Book review: King leopold’s Ghost

28 02 2009

“King Leopold’s Ghost” (by Adam Hochschild) is a fascinating and disturbing book chronicling the enslavement of the Congo by the king of the Belgians, Leopold II. That he managed to subvert the international campaign against slavery into a granting him control of an area of Africa larger than Western Europe was amazing. That he then introduced a system of forced labour that effectively enslaved tens of millions of Africans was appalling. That the systematic and regularised acts of unimaginable barbarity resulted in a reduction in population of an estimated 50%, perhaps 10 million, over a period of roughly 20 years, putting it on par with the mass murders later in the 20th century is horrifying. That it spawned the first mass human rights campaign of the last century is inspiring but perhaps the strangest and almost most shameful thing for the rest of us is that a mass, systematic, and industrialised campaign of murder in the pursuit of personal profit by a western European liberal democracy has been almost completely forgotten and ignored. “King Leopold’s Ghost” is a captivating book which is well worth reading.

Two other books relating to Africa and development that I’ve read this year include “Africa – a biography of the continent” by John Reader and “The Elusive Quest for Growth” by William Easterly. Both are good in their own rights but neither is as compelling as “King Leopold’s Ghost”. “Africa” is a massively ambitious project, attempting to tell the story of the African continent from it’s formation to the present day. Reader manages to convey some of the story, but at the price of seeming hurried in places. Easterly’s book isn’t as readable as his later “White Man’s Burden”. The elusive quest is clearly aimed at economists (or at least people with a bit of economic training) and so I found it harder going, but it’s still interesting to read the various theories that have been applied to try to achieve economic growth in the developing world, and to have each one debunked. He explains why massive capital investment failed, and also why investment in education doesn’t necessarily result in economic growth. Sadly my copy was stolen before I was able to finish it, but I hope the thieves found it interesting.




One response

28 03 2009

Pretty comprehensive review. I recently read King Leopold’s Ghost and have a review on my blog. You can check out most of my thoughts on the book here:

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