The best books on the Democratic Republic of the Congo

2 authors have picked their favorite books about the Democratic Republic of the Congo and why they recommend each book.

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Congo

By David Van Reybrouck,

Book cover of Congo: The Epic History of a People

As the author of a book on the Democratic Republic of Congo myself, I should have felt fiercely competitive with Van Reybrouk, a Belgian playwright, poet, and author. In fact, I loved this book. He tells this enormous country’s complex history, from King Leopold’s 19th-century giant land grab through to Patrice Lumumba's premiership, Marechal Mobutu Sese Sekos’ overthrow, Laurent Kabila’s Rwandan-backed takeover and beyond, almost exclusively through the testimony of living Congolese citizens, making it not only extraordinarily fresh, but utterly authentic as a record of the past. It’s a long book – 150 years of history, addressed at a leisurely pace, takes up a lot of paper - but every chapter is a jewel.

Congo

By David Van Reybrouck,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Congo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

FINALIST FOR THE CUNDILL PRIZE FOR HISTORY

'Not only deserves the description "epic", in its true sense, but the term "masterpiece" as well' Independent

This gripping epic tells the story of one of the world's most critical failed nation-states: the Democratic Republic of Congo. Interweaving his own family's history with the voices of a diverse range of individuals - charismatic dictators, feuding warlords, child soldiers, and many in the African diaspora of Europe and China - Van Reybrouck offers a deeply humane approach to political history, focusing squarely on the Congolese perspective and returning a nation's history to its people.


Who am I?

After working as a foreign correspondent in Italy and France I was sent by Reuters news agency to Cote d’Ivoire and what was then Zaire, the latter posting coinciding with the shocking start of the genocide in neighboring Rwanda. It was the kind of assignment you don’t forget, and when I moved to the Financial Times I continued following the larger-than-life dramas unfolding in Africa’s Great Lakes region. I’ve now written five books, the first – In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz - about Mobutu Sese Seko's imprint on the Democratic Republic of Congo and the latest – Do Not Disturb - looking at personalities and events I first started writing about a quarter of a century ago. You keep going back.


I wrote...

Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad

By Michela Wrong,

Book cover of Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad

What is my book about?

A real-life murder and spy thriller set in central Africa. Do Not Disturb uses the lurid assassination of Patrick Karegeya, Rwanda’s exiled former spy chief, to unpick the story of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the movement that went from united guerrilla group to unhappy post-genocide government, with one man – Paul Kagame – emerging as a ruthless despot, ready to eliminate all those who stand in his way. Kagame's victims include his old friend Karegeya, strangled in the Michelangelo Hotel in Johannesburg on his orders. This is a story about an African revolution gone bad, but it’s also a tale of treachery amongst friends, for the founders of the RPF attended school together, learned how to fight at one anothers’ sides, and made speeches at each others’ weddings. The personal IS the political in this slow-motion African tragedy.

Travels in the Congo

By Andre Gide,

Book cover of Travels in the Congo

This travel diary by the Nobel Prize winning French writer was published in 1927 and expertly translated by his lifelong friend Dorothy Bussy. Gide dedicated his book and its sequel, Return from Chad, to Joseph Conrad, whose Congolese itinerary Gide retraced in part. In 1926 and 1927, the Frenchman spent ten months in Equatorial Africa with his lover Marc Alégret, making no secret of his sexual preference for young men and boys. In these travelogues, Gide fiercely criticized French colonialism and especially France’s “concessionary companies,” the large monopolistic firms that cruelly exploited Congolese laborers forced under inhuman conditions to harvest raw rubber. France’s Congo colony reproduced the excesses of its Belgian counterpart, despite the efforts of Gide and other prominent French figures to reform it.

Travels in the Congo

By Andre Gide,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Travels in the Congo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French


Who am I?

I’ve spent most of my career teaching and writing about French history. In the 1990s, it became belatedly clear to me and other French historians that France shouldn’t be understood purely as a European nation-state. It was an empire whose imperial ambitions encompassed North America, the Caribbean, Africa, Indochina, and India. By the twentieth century, and especially after 1945, large numbers of people from those colonial places had emigrated to mainland France, claiming to belong to that country and asserting the right to live there. Their presence produced a great deal of political strife, which I wanted to study by looking at France’s colonial past.


I wrote...

Heroes of Empire: Five Charismatic Men and the Conquest of Africa

By Edward Berenson,

Book cover of Heroes of Empire: Five Charismatic Men and the Conquest of Africa

What is my book about?

