In My Hands Today…

King Leopold’s Ghost – Adam Hochschild

In the 1880s, as the European powers were carving up Africa, King Leopold II of Belgium seized for himself the vast and mostly unexplored territory surrounding the Congo River.

Carrying out a genocidal plundering of the Congo, he looted its rubber, brutalized its people, and ultimately slashed its population by ten million—all the while shrewdly cultivating his reputation as a great humanitarian.

Heroic efforts to expose these crimes eventually led to the first great human rights movement of the twentieth century, in which everyone from Mark Twain to the Archbishop of Canterbury participated. King Leopold’s Ghost is the haunting account of a megalomaniac of monstrous proportions, a man as cunning, charming, and cruel as any of the great Shakespearean villains. It is also the deeply moving portrait of those who fought Leopold: a brave handful of missionaries, travelers, and young idealists who went to Africa for work or adventure and unexpectedly found themselves witnesses to a holocaust.

Adam Hochschild brings this largely untold story alive with the wit and skill of a Barbara Tuchman. Like her, he knows that history often provides a far richer cast of characters than any novelist could invent. Chief among them is Edmund Morel, a young British shipping agent who went on to lead the international crusade against Leopold. Another hero of this tale, the Irish patriot Roger Casement, ended his life on a London gallows. Two courageous black Americans, George Washington Williams and William Sheppard, risked much to bring evidence of the Congo atrocities to the outside world. Sailing into the middle of the story was a young Congo River steamboat officer named Joseph Conrad. And looming above them all, the duplicitous billionaire King Leopold II. With great power and compassion, King Leopold’s Ghost will brand the tragedy of the Congo—too long forgotten—onto the conscience of the West.

In My Hands Today…

The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War – Tim Butcher

On a summer morning in Sarajevo a hundred years ago, a teenage assassin named Gavrilo Princip fired not just the opening shots of the First World War but the starting gun for modern history, when he killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Yet the events Princip triggered were so monumental that his own story has been largely overlooked, his role garbled and motivations misrepresented.

The Trigger puts this right, filling out as never before a figure who changed our world and whose legacy still has an impact on all of us today. Born a penniless backwoodsman, Princip’s life changed when he trekked through Bosnia and Serbia to attend school. As he ventured across fault lines of faith, nationalism and empire, so tightly clustered in the Balkans, radicalisation slowly transformed him from a frail farm boy into history’s most influential assassin.

By retracing Princip’s journey from his highland birthplace, through the mythical valleys of Bosnia to the fortress city of Belgrade and ultimately Sarajevo, Tim Butcher illuminates our understanding both of Princip and the places that shaped him. Tim uncovers details about Princip that have eluded historians for a century and draws on his own experience, as a war reporter in the Balkans in the 1990s, to face down ghosts of conflicts past and present.

In My Hands Today…

The Shanghai Free Taxi – Frank Langfitt

As any traveler knows, some of the best and most honest conversations take place during car rides. So, when a long-time NPR correspondent wanted to learn more about the real China, he started driving a cab – and discovered a country amid seismic political and economic change.

China – America’s most important competitor – is at a turning point. With economic growth slowing, Chinese people face inequality and uncertainty as their leaders tighten control at home and project power abroad.

In this adventurous, original book, NPR correspondent Frank Langfitt describes how he created a free taxi service–offering rides in exchange for illuminating conversation–to go beyond the headlines and get to know a wide range of colorful, compelling characters representative of the new China. They include folks like “Beer,” a slippery salesman who tries to sell Langfitt a used car; Rocky, a farm boy turned Shanghai lawyer; and Chen, who runs an underground Christian church and moves his family to America in search of a better, freer life.

Blending unforgettable characters, evocative travel writing, and insightful political analysis, The Shanghai Free Taxi is a sharply observed and surprising book that will help readers make sense of the world’s other superpower at this extraordinary moment.

In My Hands Today…

Tesla: Inventor of the Modern – Richard Munson

Nikola Tesla invented radio, robots, and remote control. His electric induction motors run our appliances and factories.

In the early 1900s, he designed plans for cell phones, the Internet, death-ray weapons, and interstellar communication. His ideas have lived on to shape the modern economy, yet he has been largely overlooked by history.

In Tesla, Richard Munson presents a comprehensive portrait of this farsighted and underappreciated mastermind. Drawing on letters, technological notebooks, and other primary sources, Munson pieces together the magnificently bizarre personal life and mental habits of the enigmatic inventor whose most famous inventions were the product of a mind fueled by both the humanities and sciences — Tesla conceived the induction motor while walking through a park and reciting Goethe’s Faust. Clear, authoritative, and highly readable, Tesla takes into account all the phases of Tesla’s remarkable life and career.

In My Hands Today…

Corrupt Bodies: Death and Dirty Dealing in a London Morgue – Peter Everett, Kris Hollington

In 1985, Peter Everett landed the job as Superintendent of Southwark Mortuary. In just six years he’d gone from lowly assistant to running the UK’s busiest murder morgue. He couldn’t believe his luck.

What he didn’t know was that Southwark, operating in near-Victorian conditions, was a hotbed of corruption. Attendants stole from the dead, funeral homes paid bribes, and there was a lively trade in stolen body parts and recycled coffins.

Set in the fascinating pre-DNA and psychological profiling years of 1985-87, this memoir tells a gripping and gruesome tale, with a unique insight into a world of death most of us don’t ever see. Peter managed pathologists, oversaw post-mortems and worked alongside Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad – including the case of the serial killer, the Stockwell Strangler.

This is a thrilling tale of murder and corruption in the mid-1980s, told with insight and compassion.