Heart of Darkness

By Joseph Conrad,

Book cover of Heart of Darkness

Book description

Although Polish by birth, Joseph Conrad (1857–1924) is regarded as one of the greatest writers in English, and Heart of Darkness, first published in 1902, is considered by many his "most famous, finest, and most enigmatic story." — Encyclopaedia Britannica. The tale concerns the journey of the narrator (Marlow) up…


Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. (learn more)

Why read it?

6 authors picked Heart of Darkness as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

Seeing Africa and the dangers of Western assumption played out on that raw terrain was Conrad’s genius. The “otherness” of that land, reflected in actions and reactions by Marlow stand as examples of seeing reality dissolve in favor of desperate perspective needed to survive. The depth of truth here, the experience he brings to the reader of a land people think (mistakenly) has changed are unique and prescient.

Joseph Conrad, one of the most famous novelists in English in the early 20th century, was born in Ukraine to a Polish family. His first career was in the merchant marine, taking him to many parts of the world ruled by European empires. Heart of Darkness was based on his own observations as a ship captain in the Congo. It’s tough but compelling. Conrad’s indictment of the terrible atrocities committed by ivory traders, in King Leopold of Belgium’s personal fiefdom, shows the brutal treatment of enslaved labourers. But it also has gender at its heart. The fictional Captain Marlow…

Conrad was one of the great writers of his generation, not because of his eloquence, but because of his sense of adventure. But Conrad’s adventure was always about a personal journey–the journey every person has to take to achieve something of greatness. Conrad’s journies often challenged his protagonists to their extremes, to their limits. And they didn’t always find redemption; sometimes they found failure. However, the reader always finds newfound perspective, and often hopes to create a better world.

From Zoltan's list on to launch your best artistic self.

I loved how Marlowe retained a sense of wonder while steering himself into the darkness, while surrounded by those who did not wonder about it but only wanted to exploit it. I realized you could wonder about something without judging, or at the very least wonder through a lens of empathy. While I have always been empathetic, Marlowe made me realize perhaps I was often empathetic (and wonderous and sympathetic) to things I really already understood, and that for things that were in the darkness I substituted wonder for anxiety. Marlow’s wonder motivated me to look at the shadows with…

“The horror, the horror,” are the words famously uttered by Conrad’s anti-hero Kurtz (and by Marlon Brando’s character in Apocalypse Now) near the end of the Polish-born author’s riveting short novel. Conrad’s central character Marlowe narrates a slow voyage up the Congo River to a land ruled by Kurtz, a Belgian who has lost his sanity and, in the end, his life. This magically written book explores the meaning of “civilization” and “savagery” and suggests that it’s Europeans rather than Africans who are the real savages. Although Marlowe tells most of the story, there is another, unnamed, narrator who frames…
Conrad’s masterpiece is the ultimate counter-history. A testimony of actual events he witnessed during his voyage up the Congo River. Captain Kurtz represents the highly cultivated Westerner, who sinks into murderous sadism in his wilderness outpost. Casting all societal norms aside, the tragic cruelty that he inflicts on the Africans is a microcosm of the colonial violence that led to the 20th century’s first holocaust. Kurtz imported his own violence into Africa. Not vice versa. Yet, Europe still viewed Africans as uncivilized, primitive, dangerous. Conrad rejected the “imperial perspective” of his day and forced Europeans to look in the mirror…

Want books like Heart of Darkness?

Our community of 6,000+ authors has personally recommended 10 books like Heart of Darkness.

Browse books like Heart of Darkness

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Africa, imperialism, and South Africa?

6,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Africa, imperialism, and South Africa.

Africa Explore 177 books about Africa
Imperialism Explore 40 books about imperialism
South Africa Explore 84 books about South Africa