In the late 19th century, Britain and France raced against each other for the conquest of Africa. What attracted their citizens to those conquests were stories by and about the charismatic individuals who gave imperialism a recognizable, human face. Heroes of Empire narrates the dramatic, often violent, exploits of five of these men, all lauded in the popular press and hero-worshipped at home.

Today we are justly skeptical of the heroism of such men, but in the late nineteenth century, most Europeans played down, denied, or ignored the violence that colonialism wrought. Instead, they glorified my five exemplars of empire for braving the scarcely imaginable dangers of unknown places and “savage” people and embodying traits of character and personality widely admired at the time.

Lightning Flowers

By Katherine E. Standefer,

Book cover of Lightning Flowers: My Journey to Uncover the Cost of Saving a Life

Having been called an “enigma” by a doctor on more than one occasion, I know well the frustrating battle of rare medical conditions. What I like about this book is the way Standefer finds beauty and wonder in physical ailments. 

Standefer wasn’t struck by lightning; she has a heart defect that could kill her and leads to her being fitted with a defibrillator while she is still in her 20s. Instead of becoming a passive patient, Standefer questions everything about her condition from her treatment to the metal that is now inside of her, traveling as far as Africa to track down where the metal is mined. Ill health has not shrunk her world, it has expanded it, an inspiring outlook for anyone who has ever spent time as a patient.

Lightning Flowers

By Katherine E. Standefer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lightning Flowers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What if a lifesaving medical device causes loss of life along its supply chain? That's the question Katherine E. Standefer finds herself asking one night after being suddenly shocked by her implanted cardiac defibrillator.

In this gripping, intimate memoir about health, illness, and the invisible reverberating effects of our medical system, Standefer recounts the astonishing true story of the rare diagnosis that upended her rugged life in the mountains of Wyoming and sent her tumbling into a fraught maze of cardiology units, dramatic surgeries, and slow, painful recoveries. As her life increasingly comes to revolve around the internal defibrillator freshly…


Who am I?

As a journalist I have seen and experienced amazing things. As a memoirist my job is to make you shiver as I take you down a crumbling Ukrainian coal mine, laugh in frustration as I argue with a customs agent charging me $100 for a few bootleg CDs and smile with happiness when I finally locate my Ukrainian date after a classic miscommunication. I’m recommending memoirs that will take you on adventures, tackle serious topics, but leave you with hope, and oftentimes a smile of understanding. Even if you haven’t covered a war, faced death, or disappeared, these writers speak to the universal hopes, fears, and disappointments of human life. 


I wrote...

From Chernobyl with Love: Reporting from the Ruins of the Soviet Union

By Katya Cengel,

Book cover of From Chernobyl with Love: Reporting from the Ruins of the Soviet Union

What is my book about?

In 1986 an explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic helped trigger the collapse of the Soviet Union. Three and a half decades later, in 2022, the plant’s capture by Russian forces reminded Ukraineand the worldthat, for Russia, it isn’t over. 

In between an American reporter fell in love with a Ukrainian photographer. At Chernobyl, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster. They met while witnessing the plant’s last working reactor being switched off in 2000. Later the discovery of another journalist’s corpse and audiotapes that seem to implicate the government in his murder spark a movement that topples the government, setting off revolutions that ultimately end in war. Before that though, there was something else—hope.

The Poisonwood Bible

By Barbara Kingsolver,

Book cover of The Poisonwood Bible

This book would stand out because of the gorgeous prose alone. But when you add in a multi-layered story of an American family torn apart by hubris in the African jungle, you get a true masterpiece. The novel’s premise is provocative—a family of daughters living in post-colonial Africa with a narcissistic father intent on converting the natives to his perverse, non-yielding brand of religion. And as expected, this is a story that is tragic and epic in a way that makes you question the arrogance of humanity in all its iterations. But what makes it especially memorable is how it provokes a grim satisfaction when the four daughters make lives out of the mess of a patriarchal disaster, while having little impact on the beautifully indomitable Africa.

The Poisonwood Bible

By Barbara Kingsolver,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked The Poisonwood Bible as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

**NOW INCLUDING THE FIRST CHAPTER OF DEMON COPPERHEAD: THE NEW BARBARA KINGSOLVER NOVEL**

**DEMON COPPERHEAD IS AVAILABLE NOW FOR PRE-ORDER**

An international bestseller and a modern classic, this suspenseful epic of one family's tragic undoing and their remarkable reconstruction has been read, adored and shared by millions around the world.

