In the spirit of my recent post about what to read on Rwanda, here’s my take on the DRC. (I’ve also updated this list several times, most recently in June 2015. In retrospect it’s a major problem that there aren’t any works by Congolese or other African authors on this list. I’ll prioritize those works for a future update.)
- For very early regional history, David Schoenbrum’s A Green Place, A Good Place: Agrarian Change and Social Identity in the Great Lakes Region until the 15th Century is a fascinating linguistic reconstruction of life in the Great Lakes region from the early first centures CE onwards. The method alone is worth reading for. Jean-Pierre Chretien’s The Great Lakes of Africa: Two Thousand Years of History may cover similar territory, but I haven’t read it yet.
- King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, by Adam Hochschild. If you’re even remotely interested in the Congo, you will doubtlessly have had this book recommended to you. This is for an excellent reason. Hochschild is an engaging writer, and draws a detailed picture of the merciless colonial origins of the DRC. Jan Vansina also has a new book out covering the colonial period, called Being Colonized: The Kuba Experience in Rural Congo, 1880 – 1960, which I also haven’t read yet.
- In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu’s Zaire, by Michaela Wrong. A readable popular account of the Mobutu years. Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s latest book, Wizard of the Crow, is an interesting fictional account of life under a dictatorship partially based on Mobutu’s 37-year rule.
- Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa, by Jason Stearns. Stearns is one of the most knowledgeable people around on the Congo (see his blog for proof of this), and his recent book is thoroughly researched and remarkably clear in its depiction of the complex wars that wracked the DRC from 1996 to 2003. Gerard Prunier’s Africa’s World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe covers largely the same territory as Stearns’, but plunges even more unsparingly into the thicket of local politics and important detail.
- The Congo wars have received a fair amount of additional literary attention. Both Rene Lemarchand’s Dynamics of Violence in Central Africa and Filip Reyntjens’ The Great African War: Congo and Regional Geopolitics, 1996 – 2006 are quite good. I have read Thomas’ Turner’s The Congo Wars: Conflict, Myth and Reality, but didn’t find it very analytically useful. Three other excellent books which focus on specific aspects of the crisis are Severine Autesserre’s The Trouble with the Congo: Local Violence and the Failure of International Peacebuilding; its sequel, Peaceland: Conflict Resolution and the Everyday Politics of International Intervention; and Timothy Raeymaekers’ Violent Capitalism and Hybrid Identity in the Eastern Congo: Power to the Margins.
- One of the few books that tries to provide a comprehensive account of Congolese history from the precolonial era to the present is David Van Reybrouck’s Congo: The Epic History of a People. Haven’t read it yet, but have heard many positive reviews.