King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa

King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa

by Adam Hochschild

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780618001903
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 09/28/1999
Series: Edition 001 Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 27,314
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.08(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

ADAM HOCHSCHILD is the author of seven books. King Leopold's Ghost was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, as was his recent To End All Wars. His Bury the Chains was a finalist for the National Book Award and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and PEN USA Literary Award. He lives in Berkeley, California.


Hometown:

San Francisco, California

Date of Birth:

October 5, 1942

Place of Birth:

New York, New York

Education:

A.B., Harvard College, 1963

Read an Excerpt

As with any traumatic piece of history, the roots of this story lie far back in time, and its reverberations still sound today. But for me a central vantage point, an incandescent pivotal moment that illuminates long decades before and after, is a young man's flash of moral recognition.

What People are Saying About This

Paul Theroux

King Leopold's Ghost is a remarkable achievement, hugely satisfying on many levels. It overwhelmed me in the way Heart of Darkness did when I first read it.

From the Publisher

"An enthralling story, full of fascinating characters, intense drama, high adventure, deceitful manipulations, courageous truth-telling, and splendid moral fervor . . .A work of history that reads like a novel." Christian Science Monitor

"As Hochschild's brilliant book demonstrates, the great Congo scandal prefigured our own times . . . This book must be read and reread."—Neal Ascherson The Los Angeles Times

"A vivid, novelistic narrative that makes the reader acutely aware of the magnitude of the horror perpetrated by King Leopold and his minions." The New York Times

"King Leopold’s Ghost is a remarkable achievement, hugely satisfying on many levels. It overwhelmed me in the way Heart of Darkness did when I first read it—and for precisely the same reasons: as a revelation of the horror that had been hidden in the Congo."—Paul Theroux

"Carefully researched and vigorously told, King Leopold’s Ghost does what good history always does—expands the memory of the human race." The Houston Chronicle

Nadine Gordimer

Hochschild's outstanding study, unmatched by any other work on the Congo, reveals how all Europe -- and the USA -- contributed to the making of King Leopold's holocaust of the Congolese people.