'Breathtaking.' Sunday Times
'Exquisite.' The Times
'Beautiful.' Independent
'Powerful.' New York Times

This story is told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959.

They carry with them everything they believe they will…


Who am I?

Why do we love immersive novels? Maybe it's because we relate to them, because they explore issues or circumstances that resonate with us. Or it could be a need for escape, to imagine a life different from our own. But I believe the underlying truth is this – we all share a deeply rooted need for human connection. And when we read fiction that truly makes us imagine another person's life, it touches us profoundly, leaving a forever mark. It is the reason I love immersive novels that make us feel and experience the unexpected. And also why I endeavor to write them, sometimes winning awards, often making people cry – in the best way!


I wrote...

A Whisper of Smoke

By Angela Hoke,

Book cover of A Whisper of Smoke

What is my book about?

In 1960s Kentucky, Susanna Braden’s caught between protecting her younger siblings from her mother’s perniciousness and other lurking dangers, and battling the growing love she feels for her best friend, Calvin. But when family secrets emerge that threaten to destroy her carefully cultivated illusion of safety and Calvin is deployed to Vietnam in love with someone else, Susanna is forced to reexamine the concepts of love, honor, and forgiveness — and it just may be the key to redemption for them all.

For fans of Sue Monk Kidd, Wally Lamb, and Kristin Hannah, four-time award winner A Whisper of Smoke delivers a "beautiful, heart-wrenching story” that "reminds us how exciting, beautiful and painful growing up really is."

Book cover of States of Disorder: Complexity Theory and UN State-building in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan

If you are interested in gaining a better understanding of why the UN fails so miserably at building and sustaining peace – read this new book. Adam Day works at the UN and uses ideas from complexity science to both explain why the UN is so challenged in its ultimate mission to sustain peace, and what it should do to move in the right direction. Day uses two current case studies on some of the most challenging situations faced by the international community and applies new ideas in useful and practical ways. This is the state-of-the-art of complexity-informed peacebuilding.

States of Disorder

By Adam Day,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked States of Disorder as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Today's vision of world order is founded upon the concept of strong, well-functioning states, in contrast to the destabilizing potential of failed or fragile states. This worldview has dominated international interventions over the past 30 years as enormous resources have been devoted to developing and extending the governance capacity of weak or failing states, hoping to transform them into reliable nodes in the global order. But with very few exceptions, this
project has not delivered on its promise: countries like Somalia, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) remain mired in conflict despite decades of international…


Who am I?

I have spent more than 30 years in my lab at Columbia University studying how seemingly intractable conflicts develop and the conditions under which they change. I'm a professor at Columbia, a social psychologist who has studied, taught, and written about conflict for decades. I'm also a mediator, facilitator, and consultant who has worked with divided groups and communities around the world. I direct the Morton Deutsch International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution at Columbia, where we run the Difficult Conversations Lab, an audio/video/physio “capture lab” where we systematically study the dynamics of divisive moral conflicts to try to understand when encounters over them go well and when they go terribly wrong. 


I wrote...

The Way Out: How to Overcome Toxic Polarization

By Peter T. Coleman,

Book cover of The Way Out: How to Overcome Toxic Polarization

What is my book about?

The way out of our current culture of contempt can be hard to see unless you know where to look.

This book will show you. It offers insights from leading research on how deeply divided societies can and do change. It will suggest what you can do – the actions, skills, and competencies that will help you navigate these times most effectively – as well as what to look for in groups and organizations in your community that are already at work making America more functional again.

A Thousand Sisters

By Lisa Shannon,

Book cover of A Thousand Sisters: My Journey into the Worst Place on Earth to Be a Woman

Inspired by an Oprah episode, Lisa Shannon starts to run for Congo Women—literally. Beginning with a 30-mile run and a deep desire to make a difference, it’s an inspiration as to women’s ever-changing roles, and how one person can start a movement that can impact many. In the Congo, she learns it is the worst place on earth for women to live. Instead of driving her away, her life evolves into something bigger than she could have imagined. My daughter, who had been to Africa herself many years ago, recommended this book. The stamina and courage it took to survive was beyond admiration; it was miraculous. I, at times, wonder how God’s divine plan will playout when I read of such circumstances. But when I read of Lisa’s calling, I am reminded that we are each called to be the hands and feet of Jesus—something bigger than who we are…

A Thousand Sisters

By Lisa Shannon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Thousand Sisters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Lisa J. Shannon had a good life-a successful business, a fiance, a home, and security. Then, one day in 2005, an episode of Oprah changed all that. The show focused on women in Congo, the worst place on earth to be a woman. She was awakened to the atrocities there-millions dead, women raped and tortured daily, and children dying in shocking numbers. Shannon felt called to do something. And she did. A Thousand Sisters is her inspiring memoir. She raised money to sponsor Congolese women, beginning with one solo 30-mile run, and then founded a national organization, Run for Congo…


Who am I?

