'Exterminate All The Brutes', by Sven Lindqvist (Granta 1997)

Neil's picture

Sven Lindqvist, who died in 2019, was one of Sweden's most celebrated writers, mostly in non fiction, reportage and travel. This is perhaps his best known book in English, and is a history of European racism in the 19th Century. It examines European colonial actions in Africa and South and Central America, the military developments that allowed for it, and the philosophical and political justifications for the brutality that Joseph Conrad wrote about in Heart of Darkness. As he's writing this book, Lindqvist is travelling across the Sahara, and intersperses history with his own experiences in the desert.
Although slight, the book is incredibly well-researched, and is written in an episodic, expressionistic style. It has justifiably become a classic, and deserves a wide readership. It seems more relevant than ever.