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Raffles and the British Invasion of Java
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 22 August 2013
During the 8 years I spent living in Java in the 2000s, I was often frustrated by the dearth of accessible English-language reading material on the history and culture of Indonesia. Most of what was available then (back in the pre-kindle days) was either dry specialist academic texts, travel guides or poorly translated Dutch works. Most of the knowledge I picked up during that time was patched together from speaking to Indonesians and long-term ex-pats, visiting places of interest and reading the odd travel guide. As I am unable to speak Dutch or read old Javanese, and there is sadly a lack of easily- accessible museums and archives in Indonesia, going to source material to fill in the gaps wasn't an option. Therefore I'm glad that Tim Hannigan did all the hard work for me and only wish he had done it ten years earlier!
Back in Indonesia on holiday this summer I finally got round to reading this book. It is a fascinating read, written in an accessible style which keeps up your interest throughout. It not only deals with this less well-known period in Raffles' life but with many side characters and also with contemporary Javanese culture. For me there were many recognisable descriptions and several `aha! moments' where I discovered (or had confirmed) explanations for various Javanese quirks that still endure to today.
If you are merely looking for a highly-detailed account of British military manoeuvres in Java, you will probably be disappointed. If you are a committed Rafflesophile, you will likely baulk at the critical handling of the man and his dubious actions during this time. If however, like the author, you have a passion for this bewitching country and are looking for insight into this period, the people and the culture, you will thoroughly enjoy this read.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 29 November 2013
This book was recommended to me by a friend who is a well renowned Indonesian publisher. I remarked one day to him, "I want to write a book called: Raffles was a badass". He replied, "Its already been written" and handed me this book from the shelf of the bookstore.

As a Singaporean, Raffles has been a whitewashed character, a visionary and a unblemished founder of our country. Yet my initial fact findings started to unearth discrepancies. From his dispute with William Farquhar to the way in which Singapore was founded, I knew in my gut that there was more to the story of Raffles.

Tim has made spectacular sense and provided a colour about Raffles which surpasses the current dogma. Raffles at the end of the day was a man with his flaws, and I do believe that Tim has done justice in painting a fair picture of a colonialist who was struggling to pursue fame and fortune, and not a altruistic statesman which we have been lead to believe.

I thoroughly recommend this book.Thrilling romp through the history of South East Asia.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 12 August 2013
I attended Tim Hannigan's talk at the Penzance Literary Festival and found his session so engaging that I bought the book the next day.
I found his writing style just as engaging as his presentation and would recommend his book heartily. He has spent a long time in the country followed by a huge amount of time leafing through old colonial materials from the time - and he certainly knows his onions.
This book is not only informative, but is a thoroughly entertaining read delivered in a relaxed and friendly style - I imagine he would be a great person to have as a guide while you travel around this part of the world!
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I do not normally read biographies but having met Tim Hannigan at The Penzance Literary Festival in July where he was running a workshop on travel writing I thought I would give this book a try. I was not disappointed. The author puts the reader squarely in the thick of the action. We can smell the jungle, the smoke and cordite of the muskets and hear the sound of canon fire, the cries of the combatants and the rattling of the sabers.

This is an account of a short lived campaign of the British army at the height of its empire and according to Hannigan, Raffles comes out of it with an extremely tarnished reputation. Raffles is famous as the founder of Singapore and London zoo. But it seems he was an opportunist out to make a quick buck. He was involved with corruption, turned a blind eye to slavery and complicit in inciting the massacre of Dutch citizens. This is all the more shocking because of the high esteem in which his memory is held by many.

