A searing history of evil and the heroes who exposed it.

KING LEOPOLD'S GHOST

A STORY OF GREED, TERROR, AND HEROISM IN COLONIAL AFRICA

Journalist-memoirist Hochschild (Finding the Trapdoor, 1997, etc.) recounts the crimes against humanity of Belgium’s King Leopold II, whose brutal imperialist regime sparked the creation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and the first major human-rights protest movement of this century.

Hell-bent on building grandiose state monuments and palaces and on swelling royal coffers, Leopold sought to carve out of central Africa a fiefdom 76 times the size of Belgium. Cagily inveighing against local slave traders and inviting Christian missionaries to spread the Gospel, he transformed a philanthropic organization temporarily under his aegis into the Congo, his own personal colony. He plundered the Congo’s bounty of rubber, instituted forced labor, and reduced the population by half (an estimated 10 million deaths from 1880 to 1920). To achieve compliance with rubber-gathering quotas, soldiers in the Force Publique, Leopold’s colonial army, committed mass murder, cut off hands, severed heads, took hostages, and burnt villages. His misrule remained undetected for more than a decade because he won US recognition of his claim to the Congo, used explorer Henry Morton Stanley to swindle chiefs out of land, and concealed the colony’s budget. If Hochschild depicts Leopold not as a Hitleresque madman but as a liberal bogeyman ready to sacrifice all for the bottom line, he profiles the monarch’s opponents in all their complicated humanity. These include George Washington William, an African-American journalist prone to exaggerating his own credentials but not Leopold’s atrocities; Roger Casement, a British consul knighted for a damning Congo report, then later executed for participating in Ireland’s 1916 rebellion, and exposed as a homosexual; and E.D. Morel, a journalist who, though committed to imperialism, led a decade-long campaign that succeeded in forcing Leopold to turn the Congo over to the citizens of Belgium.

A searing history of evil and the heroes who exposed it.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 1998

ISBN: 0-395-75924-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1998

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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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