King Leopold’s Ghost

A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa

Adam Hochschild

Introduced by the author

The highly acclaimed history of the Belgian Congo and the exploitation that led to the murder of 10 million – the background to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

‘A riveting cast of characters: heroes, villains and bit-players, all extraordinary, all compelling tangles of neuroses and ambitions, all wonderfully drawn.’
  1. Observer

Of all the great atrocities etched on to the conscience of the modern era there is one that stands largely forgotten. At the turn of the last century, King Leopold II of Belgium, driven by an insatiable lust for wealth and empire, unleashed a reign of terror on the vast swathe of land he had claimed as his personal fiefdom surrounding the Congo River. The fight to expose this horror not only triggered the 20th century’s first major human rights movement but also one of its defining novels, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. In a gripping history, Adam Hochschild reveals the truth behind both, recounting the extraordinary story of a power-crazed monarch whose bottomless avarice was only matched only by the courage of those who sought to expose him.

Production Details

Three-quarter-bound in blocked cloth with a printed front board

Set in Bulmer

416 pages

Frontispiece and 24 pages of colour and black & white plates

12 integrated black & white illustrations

1 map

Pictorial slipcase

˝ x 6¼˝

A gripping history

‘Carefully researched and vigorously told, King Leopold’s Ghost does what good history always does – expands the memory of the human race.’
  1. Fritz Lanham, Houston Chronicle

Hochschild introduces a cast of heroes and villains worthy of any Shakespearean drama. We follow the impassioned campaigner Edmund Morel, who, after stumbling across Leopold’s scheme, abandoned his shipping career to become ‘the greatest British investigative journalist of his time’. His tireless quest to unmask the Belgium king united thousands on both sides of the Atlantic, enlisting such notable voices as Mark Twain, Booker T. Washington and Arthur Conan Doyle. Among the army of morally bankrupt administrators and military men complicit in the oppression was Henry Morton Stanley, the most famous explorer of his day. He appears here as a ‘world-class obfuscator’, obsessed by his own celebrity, and a willing victim to Leopold’s manipulation. Elsewhere, travelling by steamboat in 1890, a young Joseph Conrad’s ‘view on human nature was permanently changed’ by the murderous greed he witnessed on the banks of the Congo Delta; experiences that inspired him to pen one of literature’s most iconic, and terrorising, works of fiction. Hochschild peels away the layers of fiction from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as he traces the true identity of the book’s murderous anti-hero, Kurtz.

Published in 1999, less than 100 years after the demise of Leopold’s Congo, Hochschild examines why this shameful tragedy of human rights so quickly faded from public memory, and how the ferocious public relations war fought on its behalf, mired in lobbying, deviousness, sex and celebrity, is so ‘strikingly close to our time’. This Folio edition includes a new selection of 24 pages of researched images, showing all the story’s key players, as well as the African victims Leopold was so determined to hide from public view. Included is a pictorial slipcase, and a binding adorned with two elephant tusks, a sombre reminder of the trade that cost so many millions of lives.

About Adam Hochschild

Adam Hochschild is an award-winning author, journalist and lecturer. His books include The Mirror at Midnight: A South African Journey (1990), The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin (1994) and Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves (2005), which won the PEN USA Literary Award and was a finalist for the US National Book Award. King Leopold’s Ghost (1998) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and won Britain’s Duff Cooper Prize. His latest book is Spain in Our Hearts: Americans and the Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939 (2016).

In 2009, the American Historical Association awarded Hochschild its Theodore Roosevelt-Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service, a prize given each year to someone outside the academy who has made a significant contribution to the study of history. The award focused on his ‘extraordinary writing about historical subjects,’ especially King Leopold’s Ghost. In 2014 he was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He teaches at the Graduate School of Journalism of the University of California at Berkeley.


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