provides a far richer cast of characters than any novelist could invent. Chief among them is Edmund Morel, a young British shipping agent who went on to lead the international crusade against Leopold. Another hero of this tale, the Irish patriot Roger Casement, ended his life on a London gallows. Two courageous black Americans, George Washington Williams and William Sheppard, risked much to bring evidence of the Congo atrocities to the outside world. Sailing into the middle of the story was a young Congo River steamboat officer named Joseph Conrad. And looming above them all, the duplicitous billionaire King Leopold II. With great power and compassion, King Leopold’s Ghost will brand the tragedy of the Congo–too long forgotten–onto the conscience of the West.

(Click the link below to download the full pdf version),%20%20-%20Hochschild,%20Adam.pdf


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