King Leopold’s Ghost

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King Leopold’s Ghost Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Adam Hochschild's King Leopold’s Ghost. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Adam Hochschild

Adam Hochschild was born and raised in New York City, and studied history and literature at Harvard University in the early 1960s. Immediately following his graduation, he worked with civil rights activists in Mississippi, and later with anti-government journalists in South Africa. In the mid-1970s, he co-founded the influential progressive magazine Mother Jones. Hochschild published his first book in 1986, a memoir called Half the Way Home: A Memoir of Father and Son. Since then, he’s published a series of successful nonfiction works on a variety of human rights subjects, including the legacy of Josef Stalin, the Boer War in South Africa, the British Empire’s sponsorship of slavery, and the Vietnam War. King Leopold’s Ghost, published in 1998, was one of his most successful books. Hochschild continues to write and lecture across the world.
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Other Books Related to King Leopold’s Ghost

Hochschild alludes on several occasions to Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness (first serialized in 1899, published in 1900). Conrad, who worked in the Congo as a young man, witnessed Belgian soldiers commit dozens of human rights atrocities on Congolese people. Many of these atrocities made their way into Heart of Darkness, which is about a young European man, Marlow, who travels up the Congo River to investigate the life of the mysterious Mr. Kurtz, a brutal European colonialist. Hochschild suggests that Conrad partly modeled Mr. Kurtz on a real-life colonialist named Léon Rom, who—much like Kurtz in the book—was rumored to collect the heads of his Congolese victims. It’s also worth mentioning Barbara Kingsolver’s novel The Poisonwood Bible (1998), which takes place in the Congo, fifty years after the events of King Leopold’s Ghost and alludes to many of King Leopold’s human rights atrocities.
Key Facts about King Leopold’s Ghost
  • Full Title: King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa
  • When Written: 1996-1997
  • Where Written: New York City, South Africa, the Congo
  • When Published: Fall 1998
  • Genre: Historical nonfiction
  • Setting: The book is primarily set in the 19th century in the Congo, but it also takes place in parts of Europe (Belgium and England, namely) and describes some events from the twentieth century
  • Antagonist: King Leopold II of Belgium, imperialism, and racism could all be considered the antagonists of the book
  • Point of View: third person omniscient

Extra Credit for King Leopold’s Ghost

Awards, awards, awards. Hochschild is no stranger to awards: throughout his career, he’s either won or been nominated for the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Lionel Gelber Prize, the California Book Award, and the Duff Cooper Prize.

Don’t be afraid of rejection. Though King Leopold’s Ghost became a surprise bestseller and won a slew of major awards, it almost didn’t get published! Hochschild submitted his manuscript to no less than ten different publishing houses, only one of which (Mariner Books) accepted his work.