This book is an extremely good read and I highly recommend it.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 7 August 2015
Tim Hannigan is on a guilt trip - the British Empire and its iconic personalities, were evil. The local populace were used and abused, the British pillaged everything they could get, they destroyed everything in their wake, they were monsters. Raffles reputation is righteously trashed, his personal life ridiculed and his failure to create a trading post in Java applauded. Meanwhile the endless, flowery descriptions of Indonesian landscapes, culture and history go on for page after page after page. The title says it all "the British Invasion" - no acknowledgment that the Napoleonic War was continuing at the time and that the Dutch, the resident colonial power, were fighting on the side of the French. This book fails as an objective historical account and should have been entitled "Travels in Indonesia from a Marxist Post-Colonial Perspective".
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 16 June 2013
To add a little bit of balance to this book, I must say that I enjoyed it. Living in South East Asia for quite some time, the book bridges the often hagiographic Raffles accounts and the equally boring Raffles damnations. Hanigan cannot resist a few remarks himself and appears to be rather critical of the man. However, the book also shows why one needs to be careful not to overlook Raffles enormous mistakes in Java in the light of his later feats.
The book is rather casually written and one notes the background of the author. At times, it reads like a pleasant (or rather unpleasant) travel book, at times as a military history book with more details. Indeed, the chapter on the battle of Yogyakarta would have benefitted from a map. More maps certainly also would have helped the understanding better.
Some negative points are the constant references to imaginary moments which the author most probably just made up to flesh out our protagonists. This is entertaining but certainly not academic.
So, for those who want good entertainment about a dreadful piece of colonial history, go right ahead. For those who desire an academic portrayal, go elsewhere. I had fun with it and finished it, lying under tropical palms (and praising air-condition as the best invention of mankind as Lee Kuan Yew once said).
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5 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 26 March 2013
It was with a degree of eager anticipation that I took my copy of Tim Hannigan's latest book from my postman last week having been recommended it by a guest speaker during a recent study tour of the far east. Raffles had always struck me as being one of those intriguing characters who lurks menacingly in the corners of 19th century British economic expansion but about whom only positive things are ever mentioned and nearly always only in the context of Singapore: a recommendation to read a more balanced appreciation of his career was, therefore, most welcome.

The book title and cover promised much but I was soon to be bitterly disappointed for, as I began to read the text I began to ask whether the author was trying to write a thriller along the lines of a grown up's Biggles or, to produce a serious piece of academic research. Whichever was the case, not only has he failed miserably, but he has also been poorly served by his editor and sub-editor.

If the book were a thriller then I could excuse the rather excited descriptions of deepest Java, nor would I expect footnotes and I could also overlook grossly over long and sometimes ungrammatical sentence constructions. These, of course, should have been picked up by a half-decent editor.

Clearly, however, the author considers himself to be something of an academic and towards the end of the book he takes pains to inform us of the lack of comfort he endured during his research before, that is, hopping onto his push bike to admire the sunset. My concerns though, are not just with the end of the book but, also, with the start, middle and end. I have four very serious grumbles:-

* It is simply not possible, and nor is it acceptable, to write a military history without maps to contextualise the action and to retain and direct the reader's attention. At the start of the book, although there are two tiny but really rather pathetic maps that are worse than useless, there is nothing at all later on to inform us visually about troop movements, where the rebels were plotting and assembling and where rebellions took place; nor is there a map to help us to understand where the very important key shipping links were being made between India and the neighbouring islands; nor, lastly, is it clear where Raffles settled for his final posting.

* The chapters are poorly titled and never add to the readers understanding of the unfolding history. Frankly, the connections the author makes between Raffles and the Java aristocracy are confused and confusing. Competent editorship would have resolved these problems.

* Where on earth is the Index? In a complex and fast-paced story the reader needs to refer back to consolidate facts and to remind himself of, for example, unfamiliar place names but in this book it is just not possible. This is an unforgivable omission and weighs heavily on the quality of the book.

* Raffles is, of course, best known for his association with what is now neighbouring Singapore and so it it difficult to understand why the author, whilst attempting to give us a balanced view of his life, can spare only a few paragraphs about Singapore and possibly the greatest achievement of his life. From a geopolitical perspective, the island that was to become the cornerstone of Britain's far eastern empire lies only a stone's throw from Java and Sumatra and, as the author reminds us, had it not been for his final posting to Sumatra, then he would never have been in a position to 'found' Singapore. A final chapter on this part of his career would have given the book some badly needed balance.

Sadly then, I think that the author has laboured tirelessly but, ultimately, fruitlessly, to produce a book that is confusing and poorly edited. A second edition with with far greater editorial control could transform Mr. Hannigan's work into a half-decent book: it would then be worthy of a far-sighted empire-builder whose courage and fearless resolve are recognised throughout South East Asia to this day.
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