Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Book review: "King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa" by Adam Hochschild

So I try to make it a habit to write a review quickly after finishing the book. Reviews are more cohesive, more thoughtful and make considerably more sense.

I did not do this with this (excellent) book so it's not getting as good of a review as it deserves. I'm going strictly off of some notes I jotted off, so there's your disclaimer.Hopefully it's enough for you to be intrigued by the book to pick it up.

King Leopold desperately wanted to expand Belgium's territories. The thing is, there isn't any land to be had in Europe or in a lot of other places, and people were starting to frown on Colonialism in some spots. Leopold decided on Congo. (I can't remember exactly why, something about Stanley who we will get to later). The area of the Congo that he claimed was bigger than England, France, Germany, Spain and Italy combined. It was 76 times the size of Belgium!!!

As you'd imagine, King Leopold wasn't a sweetie pie. I thought the story of his oldest daughter was particularly sad. She was forced to marry a much older man, and on their wedding night ran screaming into the garden to avoid what she knew was coming. She was miserable and sad in her marriage and began having an affair with a cavalry officer much closer to her own age. She was eventually found out. She was given a choice: remain in the life of privilege with a husband she hated or to be committed to an insane asylum for the rest of her life. She chose the asylum. (So, that's horrifying to think about what her life must have been). Her cavalry officer was eventually able to rescue her from the asylum, and they lived together happily for a short time before he died. Most depressing story eveeeeeeer. I try to focus on the fact they were at least happy for a time.

So Stanley (Henry Morton Stanley) of "Dr Livingstone I presume?" fame was a big old liar. He lied about almost everything. His background, his family life, and lot of his exploring experiences. (He had a pretty terrible childhood so I can understand why he made up some of the stuff. Just saying).

After the notoriety that he gained after the Livingstone incident he was asked to go find a man named Emin Pasha who was in Africa and hadn't been heard from in some time. He had been studying bugs in Africa, and when Stanley found him and insisted that he returned to Europe with him Emin was dismayed. (But if Stanley didn't bring him back he'd look like a failure, so he kind of strong armed the return). Emin was at a reception welcoming him back to "civilization" when he stepped out of a second story window. (His eyesight was terrible, and he thought it was a veranda or an outside door or something. It sounds like something from Looney Tunes. It's ok, he lived!)

This book was full of stories: sad, compelling, interesting. I learned so much from this book, it was embarrassing how little I knew about this area during this time. Absolutely recommended! 4 out of 5 stars!



  1. I'm currently reading A Flower for The Queen, set mostly in South Africa during the early colonial era. So much I don't know!

    1. Oh I hear ya. Basically everything in this book was totally new information to me.


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