“Large parts of the Belgian establishment loathe this book. It tells, as its sub-title says, ‘a story of greed, terror and heroism’. It lays bare the absolute fiction that King Leopold’s fief in the Congo was based on some philanthropic urge – a line that Leopold managed to peddle with extraordinary success at the time. I don’t know if what Leopold did would be called ‘genocide’ today or not. But millions died under his rule, often in horrific circumstances, invisible to the rest of the world. Modern communications didn’t exist. One hero of Hochschild’s book is a young Liverpool shipping clerk called Edmund Dene Morel, who realised in the course of his work that there was something terribly wrong with the Congo trade. The ships were coming back to Europe full of riches: ivory, rubber – fantastically valuable stuff then, as much as gold is now. But what went out to Africa was guns. In went weapons to repress; out came treasure. He felt he had stumbled upon a gang of thieves with a king at their head. In Morel’s own words, ‘I had stumbled upon a secret society of murderers, with a King for a croniman.’ He made the Congo his life’s work – setting up newsletters, feeding information to journalists. He got celebrated writers from Mark Twain to Arthur Conan Doyle involved. He placed op-eds in newspapers across the U.S. and Europe in a way that any modern human rights organisation would be proud of. He had a huge impact. He was a one-man human-rights organisation. Hochschild’s book is full of such extraordinary stories, powerfully told.” Read more...
The best books on Human Rights