Our Feburary book club choice is Adam Hochschild's "King Leopold's Ghost", a story of greed, terror, and heroism in colonial Africa.
Myles was joined by broadcaster Richard Downes, journalist Carol Hunt and Melanie Verwoerd, the former South African Ambassador to Ireland.
History can provide a far richer cast of characters than any novelist could invent. Such is the case with Adam Hochschild's work of popular history, in which he brings to life the complex characters who supported and opposed King Leopold's Congo.
At the centre of the story is King Leopold himself, the Belgian king who always longed for a colony that he could call his own.
King Leopold II of Belgium
King Lepold used a devious campaign of deception, always insisting that his interests were merely philanthropic, to take control of an area of land nearly twenty times the size of Belgium.
Hochschild follows the story of the Congo from pre-European contact to its devastated current state. One of the people we're introduced to is the famed explorer Henry Morton Stanley, who, with Leopold's support, worked to open the lower Congo to commerce by the construction of roads and railways.
Henry Morton Stanley
When Leopold recruited him, Stanley was already an internationally famous and celebrated explorer. He was well known for his exploration of central Africa and for tracing the course of the Congo river. He was particularly well-known for his 1871 expedition to find the Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone, who was known to be in Africa but had not been heard from for some time. Stanley claimed that when he finally found him, he greeted him with the now-famous line "Doctor Livingstone, I presume?" This line captured the popular imagination, but he may have never actually said it - Stanley had a flair for the dramatic and was prone to exaggeration.
Chief among the people who speak out against Leopold's Congo is Emund Morel - the crusading British investigative journalist who made it his life's work to expose the misrule in the Congo.
While working as a shipping clerk as a young man, employed to inventory ships travelling to the Congo, he came to a startling realisation. The ships returned from Africa full of rubber, but left Europe full of arms and ammunition. In Morel's own words:
"These figures told their own story. Forced labour of a terrible and continuous kind could alone explain such unheard-of profits. Forced labour, directed by the closest associates of the King himself.
I was giddy and appalled at the cumulative significance of my discoveries. It must be bad enough to stumble upon a murder. I had stumbled upon a secret society of murderers, with a King for a croniman."
One of Morel's most prominent and important allies was Roger Casement. Casement first travelled to the Congo in 1884. He worked for Henry Morton Stanley and the African International Association, which was a front for King Leopold's takeover of the so-called Congo Free State.
Twenty years later, now a diplomat representing the British government, he authored The Casement Report. This document confirmed Morel's allegations of widespread human rights abuses and exploitation of the native population.
A photo that shows the horror of Leopold's rule. Men hold severed hands, removed from victims who failed to meet the impossible quotas of rubber sap they were ordered to collect