I grew up with five brothers in the 1950-60s and never felt that I could not do whatever they desired to do. Later, I developed a heart for women and children’s rights and a desire for real-life stories about authentic people and their struggles. As I watch the news, television, and observe my daughters and granddaughters, I am intrigued by women’s ever-evolving roles and the courage and perseverance it took for progress. Mary Meier, in Thou Shalt Not, did not  change the world; however, she did give her community much to think about when only the town blacksmith seemed to take an interest in her dire situation—which ultimately leads to a murder.


I wrote...

Thou Shalt Not

By Kathleen Stauffer,

Book cover of Thou Shalt Not

What is my book about?

Typically, historical fiction tells a story set in the past with characters tending to be fictional. Thou Shalt Not, with Mary Meier, the hotel proprietor with her husband in a small community, is the exception. The characters existed, the setting was real, and many of the incidents are authentic. Conversations were taken from court documents as printed in the area newspapers. I felt compelled to tell Mary Meier’s story. It provided an insight into women’s limitations during the late 1800s. If Mary had been allowed a stronger voice, a murder could have been prevented.

The Coming Plague

By Laurie Garrett,

Book cover of The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance

Notable for its prescience and timelessness, this award-winning book by Pulitzer and Peabody winner Laurie Garrett is a must-read for infectious disease aficionados. This book addresses the macro-level factors that drive the emergence of epidemics, such as the over-use of antibiotics in agriculture and climate change. It is a primer on why we need a global health perspective to address pandemics, so it's no wonder that it was re-printed when the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The Coming Plague

By Laurie Garrett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Coming Plague as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

After four decades of assuming that the conquest of infectious diseases was imminent, people on all continents now find themselves besieged. The water we drink is improperly purified, the air we breathe potentially deadly, and the food we eat possibly poisonous. What went wrong? This book follows the doctors and scientists in their 50 year battle with the microbes, ranging from the savannas of Bolivia to the rain forests of Zaire. Jet travel, the sexual revolution and over-population - all favour the survival of new and old bugs, among them, malaria, Ebola, cholera and tuberculosis, and viruses that kill in…


Who am I?

As an infectious disease epidemiologist, my personal and professional lives collided when my husband Tom acquired a superbug that was resistant to all antibiotics while we were traveling on vacation. The story of how a global village of researchers and medical professionals helped me save his life with a 100-year-old forgotten cure is the subject of our first book, The Perfect Predator: A Scientist's Race to Save Her Husband From a Deadly Superbug. A large part of my day job now is as a phage wrangler, helping other people who are battling superbug infections at IPATH, the first phage therapy center in North America.


I wrote...

The Perfect Predator: A Scientist's Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug: A Memoir

By Steffanie Strathdee,

Book cover of The Perfect Predator: A Scientist's Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug: A Memoir

What is my book about?

Epidemiologist Steffanie Strathdee and her husband, psychologist Tom Patterson, were vacationing in Egypt when Tom came down with a stomach bug. What at first seemed like a case of food poisoning quickly turned critical, and by the time Tom had been transferred via emergency medevac to the world-class medical center at UC San Diego, where both he and Steffanie worked, blood work revealed why modern medicine was failing: Tom was fighting one of the most dangerous, antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the world.

A nail-biting medical mystery, The Perfect Predator is a story of love and survival against all odds, and the (re)discovery of a powerful new weapon in the global superbug crisis.

The Year of the Gorilla

By George B. Schaller,

Book cover of The Year of the Gorilla

George Schaller’s pioneering popular Year of the Gorilla, set in Rwanda, is part history, travelogue, and accessible behavioral biology. This book was my model for how to write about my own seven summers living with killer whales off northern Vancouver Island, Canada. Travelling with wife Kay, Schaller in his mid-20s was among the first to get into the field with primates when few even considered it. Rich with stories, his book included his own beautiful line drawings of gorillas and tantalising maps. The story uncovers a misty kingdom—he climbed the volcanoes—as much as revealing the intimate details of the gorillas, with their food gathering, nest-building, relationships, their emotional lives. This book has human and gorilla characters. You feel like you are right there.

