Black History Month: Spotlight

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Adam Hochschild’s awardwinning, hearthaunting account of the brutal plunder of the Congo by Leopold II of Belgium presents a megalomaniac of monstrous proportions, a royal figure as cunning, charming, and cruel as any of Shakespeare’s great villains. It is also the deeply moving portrait of those who fought Leopold: a brave, committed handful of idealists, missionaries, travelers, diplomats, and African villagers who found themselves witnesses to and, in too many instances, victims of a holocaust.

In the late 1890s, Edmund Dene Morel, a young British shipping company agent, noticed something strange about the cargoes of his company’s ships as they arrived from and departed for the Congo, Leopold II’s vast new African colony. Incoming ships were crammed with valuable ivory and rubber. Outbound ships carried little more than soldiers and firearms. Correctly concluding that only slave labor on a vast scale could account for these cargoes, Morel resigned from his company and almost singlehandedly made Leopold’s slavelabor regime the premier humanrights story in the world. Thousands of people packed hundreds of meetings throughout the United States and Europe to learn about Congo atrocities. Two courageous black Americans—George Washington Williams and William Sheppard—risked much to bring evidence to the outside world. Roger Casement, later hanged by Britain as a traitor, conducted an eyeopening investigation of the Congo River stations. Sailing into the middle of the story was a young steamboat officer named Joseph Conrad. And looming over all was Leopold II, King of the Belgians, sole owner of the only private colony in the world. (From Houghton Mifflin Publishers)

• Finalist, 1998 National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction
• Winner, 1998 J. Anthony Lukas Prize

Read the original book review from the New York Times, 1998

Watch the film version on YouTube ($2.99 rental) or find it at your local video store, or on demand (perhaps??).

  • Purchase your own copy, or check out the ESA Library copy out on the Black History Month display on the upper level of the Library.
  • We have additional copies on the shelf in the History collection… check the ESA Library Catalogue.
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