A Comparison of Reviews of Adam Hochschild’s book “King Leopold’s Ghost”

October 11, 2018 |  Tagged , , | Comments Off on A Comparison of Reviews of Adam Hochschild’s book “King Leopold’s Ghost”

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 by Kasey

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Adam Hochschild’s book “King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa” explores the history of the colonization of the Congo. Hochschild’s book has been credited with playing a large part in ensuring the public does not forget the horrific crimes endured by the Congo Free State by King Leopold II of Belgium between the years 1885-1908. Despite the depressing nature of what happened in the Congo, Hochschild’s retelling of this period of time and what occurred during it has been well recieved. Since its publication in 1998, the book has become a bestseller and can be easily found in various bookstores. It has won multiple literary and history prizes, such as, the Mark Lynton History Prize and the Duff Cooper Prize. As of 2013, over 600,000 copies of “King Leopold’s Ghost” were in print in numerous languages. In 2006 a documentary with the same name was created based off Hochschild’s book. Perhaps due to its popularity, “King Leopold’s Ghost” has been reviewed numerous times by both scholarly and popular outlets. The reviews praise Hochschild’s writing abilities, discuss his use of source, and comment on his character development of historical figures within the book.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 The reviews all seem to echo the same sentiment when on the subject of Hochschild’s ability to make a compelling story out of this history of colonization. This in part is attributed to Hochschild’s engaging writing style and ability. Stephen McCloskey, who reviewed “King Leopold’s Ghost” for a volume of Development Education Without Borders goes as far as to say, “King Leopold’s Ghost is an immaculately written, highly accessible history that offers a richly informative and insightful analysis of Europe’s relations with Congo and Africa in a previously neglected yet hugely important period.” The books success and popularity supports McCloskey’s assessment of “King Leopold’s Ghost” as accessible and well written. Reviewers from other outlets also support this idea. In Publisher Weekly’s review they say, “Hochschild’s superb, engrossing chronicle focuses on one of the great, horrifying and nearly forgotten crimes of the century…” The book also has glowing reviews from the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times supporting the idea that Hochschild’s writing is accessible to average readers and the general public. In a review from the New York Times Michiko Kakutani refers to Hochschild’s depiction of the historical characters as “larger-than-life figures, the sort of characters who might easily populate a Victorian melodrama were it not for the tragic and very real consequences of their actions.” This bold claim is a testament to Hochschild’s ability to write a history that captivates and holds an audience despite it being a history and its dark subject matter.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 The idea of Hochschild’s work as a well written account of a forgotten history is common within reviews of the book from both popular and scholarly reviewers alike, however, it is not agreed upon universally. Lysle E. Meyer who reviewed the book for the International Journal of African Historical Studies uses a different tone when reviewing “King Leopold’s Ghost.” He takes issue with the claim on the books cover that this history is “a largely untold story” calling the claim “fallacious” and leading one to believe that in certain academic circles this is not at all a forgotten history. However, Meyer admits begrudgingly that, “In any case, if the author (who only recently discovered this historical scandal) and his publishers succeeded in this venture, it can be attributed to his engaging prose and ability to communicate a sense of outrage.” He also praises the book for raising awareness among the general public about the history. And despite the reviewers unapproving tone at the author staging the historical events as unknown, his comments parallel other reviews in regards to Hochschild’s use of secondary sources.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Many reviews of “King Leopold’s Ghost” acknowledge that although Hochschild uses primarily secondary sources he does so well. In the New York Times review Kakutani says that through Hochschild’s use of secondary sources to tell this part of the Congo’s history he, “has stitched it together into a vivid, novelistic narrative that makes the reader acutely aware of the magnitude of the horror perpetrated by King Leopold.” However, his use of secondary source is not limited to the horror and atrocities Hochschild tells of throughout his book. Hochschild also uses these sources to tell the story of activism which emerged in throughout Europe and America on behalf of the people of the Congo. The reviews praise Hochschild’s depiction and character development of Edmund Morel and Roger Casement who actively campaigned against King Leopold’s rule in the Congo. The books ability to shed light on even lesser known, but important activist is also highlighted. In the Los Angeles Times review Neal Ascherson says, “One of the real triumphs of “King Leopold’s Ghost” is that Hochschild also rescues Morel’s remarkable precursors from oblivion: two black American churchmen, George Washington Williams and William Sheppard, who saw the truth about King Leopold’s Congo for themselves and tried to warn the world.”

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Despite all praising Hochschild’s representation of the activism that took place during this time, some reviews where more critical of his use of sources than others. In regards to the secondary sources Lysle E. Meyers states that Hochschild’s “gets the most out of them, for his purposes.” However, he dislikes the way citations only appear in the back of the book and claims he found “some interesting assertions lacking source citations.” Meyers was displeased with the lack of footnotes and the difficulty it caused in finding the appropriate sources at the back of the book. This is a commentary that none of the other reviews had on the book. Meyers acknowledges that the lack of sources was probably due to “the average reader’s reputed aversion to them.” The formatting of the book and the lack of footnotes was not acknowledged by any of the other reviews. This formatting decision may have been made with the idea the book would be more widely received by the general public without footnotes and other formatting characteristics considered academic.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 In general reviewers had ample praise for Hochschild’s engaging and accessible writing. As well as, his ability to create dramatic characters out of the historical figures involved. If his goal was to write a history that would engage the public it appears he succeeded. However, if his goal was to write about a piece of history forgotten about he may find himself challenged by scholars of African study. Even the most critical reviews of the book do not deny it has played a role in reaching an audience that most likely would otherwise not ever learn of this history. Although there are some aspects of the book that can be argued about by the more scholarly outlets, overall it is not a surprise that such a positively reviewed book has reached a popular audience.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Citations

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Nonfiction Book Review: King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-395-75924-0

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Kakutani, M. (1998, September 1). ‘King Leopolds Ghost’: Genocide With Spin Control. Retrieved from http://movies2.nytimes.com/books/98/08/30/daily/leopold-book-review.html

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Stephen Mccloskey. (2013). King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa. Policy and Practice: A Development Education Review, 17, 129-134.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Meyer, L. (1998). King Leopold’s Ghost. The International Journal of African Historical Studies, 31(1), 118.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Ascherson, Neal. (1999). KING LEOPOLD’S GHOST: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa;o7 By Adam Hochschild; (Houghton Mifflin: 384 pp., $26)f7.(Touch of Evil)(Book Review). Los Angeles Times, p. 2.


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