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(12/26/2008) King Leopold's Ghost: A Story Of Greed, Terror, & Heroism In Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild. Boston. 1998. Houghton Mifflin. keywords: Africa History Colonial Congo Colonialism. 367 pages. Front jacket photograph - Leopold II, King of Belgium. Jacket design by Michaela Sullivan. 0395759242.

Shocking and unforgettable, and one of my favorite books of the year.

FROM THE PUBLISHER -

   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.

ADAM HOCHSCHILD is the author of HALF THE WAY HOME: A MEMOIR OF FATHER AND SON and THE UNQUIET GHOST RUSSIANS REMEMBER STALIN, both of which were named Notable Books of the Year by the New York Times Book Review and Library Journal. FINDING THE TRAPDOOR: ESSAYS, PORTRAITS, TRAVELS, won the 1998 PEN/Spielvogel-Diamonstein Award for the Art of the Essay. He teaches writing at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley and in 1997-98 was a Fulbright Lecturer in India. He lives in San Francisco with his wife, Arlie, the sociologist and author. They have two sons.

 

 

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