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Posts Tagged ‘Biography’

It’s time for everyone’s least-favorite blog topic!  The not-so-triumphant return of Book Reviews You Won’t Care About!

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In BRYWCA, I will review the latest history-based book I’ve had to read for class (or chose to read, because I’m me and I love that sort of thing.  BRYWCA books will always be nonfiction, and will always be historically factual (or theoretical).  This week, we have two books (and have I been reading.  Sheesh.)

ImageKing Leopold’s Ghost; A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, by Adam Hochschild, is a sad and compelling tale of a Belgian king whose dreams of owning an empire lead to tragedy and genocide.  In the 1880’s, King Leopold II of Belgium decided that he wanted a colony of his own, and snatched the opportunity in the Congo.  From his throne in Europe he commanded forces to enter the Congo, commandeer it, and maim, torture, and kill the inhabitants, while compelling them to harvest ivory and rubber to line Leopold’s own pockets.  The eccentric and ruthless king ruled his “empire” with an iron fist, while cagily manipulating the mass media, still in its infancy, until his death.

This book is, and there’s no better way to put it, depressing, but thrilling.  The stories are incredibly sad, especially because, as the author admits, many of the victims of the Belgian genocide in the Congo are nameless and faceless.  The photo section in the middle of the book is horrifying — children whose hands have been hacked off, a father crying over the hand and foot of his baby daughter, a man being beaten (most likely to death) by a chicotte whip — none of them are easy to look at.  The only part of this book that restores the reader’s faith in humanity, is the latter half, where Hoshschild writes about the media moguls who attempted to raise awareness about Leopold’s atrocities in the Congo.  Still, it’s a terribly sad, if wonderfully written, book.

Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America, by Ellen Chesler, was one Imageof the books I was looking most forward to reading this semester.  This 500-page biography is more about the life of Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, than it is about the birth control movement in the United States.  Yet the two are forever entwined; Chesler shows that from an early age Margaret was pushed towards the mass market and social acceptance of birth control in the United States and even across the world.

I liked this book, even though it was super-long and took me FOREVER to finish, mainly because Chesler really does attempt to paint a fair and balanced portrait of Margaret Sanger, a woman who is usually either revered or maligned.  Although she does tout Margaret’s successes and strides in the birth control movement, she also does not sugarcoat Margaret’s “collateral damage” — her failed marriages, partial estrangement from her children, and the areas where she fell short.  Chesler claims in her afterward that she was trying to give Margaret “the biography she deserves”, and I do feel she hit the mark right on the head.

King Leopold’s Ghost: ***

Woman of Valor: ****

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