Dancing in the Glory of Monsters by Jason Stearns

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Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa by Jason StearnsDancingintheGlory (PublicAffairs, 2011)

Blurb: At the heart of Africa is Congo, a country the size of Western Europe, bordering nine other nations, that since 1996 has been wracked by a brutal and unstaunchable war in which millions have died. And yet, despite its epic proportions, it has received little sustained media attention. In this deeply reported book, Jason Stearns vividly tells the story of this misunderstood conflict through the experiences of those who engineered and perpetrated it. He depicts village pastors who survived massacres, the child soldier assassin of President Kabila, a female Hutu activist who relives the hunting and methodical extermination of fellow refugees, and key architects of the war that became as great a disaster as–and was a direct consequence of–the genocide in neighboring Rwanda. Through their stories, he tries to understand why such mass violence made sense, and why stability has been so elusive.

Through their voices, and an astonishing wealth of knowledge and research, Stearns chronicles the political, social, and moral decay of the Congolese State.

The more I read about African history and politics, the more I realize I will probably never understand African history and politics. Africa is such a huge place, with diverse and complex histories (and yes, I meant that in the plural), and all too often, it seems, Westerners tend to view it as a monolithic primitive place with a primitive culture, which is completely wrong.

The author of Dancing in the Glory of Monsters does a very good job of placing the Congo wars into perspective. He refers to them as an African World War, which I think is appropriate; in a nation the size of Western Europe and with the involvement of some nine countries and 20 rebel factions, I think this qualifies. The book is very readable and isn’t overly academic; it’s packed with interviews and statistics, but they are both necessary and well-integrated into the text. Recommended for anyone who wants to learn about this deadly conflict.

My rating: 4 stars

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