Congo: The Epic History of a People

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Congo: The Epic History of a People
Congo The Epic History of a People.jpg
First edition (Dutch)
AuthorDavid Van Reybrouck
Original titleCongo. Een geschiedenis
PublisherDe Bezige Bij
Publication date
Published in English
2014 by HarperCollins
Media typePrint (Hardback)

Congo: The Epic History of a People (original Dutch title: Congo. Een geschiedenis) is a 639 page non-fiction book by David Van Reybrouck, first published in 2010. It describes the history of the Democratic Republic of the Congo from the prehistory until the present, with the main focus on the period from the Belgian colonisation until the book's release. The book was originally published by De Bezige Bij on 3 May 2010.[1] By the end of 2012 it had sold over 300,000 copies in Dutch.[2] Its English version was translated by Sam Garrett.


Van Reybrouck recounts the history of the Democratic Republic of Congo from the early slave trade, to the time of European exploration and colonization, independence, the Congo crisis, Mobutu's dictatorship, and two civil wars, and the time after when the country and its citizens are adjusting to a new role in a globalized world. The book is the result of six years of research, and the author conducted 10 trips to Congo and had over 500 interviews with Congolese citizens, both notable figures and ordinary people.[2] Van Reybrouck even explores the vibrant contemporary Congolese community in Guangzhou where several thousand traders ship containers to their homeland full of merchandise. In the end the author challenges the cliché that the country is just a place of natural riches that have helped the world economy and that "its own history (is) merely a domestic matter, richly permeated with dreams and shadows."[3] He notes that the rubber exploitation gave rise to "one of history's first major humanitarian campaigns", Congolese soldiers contributed to crucial victories in Africa in both World Wars, the Cold War in Africa started in Congo, as did the first major UN intervention, and that the civil wars "prompted the biggest and most costly peacekeeping mission ever."[3]

Among the people Van Reybrouck interviewed was Étienne Nkasi, who lived in a shack in Kinshasa. "His glasses were attached to his head with a rubber band. Behind the thick and badly scratched lenses I made out a pair of watery eyes." Nkasi told him that he was born in 1882.[4] Van Reybrouck checked if it would be possible that he was 126 years old and found that he knew the names of missionaries of those days and personally knew Simon Kimbangu, who was younger and born in a nearby village. Nkasi died in 2010 at the age of possibly 128.


Stephen W. Smith (The Guardian) noted that the general critical consensus is that the book "reads like a novel" while being "as rigorous as an academic history."[5] He applauds the author for making Congo's history "readable" for us. Nicholas van de Walle (Foreign Affairs) found the work "carefully researched" and liked the "compelling portraits of ordinary people."[6] Chris Hartman (The Christian Science Monitor) believes that the book would have benefited from some examination of the AIDS crisis, but indicates that Van Reybrouck "has woven a narrative that stands admirably among some recent works on the ravages of colonial occupations..."[7] J.M. Legard of The New York Times describes the book as "a magnificent account, intimately researched, and relevant for anyone interested in how the recent past may inform our future."[8]


  • English: Congo: The Epic History of a People, HarperCollins, 2014. ISBN 9780062200112 [9]
  • French: Congo, une histoire, Actes Sud,[2] 2012
  • German: Kongo. Eine Geschichte, Suhrkamp Verlag,[10] 2012
  • Norwegian: Kongo. Historien om Afrikas hjerte, Font Forlag[11]
  • Swedish: Kongo: en historia, Natur & Kultur
  • Danish: Congo, Historien om Afrikas hjerte, translation Birthe Lundsgaard, Tiderne skifter, 2012
  • Italian: Congo
  • Polish: Kongo. Opowieść o zrujnowanym kraju, translation Jadwiga Jędryas, WAB, 2016


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hellemans, Frank (29 April 2010). "Congo-namiddag met David Van Reybrouck". Knack (in Dutch). Retrieved 14 November 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d ""Congo, une histoire", une somme impressionnante de David Van Reybrouck". RTBF (in French). 6 November 2012. Retrieved 14 November 2012.
  3. ^ a b David van Reybrouck. Congo: The Epic History of a People. HarperCollins, 2012. p. 555f. ISBN 978-0-06-220011-2.
  4. ^ David Van Reybrouck. Congo: The Epic History of a People. HarperCollins, 2014. p. 7.
  5. ^ Stephen W. Smith (August 8, 2014). "Congo: The Epic History of a People and Stringer: A Reporter's Journey in the Congo – review". The Guardian. Retrieved February 26, 2015.
  6. ^ Nicholas van de Walle (May 2014). "Congo: The Epic History of a People (Review)". Foreign Affairs. Retrieved February 26, 2015.
  7. ^ Chris Hartman (June 4, 2014). "'Congo' is a magnificent, epic look at the history of the region". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved March 27, 2015.
  8. ^ J. M. Legard (May 1, 2014). "History's Stranglehold. David Van Reybrouck's 'Congo'". The New York Times. Retrieved February 26, 2015.
  9. ^ O'Toole, Sean (27 October 2012). "Africa's a bit of all write". Mail & Guardian. Retrieved 14 November 2012.
  10. ^ Hammelehle, Sebastian (26 April 2012). "Jahrhundertbuch "Kongo" Zerrspiegel der Weltgeschichte". Der Spiegel (in German). Retrieved 14 November 2012.
  11. ^ Straume, Anne Cathrine (20 September 2011). "Kongo - Afrikas hjerte". NRK (in Norwegian). Retrieved 14 November 2012.
  12. ^ a b "Prijsbeest Van Reybrouck wint NDR Cultuur non-fictieprijs" (in Dutch). 13 November 2012. Retrieved 14 November 2012.
  13. ^ a b c "Boek David Van Reybrouck is internationaal success". Het Nieuwsblad (in Dutch). 14 November 2012. Retrieved 14 November 2012.
  14. ^ "Le Prix Aujourd'hui à David Van Reybrouck pour "Congo"". RTBF (in French). 9 April 2013. Retrieved 9 April 2013.
  15. ^ "Cundill Prize shortlist for historical literature spans the globe". Toronto Star. 29 September 2014. Retrieved 2 October 2014.
  16. ^ "2014 Cundill Prize Finalists". Cundill Prize. Retrieved 5 November 2014.

External links[edit]