The Scramble for Africa astonished everyone. In 1880 most of the continent was ruled by Africans, and barely explored. By 1902, five European Powers (and one extraordinary individual) had grabbed almost the whole continent, giving themselves 30 new colonies and protectorates and 10 million square miles of new territory, and 110 million bewildered new subjects. Thomas Pakenham¿s story of the conquest of Africa is recognised as one of the finest narrative histories of the last few decades. We are given arresting vignettes of the main players. Lord Derby, protesting at ¿this absurd scramble¿; the Belgian Emperor King Leopold II grabbing and ruthlessly exploiting the rubber deposits in the Congo; and Prince Otto von Bismarck casually munching on prawns at the Congress of Berlin while determining the fate of millions.
The conquests were by, of course, a who's who of European powers sometimes dividing up the continent in a friendly, pre-agreed way (among themselves) and sometimes playing power politics and fighting against each other. While Britain, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany all played their parts; the story of the Belgians in the Congo is quite interesting and prominent in the book and involves all sorts of deals and machinations with other powers.
All-in-all, not a moment of pride for Europeans. Obviously, similar things went on in North & South America, parts of Asia, Australia, New Zealand, islands in the Caribbean and in the Pacific and sundry portions of the globe, mostly earlier in time than the African continent subjugation.
A side issue just somewhat reflected in the book was the artificial splitting up of land into "countries" that didn't have continuity necessarily with the existing tribal groups. In other words, you ended up with country A including tribe 1 and a part of tribes 2 & 3, leaving the rest of 2 & 3 in other "countries." Some of those artificialities are reflected in tensions that still exist today on the continent.
Luckily for me, I was a nerd that collected stamps as a kid in the 1950s, so I had some exposure to the African colonies formed in the 19th century through the stamps. I just knew that background would come to some use!
The Germans started late but still got Tanganyika and South West Africa, Leopold II of Belgium also snuck in and grabbed the Belgian Congo and the Lado Enclave, and broke all records in torture and slavery in the process. The Brits and the French got everything else, although all faced problems from the locals, who had the audacity to complain about Europeans bringing civilisation to them.
"The Scramble for Africa" is the best book I've read on Africa in the late nineteenth century.