The Year of the Gorilla

By George B. Schaller,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Year of the Gorilla as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This seminal work chronicles George B. Schaller's two years of travel and observation of gorillas in East and Central Africa in the late 1950s, high in the Virunga volcanoes on the Zaire-Rwanda-Uganda border. There, he learned that these majestic animals, far from being the aggressive apes of film and fiction, form close-knit societies of caring mothers and protective fathers watching over playful young. Alongside his observations of gorilla society, Schaller celebrates the enforced yet splendid solitude of the naturalist, recounts the adventures he experienced along the way, and offers a warning against poaching and other human threats against these endangered…


Who am I?

I’ve spent most of my life since the 1970s working with whales and dolphins. I was lucky to get involved in one of the first field studies for killer whales and since then have led other research in the Russian Far East. I have worked with entomologists in Costa Rican rainforests, blue whale scientists in Québec and Iceland, humpback whale scientists in Hawaii. I’ve searched for rare North Atlantic right whales in the Bay of Fundy, measured Canada’s tallest trees in British Columbia and seen the wild plant ancestors of maize growing in the mountains of Mexico. Field research—studying and living in nature—makes us empathize with Planet Earth.


I wrote...

Orca: The Whale Called Killer

By Erich Hoyt,

Book cover of Orca: The Whale Called Killer

What is my book about?

When Erich Hoyt's Orca: The Whale Called Killer was first published in 1981, little was known about orcas. He and his colleagues spent seven summers following these intelligent, playful creatures in the waters off northern Vancouver Island. Hoyt's group dispelled the negative mythology about orcas while uncovering intimate details of their social behavior. 

This revised 2019 fifth edition includes Hoyt's original account, plus exciting new chapters that bring readers up to date on the revolution in orca research and understanding. Hoyt's youthful adventures turned into his life's work. Now a world-renowned expert on whales and dolphins, he shares orca wisdom along with stories from additional field study in Russia’s Far East and return trips to meet the descendants of the orcas he encountered years earlier.

Peacemakers in Action

By Joyce S. Dubensky (editor),

Book cover of Peacemakers in Action: Volume 2: Profiles in Religious Peacebuilding

With all that has been written about religion as a cause of violence, here are two volumes of case studies about how religion is used by individuals on the ground to stop violence. The case studies feature the heroic individuals in the Peacemakers in Action Network of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding. They operate in conflict zones around the world and this book reveals the methods and techniques they use to transform conflicts. I founded Tanenbaum in 1992 and this signature program was inspired and guided by the late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.

Peacemakers in Action

By Joyce S. Dubensky (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Peacemakers in Action as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Every day, men and women risk their lives to stop violence in religiously charged conflicts around the world. You may not know their names - but you should. Peacemakers in Action, Volume 2 provides a window into the triumphs, risks, failures, and lessons learned of eight remarkable, religiously motivated peacemakers including: * A Methodist bishop in the Democratic Republic of the Congo who confronts armed warlords on his front lawn * A Christian who travels to Syria to coordinate medical aid and rebuild postwar communities * A Muslim woman, not knowing how Kabul's imams will react, arrives to train them…


Who am I?

Between us, we’ve been in the interreligious relations business for a combined 50 years. We started working together when Jerry was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State under President Barack Obama. In 2015, we were both invited by Prince Ghazi of Jordan to join other interreligious leaders to advance a UN resolution defining and taking a stand against religicide. That resolution never made it to the Security Council. But we joined forces to sound the alarm about religicide. We wrote our book in the hope of inspiring an international campaign to end this killing in the name of God – or being killed because of your God.   


I wrote...

Religicide: Confronting the Roots of Anti-Religious Violence

By Georgette F. Bennett Ph.D., Jerry White,

Book cover of Religicide: Confronting the Roots of Anti-Religious Violence

What is my book about?

In Religicide: Confronting the Roots of Anti-Religious Violence Georgette Bennett and Jerry White name this insidious strand of violence and propose a global initiative and policies to identify, respond, and prevent it. Religicide has an evil kinship with human rights atrocities such as the Armenian genocide, Holocaust, “ethnic cleansing” campaign in Bosnia, slaughter of Tutsis in Rwanda, and the U.S.’s efforts to wipe out Indigenous Americans. 

Our book reveals how systematic attempts to eradicate a religion and its followers goes far beyond genocide. Absent a name, appropriate laws, and methods for dealing with religicide, it continues unabated and unprosecuted. Today, its perpetrators are getting away with murder against the Yazidis, Uyghurs, Rohingya, Tibetan Buddhists, and others. Our book sets out to change that.

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