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King Leopold's Ghost 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 84 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Belgium is not very well known as an oppressive nation, England being the great colonial power of history. But the number of people it killed during its colonization of the Congo exceeded the European Holocaust! I'll leave it to you to buy the book and discover how much they really murdered and how. Another book that, as I like to say, will be the best time you ever had getting depressed!
Guest More than 1 year ago
If I believed in the innate goodness of human beings or a universal compassion for life that lives within us then - after reading this book - I feel like I was wrong. and naive. ignorant to the true nature of mankind. This book has filled me with a sadness that I'm not sure I have ever felt before... I turned each page with a hand that grew heavier and heavier and by the end it seemed like each page was filled with so much pain that I could hardly lift it up. Watching King Leopold II carefully create and control public perception and use his power to influence, manage and direct other governments, media and policy makes me acutely aware that the same thing is probably happining today. and always will. I feel overwhelmed and a little bit sick after reading this but I will recommend it to every reader I meet.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A beautifully, thoughtfully written face of history of human rights and nations' hypocrisies. An in depth presentation of true heroes and villains, and human weaknesses. Introduces, well know people from varied disciplines [Arthur Conan Doyle, Bertrand Russell, Elihu Root, TR, etc, on this stage. A panoramic masterpiece. Thoughtful quote, page 204: And yet the world we live in¿its divisions and conflicts, its widening gap between rich and poor, its seemingly inexplicable outburst of violence¿is shaped by less by what we celebrate and mythologize than by the painful events we try to forget.
flyladyNM More than 1 year ago
Born in Belgium and learning the Royals in history class. This is a different story. We learned about the missionaries helping the Congolese.
carterchristian1 on LibraryThing 29 days ago
Best kind of popular history. Every African should read this.
stevesmits on LibraryThing 29 days ago
This is a remarkable history of events in colonial Africa that, though poorly known today, constituted one of the most horrific occurences of genocide and exploitation in modern history. It tells of King Leopold of Belgium's obsession to become a colonial power at the end of the nineteenth century. Leopold seized vast territory in central Africa in what is now Zaire. Unlike other western European states that played out their imperialist aims as nation states, Leopold, in his person, became the ruler of this vast territory. Leopold portrayed himself as the savior of African people against the predations of "Arab" slave traders (in the faux humanitarian and racially superior tone of the times), but was actually responsible for massive and devastating oppression of the native people to wrest riches of their lands from them (ivory and, later, wild rubber) through forced labor. It is estimated that up to ten million people died from this genocidal treatment.There is quite a bit of material on Henry Stanley, the famed explorer. Needless to say, he turns out not to be the heroic adventurer that popular myth portrays.Another theme of the book recounts the herculean efforts of a few people to expose and oppose this horror. Hochschild describes Joseph Conrad's travels in the Congo and his encounters with Belgian mercenaries that resulted in his masterpiece of the degradation of the era -- "Heart of Darkness". He identifies the officials that were mostly likely his models for Kurtz. Hoscschild also narrates the stories of American and British missionaries to the region who reported the malevolent treatment of the inhabitants. Two highly signficant instigators of the anti-Leopold movement were Sir Roger Casement, a British consul, and E.D. Morel. Morel was a shipping agent for a line that moved goods to and from the Congo. He noticed that huge quantities of valuable goods were coming from there, but returning ships there contained arms and worthless trinkets for trade. His investigations led to a life-long campaign against this massive exploitation that ultimately turned world opinion against Leopold. This book is a vivid portrayal of excesses of the colonial era by western powers and the havoc that this visited on people in the Congo and elsewhere. That this story is not told alongside the other genocides of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is a real blind spot in a complete history of these times.
cathyskye on LibraryThing 29 days ago
First Line: On January 28, 1841, a quarter-century after Tuckey's failed expedition, the man who would spectacularly accomplish what Tuckey tried to do was born in the small Welsh market town of Denbigh.Over a century has passed since the events depicted in this book, and the first thing I learned was that-- somewhere along the line-- I had fallen prey to King Leopold II of Belgium's public relations team. For quite a long time, Leopold was known as a great humanitarian. The real King Leopold was quite horrifying.In the 1880s while Europe carved Africa into colonies to harvest as much of the continent's natural resources as possible, King Leopold II (who scathingly referred to his own country as "small country, small people") was frantic not to be excluded from the feast. The vast colony he seized in 1885 as his private fiefdom included most of the unexplored basin of the Congo River.Leopold then proceeded to put in place a reign of terror that would end in the deaths of four to eight