King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild

King Leopold's Ghost

King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild is a book that explores the exploitation of the Congo Free State by King Leopold II of Belgium between 1885 and 1908, as well as the large-scale atrocities committed during that period.

The book focuses on the moral implications of imperialism and colonialism, and how individuals like Edmund Morel, William Sheppard, and Roger Casement risked their lives to uncover the truth about the Congo.

The main themes of the book are imperialism and mass communication. It examines how European powers carved up Africa for their own gain, and how mass communication allowed people to spread awareness of the injustices occurring in the Congo.

The book also looks at the courage of individuals who fought against the oppressive rule of King Leopold II.

King Leopold II was determined to gain control of the Congo and exploit its resources for his own personal gain. He used violence and coercion to force the Congolese people to labor for rubber and ivory, resulting in the death of half the population due to punishment and malnutrition.

Despite the efforts of human rights activists, Leopold’s reign over the Congo Free State has become infamous for its brutality.

Adam Hochschild wrote King Leopold’s Ghost to make people aware of the European power’s crimes in Congo. The book provides an account of a cruel, heartless and cunning king who raided Congo and took away the lives of the people and economic resources in the nation.

Useful Takeaways

  • Imperialism and colonialism had devastating effects on the people of the Congo.
  • Mass communication allowed people to spread awareness of the injustices occurring in the Congo.
  • Individuals like Edmund Morel, William Sheppard, and Roger Casement risked their lives to uncover the truth about the Congo.
  • King Leopold II used violence and coercion to force the Congolese people to labor for rubber and ivory.
  • Half the population of the Congo died due to punishment and malnutrition.

What I Liked

Ok – like What The Hell, this book blew my mind. I’m writing this review years after I read this book (in college) – and it still sticks with me. I’m thankful that this story was told, but still in disbelief that it took so long to make the story widely known.

I appreciated how the book paints such a complex portrait of evil. It reminds me of Hannah Arendt’s idea of the banality of evil. There were so many people involved for so many different reasons that it’s hard to pin it on any one person (though Leopold is an obvious candidate, like Hitler was) – but the point is that Leopold could not as an individual pull of evil on this scale. It required a system that pulled in thousands of people and kept them engaged in the exploitation and extraction over a long period of time (in addition the demand that paid for it all).

I also appreciated how he highlighted that there were also lots of people who knew about the evil and fought against it.

What I Did Not Like

This book is tough to read. I wouldn’t change it at all. But it’s not only the depth of evil, but also pointless evil that is harrowing to read.

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