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Histories of the Hanged: The Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empireby David Anderson
Synopses & Reviews
A groundbreaking work of colonial history in the tradition of King Leopold's Ghost and The Boer War.
A riveting account of Britain's final bloody decade in Kenya, this book tells the story of the brutal war between the colonial government and the insurrectionist Mau Mau between 1952 and 1960. New findings cast the Gikuyu rebels — hardly the terrorists they were thought to be — in a new light and reveal the British to be brutal aggressors in a "dirty war" that involved, among others, Winston Churchill and Harold MacMillan. This astonishing piece of scholarship portrays a teetering colonial empire in its final phase — employing whatever military and propaganda methods were necessary to preserve an order that could no longer hold. 18 photographs, 2 maps.
"Anderson's authoritative history of the last days of the British Empire in Kenya focuses on the colonial judicial system, which sent over 1,000 native Kenyans to the gallows between 1952 and 1959, during the state of emergency triggered by the Mau Mau insurrection. At the heart of the tale, along with blustering colonial ineptitude, is white settler ignorance of how its land grabs wreaked havoc on the Kikuyu tribe, Kenya's largest ethnic group and a people viciously targeted by the British, who were intent on rooting out Mau Mau activism at all costs. Anderson, a lecturer in African studies at Oxford, shows how paternalistic land reallocations and relocation of the Kenyan tribes to settlements fostered deep resentment, sewing the seeds of a bloody black-on-black massacre in 1952. Brilliantly analyzing the hierarchies and nuances of Kenyan society, Anderson traces how the Mau Mau hijacked the nationalist Kenya African Union, how the British scapegoated moderate leader Jomo Kenyatta and finally how the British herded virtually the entire Kikuyu population into horrific concentration camps, where thousands perished. Anderson's information-rich history vividly depicts the complex political and social dynamics of the Kenyan nationalist movement as it was confronted by the brutal waning British Empire. This is vital reading for any student of British colonial and African history. B&w photos not seen by PW; maps. Agent, Georgina Capel, London. (Jan.) " Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Disagreeing in some respects with [Imperial Reckoning by Caroline Elkins], Anderson's study adds materially to the understanding of not only the Kenyan war but also of colonialism's end in Africa. Both books merit attention." Kirkus Reviews
"A dispassionate but disturbing account, Anderson's history will be vital to understanding Kenya's terrible endgame of colonialism." Booklist
"Will transform our understanding of how the British Empire ended...and force a wide re-evaluation of Britain's modern history." Stephen Howe, author of Empire
"Histories of the Hanged is a remarkable account of Britain's last stand in Kenya. Marshalling a stunning amount of data, much of it heretofore unused, Anderson not only provides the details of the collapse of British imperialism in East Africa, but in the process reinterprets the role of leaders, such as Jomo Kenyatta and Tom Mboya. This is imperial history at its very best." John Hope Franklin
"Anderson has written a vivid account of that grim struggle, adding a new dimension by documenting the trials and executions of many of the captured Mau Mau rebels. This is an important contribution to the history of colonial Africa." Thomas Pakenham, author of Scramble for Africa
"Scholarly yet fascinating, unsettling in its revisionism yet readable in its macabre narrative, here's the story of how the tottering power of the fading British Empire was savagely unleashed against the desperate, brutal tribesman of Kenya's Mau-Mau in a dirty little colonial war." Simon Sebag-Montefiore, author of Stalin: The Court of the Red Star
"Histories of the Hanged is a gripping narrative — a movingly balanced, even sympathetic, understated, and insightful narrative and analysis of Kenya in the 1950s that is all-but-impossible to put down. The good news in 1950s-Kenya was that British legal protections prevailed in London and brought an end to the abuses; the worrisome analogy today is that no higher authority in the U.S. — that is, the electorate — appears ready to check distortions of fact and of principle." Joseph C. Miller, author of the Herskovitz Prize-winning Way of Death
"[A] carefully researched and powerfully argued book, exposing the hidden history of the dirty war between the Mau Mau and British colonists. It is discomforting: brutality and atrocity became facts of life for Kenyans in the 1950s, and questions of reconciliation remain outstanding. It is essential reading, not only for everyone interested in decolonisation, but also for people appalled by human rights abuses today." Joanna Bourke, author of An Intimate History of Killing
"In this lucid study of the final crisis of British colonial rule in Kenya, David Anderson provides a vivid picture of how the 1950s version of the war on terrorism provided lessons for future regimes in how to abuse the law, corrupt the judiciary, and polarize communities." Frederick Cooper, Professor of African History, New York University, and author of Africa Since 1940: The Past of the Present
"David Anderson's Histories of the Hanged is a brilliantly written and powerfully argued portrayal of the political use of the death penalty to crush rebellion in the last days of empire." Richard J. Evans, author of Rituals of Retribution: Capital Punishment in Germany 16001987
Book News Annotation:
Anderson (African studies, Oxford U.) offers an alternative account of the British experience in colonial Kenya, the final bloody decade of British rule, and the Mau Mau revolt of 1952-1960. Drawing on evidence from official and intelligence reports, court transcripts from the Mau Mau trials, interviews, and the personal stories of governors, guerrilla fighters, and victims, the author examines the motives and violent actions of the Mau Mau fighters who shaped the rebellion, and the behavior and deeds of the colonists who brutally suppressed it. Anderson's investigation reveals that the real aggressors in the war were not the Kikuyu rebels, but rather the high-ranking members of the British government.
Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
A riveting account of Britain's final bloody decade in Kenya, this book tells the story of the brutal war between the colonial government and the insurrectionist Mau Mau between 1952 and 1960.
About the Author
David Anderson is lecturer in African studies at Oxford University. He was formerly director of the Center for African Studies at the University of London. He lives in England.
Table of Contents
Prologue : the hanged 1
1 The hidden history of an anti-colonial rebellion 9
2 Burying the past 54
3 'Parasites in paradise' : race, violence and Mau Mau 77
4 Death at Lari : the story of an African massacre 119
5 Struggles in the city : Mau Mau in Nairobi 181
6 General China's war : freedom fighters in the forests 230
7 Crimes of punishment : law and disorder in Kikuyuland 289
8 Spoils of war : decolonizing Kenya, memorializing Mau Mau 328
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