million people-- a genocide of Holocaust proportions. Those indigenous peoples who survived went to work mining ore or harvesting rubber while Leopold squirreled away billions of dollars in hidden bank accounts around the world.Although the king's ministers tried to keep a very tight lid on what was really going on in the Congo, the word began to get out and circulate to a wider and wider audience, due mainly to men willing to risk their jobs, their reputations and their lives in order to put an end to the atrocities. Their efforts to expose these crimes led to the first great human rights movement of the twentieth century.The strength of Hochschild's book is that he uses the wealth of information that can be found in actual eyewitness accounts. I have to admit that I had to read this book in short doses. Normally I am not squeamish, but as I read what Leopold sanctioned in order to reap untold wealth-- all the while painting himself as a great and wise humanitarian-- I became sickened.There are those who may read of the genocides in Africa in recent decades and think, "So what? It's just one tribe wiping out another tribe. There are plenty more to take their places. It's not as though white people are being murdered." Once again, a piece of forgotten history shows us that the indigenous peoples of Africa learned all about genocide... from the "civilized" whites.As painful as this book can be to read, I'm glad I read it-- and I hope you consider reading it as well.
Hantsuki on LibraryThing 29 days ago
Even though I started this book last month, it only took me three days to finish it. I actually had to read the first twenty pages in order to do well on a portion of my exam, but otherwise, I only spent three days reading this book because primarily, I had to finish all of it before my in-class essay in a couple of days and secondly, this book was rather hard to put down.The real plus side to this book is that it reads like a novel, and I can't begin to explain how much that helps a reader become interested in a book made up of historical facts. If I had to read another textbook, I don't think I would have finished on time, but because Hochschild has an eloquent writing style, his book wasn't painful to read at all.The other plus side was the fact that the author used many comparisons to explain a lot of the things he talks about (and of course, that helps the book sound like a novel). For example, when he talks about the imperialism in Africa, he compares it to the imperialism in the Philippines or in India. Plus, there are many characters in this book to follow. If you don't care about King Leopold, you can read about Stanley, or if you don't care about him, you can read about Morel or Casement or look forward to the chapter on Joseph Conrad. I feel like there's something in this book that would interest everyone.I also have to say, by the time I finished this book, I didn't feel depressed at all. I can't say I was feeling very horrified either, regretfully, although I'm sure the author meant for the reader to feel some horror after reading about what happened to the Africans subjected to colonialism in the Congo predominantly. Maybe it's because I've read Heart of Darkness several times. Anyway, I'm more fascinated by what I've read more than anything. After reading the Forward at the end where the author states that he was turned down by nine publishers because they thought no one would be interested in the history of the Congo, I thought to myself that I could understand why they thought that way, but I think everyone needs to read a little something they would naturally want to avoid. This book gives you something to think about anyway.
willmurdoch on LibraryThing 29 days ago
Certainly the best piece of popular history about a little known criminal enterprise known as the Congo Free State of Leopold the 2nd, King of the Belgians, in the late 19th and early 20th century. A fascinating and readable book with many heroes including E.D. Morel and Sir Roger Casement; who later figure in the First World War and Hochschild's recent book on it. I recommend that book too!
datrappert on LibraryThing 29 days ago
True horror story of the (at the time Hochschild wrote it) little known atrocities and genocide in the colonial Belgian Congo and the few people who sought to expose what was going on. it. Riveting, terrifying, and well-written, and especially interesting if you have read Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Sadly, although hundreds of thousands of people have read this book and been awakened to a sad episode of history, there is still a great deal of denial as well.
trinibaby9 on LibraryThing 29 days ago
A must read! I have no idea how this potion of history can be so overlooked!. It is terrible to see how human beings treat one another and what individuals are capable of. This is a must read if only for the fact that this atrocity must never be commited again. No human life is worth more than another, whatever the financial gains may be.
grheault on LibraryThing 29 days ago
How the good king Leopold got away with slave labor, 'off the books' governance via private armies,the killing of millions of Congo black, long decades after slavery was banned, and how he was thwarted by good guy activists and journalists. The cast of characters is enticing in their familiarity: Albert & Victoria, Carlotta & Maximillian, Stanley & Livingstone, Joseph Conrad, Mark Twain; and fascinating in their newness ( to some of us): black Americans William Sheppard & George Washington William, and UK activists Edmund D. Morel & Richard Castleton.The Leopold story was taught in the 1950's as an example of bad colonialism to children in British Commonweath countries, in contrast to the UK's 'good' colonialism. Author analyzes why the Belgian Congo became the focus of anti-slavery activism when similar sins were being committed by other European powers. And one still wonders, with Belgiums French/Flemish divide about the role of the Catholic Church in all this. Interesting characters, action, and analysis by the author. Great bibliography and notes for further reading.
