Dec 21, 2015

Non-Fiction Book Review: "King Leopold's Ghost"

King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial AfricaKing Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book kept me fascinated from beginning to end. A sensitive and starkly honest portrayal of the era, and of the socioeconomic situation driving the forced labor and huge loss of life in the Belgian Congo. I'm always interested in trying to figure out how cruelty on a massive scale can happen, and this book provided me with fresh insights.

One takeaway I got was this: Isolation and de-humanization and is necessary for cruelty on a massive scale. Slavery had been abolished in the Western world during the era of the Belgian Congo, and sure, the Western world acknowledged Africans as human beings, at least in public documents ... but the popular books and essays of the era clearly show the attitude that most Westerners denigrated Africans as less human than themselves. When someone isn't quite human, then their lives don't matter as much. If they're far away, then their lives matter even less. If the massive cruelty happens behind a dense jungle wall, or a barbed wire fence, then the rest of the world might not even believe it's happening.

Before this book showed up on my radar, I knew almost nothing about the colonial era of Africa. Why don't U.S. schools teach this history, instead of focusing solely on the U.S.? Why doesn't the History Channel cover things like this?

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