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In the 1880s, as the European powers were carving up Africa, King Leopold II of Belgium seized for himself the vast and mostly unexplored territory surrounding the Congo River. Carrying out a genocidal plundering of the Congo, he looted its rubber, brutalized its people, and ultimately slashed its population by ten million--all the while shrewdly cultivating his reputation as a great humanitarian. Heroic efforts to expose these crimes eventually led to the first great human rights movement of the twentieth century, in which everyone from Mark Twain to the Archbishop of Canterbury participated. King Leopold's Ghost is the haunting account of a megalomaniac of monstrous proportions, a man as cunning, charming, and cruel as any of the great Shakespearean villains. It is also the deeply moving portrait of those who fought Leopold: a brave handful of missionaries, travelers, and young idealists who went to Africa for work or adventure and unexpectedly found themselves witnesses to a holocaust. Adam Hochschild brings this largely untold story alive with the wit and skill of a Barbara Tuchman. Like her, he knows that history often provides a far richer cast of characters than any novelist could invent. Chief among them is Edmund Morel, a young British shipping agent who went on to lead the international crusade against Leopold. Another hero of this tale, the Irish patriot Roger Casement, ended his life on a London gallows. Two courageous black Americans, George Washington Williams and William Sheppard, risked much to bring evidence of the Congo atrocities to the outside world. Sailing into the middle of the story was a young Congo River steamboat officer named Joseph Conrad. And looming above them all, the duplicitous billionaire King Leopold II. With great power and compassion, King Leopold's Ghost will brand the tragedy of the Congo--too long forgotten--onto the conscience of the West.
Adam Hochschild was born in New York City in 1942. His first book, Half the Way Home: a Memoir of Father and Son, was published in 1986. Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times called it "an extraordinarily moving portrait of the complexities and confusions of familial love . . . firmly grounded in the specifics of a particular time and place, conjuring them up with Proustian detail and affection." It was followed by The Mirror at Midnight: a South African Journey, and The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin. His 1997 collection, Finding the Trapdoor: Essays, Portraits, Travels, won the PEN/Spielvogel-Diamonstein Award for the Art of the Essay. King Leopold's Ghost: a Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa was a finalist for the 1998 National Book Critics Circle Award. It also won a J. Anthony Lukas award in the United States, and the Duff Cooper Prize in England. His books have been translated into twelve languages and four of them have been named Notable Books of the Year by The New York Times Book Review. His Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves, was a finalist for the 2005 National Book Award in Nonfiction and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for History. His last two books have also each won Canada’s Lionel Gelber Prize for the best book on international affairs and the Gold Medal of the California Book Awards. In 2005, he received a Lannan Literary Award for Nonfiction.
Hochschild has written for The New Yorker, Harper's, The New York Review of Books, Granta, The New York Times Magazine, and many other newspapers and magazines. His articles have won prizes from the Overseas Press Club, the Society of Professional Journalists and elsewhere. He was a co-founder of Mother Jones magazine and has been a commentator on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered."
Hochschild teaches narrative writing at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley, and spent half a year as a Fulbright Lecturer in India. He lives in San Francisco with his wife, sociologist and author Arlie Russell Hochschild. They have two sons and two granddaughters.