bernsad on LibraryThing 29 days ago
Despite the rather horrible subject matter I found this an enjoyable read. Hochschild has obviously done extensive research but presents it in an easily readable style. He gives us a good picture of colonial Africa, specifically the Congo but probably applicable in general, not just to Africa, but a lot of the colonial territories. I think the most poignant part of the book is the photographs of people with hands cut off as punishment! Frightening, but probably still possible in some parts of the world today. We are not very far advanced from this mentality yet.
KendraRenee on LibraryThing 29 days ago
An amazing, well-researched, informative book. My brother went to the Congo a few years ago to develop more micro-finance in the area, and some of the stories he told while there make so much more sense now--i.e. the strained relationship between blacks and whites, the current corruption in their government, the guerilla warfare, etc. There's a history of incredible, terrible repression, slavery, slaughter, and abuse that clearly made this country what it is today. Turns the stomach and makes one want to weep at the cruelty of mankind. The story of the people who fought to end this era of human rights abuses might have inspired me to join Amnesty International sometime soon.
veevoxvoom on LibraryThing 29 days ago
At the end of the nineteenth century African colonialism was at its height, and no more was this evident than in King Leopold of Belgium¿s personal scramble for the area known as the Congo. Adam Hochschild follows the development of the Congo under Leopold and its brutal, ruthless regime against the natives. But in his story of cruelty is also the story of those who opposed and rallied against Leopold.I was assigned to read this book as a study in colonialism during a first year university history course. I read only about half of it and then stopped; not because of lack of interest, but because exams and other distractions had started to dominate my time more. Two years later I¿ve returned to this book and now I feel embarrassed that I ever let it go. It is gripping, meticulously researched, and written more like a novel than an academic text, which makes it easy reading in style at least.The subject? Not so much. It¿s hard to read about such rampant genocide and not feel personally disgusted or moved, which was the case for me. History of African colonization is not a topic that I¿m well acquainted with. I don¿t think a lot of westerners are acquainted with it. It¿s not taught much in schools in any case, and I knew nothing about the Congo prior to this book. Now I feel like I¿ve made the first step in knowledge, although I¿m sure there¿s still a long way to go.The synopsis of this book calls the opposition to Leopold¿s Congo the first human rights movement of the twentieth century. I think this is a vital book for anyone who is interested in the history of human rights campaigns, or anyone in general who wants to know more about the world¿s darker, bleaker histories.
michaeleconomy on LibraryThing 29 days ago
read this in college, pretty good, covers history i would have never had any idea about otherwise
getupkid10 on LibraryThing 29 days ago
An amazingly detailed account of King Leopold's destruction of large swatch of land in central Africa, the murder of its people and the people in Europe and the United States that battled to end it. The story documents the roughly ten million people who were killed through starvation, murder, disease or infertility caused by the migration of forced labor with heart wrenching detail. Many stories, often given by missionaries working, tell the story of people being shot on sight for not bringing back enough rubber, people being forced in shackles from their villages to work deep into the jungles searching for rubber and villages brought to starvation as they are forced to provide food to gov't or rubber companies workers. Though it does cover the people of the Congo, the majority of It follows the work of Edmund Morel, a newspaper writer and author of books that published the atrocities perpetrated by Leopold and the concession companies in the Congo, William Sheppard, an American missionary who also wrote about the methods used by the Belgians and Roger Casement, British consul, who witnessed the atrocities and would work with Morel in bringing the events to the Western public. Hochschild does an amazing job covering this often forgotten moment in colonialism and one of the first battles for human rights in the twentieth century. No wonder this book is referred to by Bryan Mealer and Michela Wrong, both authors on the Congo, as "the definitive account of the rubber atrocities" and as "gripping, impeccably researched... [and] unbeatable.", respectively.
santhony on LibraryThing 29 days ago
