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Adam Hochschild: a political education in the lap of luxury

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If you want to begin to understand some of the challenges the Democratic Republic of Congo faces today, there’s no better place to start than with Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost, the history of the brutal exploitation of one of Africa’s most resource-rich nations. I read it a few years ago and instantly became a Hochschild fan, not only of his storytelling but also of his passion.

What, I wanted to know, makes Hochschild tick?

It wasn’t until last month, when I got my hands on Half the Way Home–a memoir and his first book–that I had the answer to my question. It’s the story of the sometimes difficult relationship between Hochschild, an only child, and his father, the head of a major mining company with interests all around the world. Raised in the kind of luxury familiar only to the top of today’s One Percent–house servants, chauffeur-driven limousine, a private summer estate in the Adirondacks–Adam Hochschild tells of his gradual awakening to what propped up that life of extreme privilege.

“All though it took a long time to sink in, growing up in such surroundings was the best political education I could have had. I did not need leftist theorists to convince me that class is the great secret that everyone wants to deny…As I grew older, I became more accustomed to this way of looking at life. What I mean buy that is an ever clearer perception of how the joys, the power, and the riches of the world are divided so unfairly: between classes, between countries, between races, between men and women. When you feel the injustice of that division in one category–and for me it was the first–then your eyes begin to open to the others as well.”

But what makes this so much more than a tale of a new generation rejecting the ways of an old one is Hochschild’s father: “aristocrat, capitalist, important figure in the American empire, but at the same time a man with a distinct sense of social justice and a rare ability to see clearly.”

“What,” asks Hochschild,”is one to make of such a man?”

The exploration of that central question—and there is no easy answer—is what makes this memoir so achingly right.

OxfamBuzzList is a blog series about the movies, books, blogs, music, TV shows, and more that have Oxfam staff and supporters talking. If you’d like to contribute a guest post or suggest a topic, please leave a comment below.

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