A prizewinning historian's epic account of the scramble to control equatorial Africa
In just three decades at the end of the nineteenth century, the heart of Africa was utterly transformed. Virtually closed to outsiders for centuries, by the early 1900s the rainforest of the Congo River basin was one of the most brutally exploited places on earth. In Land of Tears, historian Robert Harms reconstructs the chaotic process by which this happened. Beginning in the 1870s, traders, explorers, and empire builders from Arabia, Europe, and America moved rapidly into the region, where they pioneered a deadly trade in ivory and rubber for Western markets and in enslaved labor for the Indian Ocean rim. Imperial conquest followed close behind.
Ranging from remote African villages to European diplomatic meetings to Connecticut piano-key factories, Land of Tears reveals how equatorial Africa became fully, fatefully, and tragically enmeshed within our global world.
About the Author
Robert Harms is Henry J. Heinz Professor of History and African Studies at Yale University. He is the author of several books on African history, including The Diligent, winner of the Mark Lynton History Prize, the Frederick Douglass Prize, and the J. Russell Major Prize. He lives in Guilford, Connecticut.
"In this unwaveringly detailed account of the colonization
of central Africa, Robert Harms draws on four decades of scholarly expertise to
write a history at once regional and truly global. A tale of soldiers,
slave-traders, captives and kings, of principles betrayed and societies
destroyed-for anyone interested in capitalism and empire, this book is as
devastating as it is important."—Maya Jasanoff, author of The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World
"Land of Tears confirms that Robert Harms is African history's most thrilling narrator. The book is compulsively readable and dramatic history, as well as a critical intervention in the historiography of the Congo River basin at the turn of the twentieth century. In vivid prose, Harms demonstrates what the onset of European rule in Equatorial Africa meant then, and what it still means in our own calamitous era. He reads new archives in exciting ways and teases novel interpretations from classic texts. Land of Tears is engrossing, disturbing, revelatory, infuriating, and never, ever boring. It is history as it should be written and a worthy addition to an estimable scholar's oeuvre."—Daniel Magaziner, Yale University
"Land of Tears provides a vivid account of the period before the 'Scramble for Africa,' when European explorers frantically created beachheads for imperial expansion and the carving up of equatorial Africa. In this major contribution, Robert Harms reveals the intertwined interests of global trading networks that plundered and wreaked havoc in the Congo Basin."—Ch. Didier Gondola, author of The History ofthe Congo
"Land of Tears is a brilliant and beautifully written book on a crucial moment in the colonial history of Central Africa. Robert Harms reveals the global and local contexts of the complex transformations of African societies in the last decades of the nineteenth century, with a special focus on the rainforest ecosystem and the strong local African resistance. An erudite, balanced, and timely book, and an engaging read."—Frits Andersen, Aarhus University