Having only a passing familiarity with the history of the European colonization of sub-Saharan Africa, I must admit to being somewhat shocked at the raw body count associated with Leopold's rape of the Congo. As many have asked, "How could the death of up to 10 million people become nothing more than a footnote to this historical era?" The subjugation and plundering of large areas of the region was certainly not an activity that began and ended with Leopold, however, the scope of his atrocities coupled with the other aspects of his pathetic life identify him as an utterly miserable excuse for a human being. That being said, however, it should be noted (as the author does at the end of his work), that in many ways, Leopold was a man of his times. If his body count was higher than that of French, German and English colonies, this was largely due to the fact that the rubber resource was more densely located in his area of control. What matter the body count if the value of the bodies were negligible? Even many of the "heroes" identified in the book, looked with disgust and abhorence at the subjects of Leopold's crimes against humanity. However, it is these very individuals, who took on at great risk the powers involved in the carnage that make up the story of this period. A willingness to protect the defenseless, at great personal sacrifice and with virtually no hope of either success or reward is what identifies the finest among us.
FicusFan on LibraryThing 29 days ago
A very compelling book. The story of how the king of Belgium ended up owning a huge swath of Africa as a private possession. The local people were never considered the owners of their land, or the masters of their own lives. Their possessions, land and animals were taken, their lives were often destroyed, their families were broken up, their bodies tortured, maimed and killed, and their culture was ground into the dust. All this was done in the name of educating them how to work, to be decent, clothes wearing, god-fearing people, but in reality they were made into slaves. The underlying reason was profit, and power for the Europeans.Leopold managed to keep reformers and even those in his own country from learning the full truth about how the place was run, how much money he extracted, and the cost in lives, and suffering. The sad thing is most didn't care about the suffering of the locals. They were not treated any better in the other colonies, but the Congo is the one that was in the spotlight in the early 1900s. Belgium was a small country and easier to make an enemy of than say, France, Germany or Great Britain, which also had colonies, with the same driving force.Many of the documents of the investigations that weren't destroyed by Leopold when he turned the colony over, were hidden away in the Belgium state archives, and access was refused. They have now been released, but only in French. The past has faded away in human memory and even in the history books. Many famous monuments, buildings and parks were purchased with African blood, but there is no mention or knowledge of it. The horrors of the past have set the patterns for today and the cycle of violence, poverty, terror and theft have continued. Now it is the Africans themselves who are perpetuating it. Though there is still western money and power in the background pulling the strings. Just a searing tale of how 10 -13 million people in one colony were killed, worked to death, or died of disease and/or starvation. And Africa was full of colonies.
LisaMaria_C on LibraryThing 29 days ago
If you ask an educated American to name the worst despots and atrocities of the twentieth century, you'll immediately hear such names as Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. Very few would name Leopold II, King of the Belgians and absolute master of the Belgian Congo. I wouldn't have before reading this book, yet a man thousands of miles from a land he never visited is charged with instituting policies responsible for 10 million deaths in the course of a couple of decades, sparking the "first great international human rights movement of twentieth century." Hochschild tells us in the introduction that the book "is the story of that movement, of the savage crime that was its target, of the long period of exploration and conquest that preceded it and of the way the world has forgotten one of the great mass killings of recent history." The first third of the book sets out the background--the explorations of the brutal Henry Morton Stanley of "Stanley and Livingston" fame, and the machinations of Leopold to gain a colony. The story of almost every monster of history seems to lie in a hunger for fame, glory or a twisted patriotism or ideology. With Leopold, as he's presented, the motive seems to be pure greed. The next third begins to set out how Leopold's military dictatorship used forced labor to meet demands for ivory and rubber. It explains how Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness was inspired by his own experience in the Congo. Finally, Hochschild tells the story of the protest movement, especially the story of Edmund Dene Morel, "an obscure shipping-company official" who became Leopold's most dangerous enemy. After reading this I certainly will never again be able to see Stanley as a hero or read Heart of Darkness in the same way. Given the material, this is an absorbing book--a five star in terms of the importance of the story, but not, I thought, in presentation. Hochschild, a former editor of the Marxist Ramparts and a co-founder of the far-left Mother Jones, often lets his socialist biases peek out. For instance, he bizarrely expresses his bewilderment over how a businessman like Morel with no attachment to socialism could be so passionate about fighting injustice! Even more than the intrusive socialist lens, I was left uneasy by the whiff of sensationalist journalism in his psychoanalysis and unsupported speculations about motives and actions and focus on scandal. I think in a lot of cases like that, less would have been more. And in the case of what happened in Congo, more would have been more. I felt I got a better sense of how Leopold conducted his affair with his teenage mistress than how he governed the Congo. Hochschild's chronology and evidence for the numbers he claimed killed in the introduction and analysis of what part could be pinned down as due to the direct effect of colonial rule felt sketchy, as did the exploration of Leopold's role beyond press relations and lobbying. (Admittedly, as Hochschild related, difficult precisely because so many documents were ordered destroyed by Leopold.) When I contrast King Leopold's Ghost to say Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich or Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, I just can't rate Hochschild as impressive as a writer or historian.
dekan on LibraryThing 29 days ago
i'm not really sure what to say about this book. this is a book that everyone should read, historically. also because it was holicaustic. the population was cut more than 50% and estimated (minum 10-13 million dead). holy sh**. Leopold should be listed with stalin and hitler but this was a crime of many as well. i found some of the names involved interesting especially the most current and the involvement from our goverment now regaurding Lumumba and Mobutu (who i am familiar with, vaguely.) you stand amazed at those who still claim the holocaust never happened. yet here, they have succeed to unbelievable hights the ability for mass denial. it makes me sick. on the other hand i feel like i need to know more. that the book left you uninformed, at least as far as knowing more than the basics or general. when you read the book you'll see why but at the same time i didn't like the organization of the information, however i don't really know how i would change it. i also felt that being that there is a lack of info why it didn't focus more on leopold himself, again that was i'm sure due to the lack of info. don't get me wrong, i admire and think this book deserves a hugh standing ovation for even writting this book. i'm also impressed with the after publication information and more writters should be this aware. it also lets you know that the writter believes in the cause. i don't know how this review came out, my brain hasn't been working very well lately. i hope that it reads better than the flow of the book but i'm thining this is worse. you should read it. he is up there with hitler and stalin and was bringing the congo close to extinction. i couldn't help wondering why he never just killed some of these people to hide mass murder except that he seemed so intent on keeping his reputation in tact, but i'm not sure he was that delusional. as a last remark, this obviously only hit the tip of the iceburg, so per the book it is rightly; the horror, the horror.
etxgardener on LibraryThing 29 days ago
I pride myself on being a student of history, and I knew that the history of the Belgium Congo was not one of the high points in Europe's colonial adventures in Africa, but I had no idea how bad it really was, or how awful King Leopold of Belgium was.Impeccably researched and eminently readable, this book is compendium of horror. How anyone could possibly defend colonialism in Africa after reading it is beyond me. A sad excuse for a king, aided and abetted by greedy, grasping explorers (so much for my childhood impressions of "Dr. Livingston, I presume" Mr. Stanley), businessmen and soldiers of fortune raped and pillaged the Congo River basin leaving a sad legacy of corruption and brutality that continues up through today.On the flip side the efforts of a handful of human rights crusaders valiantly tried to end the terrible abuses in the territory. While only partially successful their efforts, too, live on today in organizations like Amnesty International and Doctors Without Borders.This book should be required reading for anyone who today is promoting the overseas adventures in the United States in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
dchaikin on LibraryThing 3 months ago
King Leopold¿s Ghost is the story of Congo Free State ¿ a colony owned outright not by a European country, but by a single monarch, King Leopold II of Belgium. The state, an area almost 30 times the size of Belgium, existed for 23 years (1885 ¿ 1908), and was run solely for profit ¿ mainly from Ivory and rubber. Congo was ¿discovered¿ by the Portuguese in the late 1400¿s and became a source of slaves for the slave trading. But, it was not penetrated by Europeans until Henry Morton Stanley began his treks of discovery (leaving a bloody path behind him) in the mid-19th century. At this point King Leopold stepped in and successfully manipulates the creation of the ¿Free State of Congo¿ under his personal ownership. In Europe Leopold promoted his mission in the Congo as humanitarian.But, out European sight, was a prolonged massacre for profit. This is the world of Joseph Conrad¿s Heart of Darkness. Under Leopold, the Congo became basically an enslaved country of forced labor. The brutality was unrestrained and the stomach turning stories are endless. The black population dropped in half¿something like 10 million black Africans died during this during this period. This was not genocide. The torture and mass death came in the name of profits.However, this was not unique in Africa. Similar kinds of things happened in other places under other European states. The main difference of Congo was that it covered a huge area. Also unique was that Leopold provided a villain, and a strong movement developed to end the Congo Free State. The truth of the Congo was partially exposed during Leopold¿s lifetime. Hochschild has written a very detailed and gripping history of the Congo. He captures some of the atmosphere of life in the Congo, and he fleshes out many of the key people involved, especially the madman who was Henry Morton Stanly. His chapter on Joseph Conrad was absolutely fascinating.
ElizabethPisani on LibraryThing 3 months ago
I read this when I happened to be living in Belgium and working in Africa, and when I thought I knew at least a little about both. I found King Leopold's ghost immensely informative, and more than a little shocking. It has haunted me for may years --a compelling read.
furriebarry on LibraryThing 3 months ago
Brutal and fascinating history of Congo.