To Nation by Revolution: Indonesia in the 20th Century

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By Anthony Reid

The twelve chapters of this book all derive from the reflections of a prominent historian on the nature of modern Indonesian history, over a 40-year time span. A central thread running through the book is the importance of the fact that Indonesia entered the modern community of nation-states through political revolution. This revolution has often been denied or downplayed as a failure because it did not have a communist outcome like those of China and Vietnam. A much better analogy is the French revolution - a profound breaking with and discrediting of the ancien regime but without the guiding hand of a disciplined party intent on power. Like other revolutions, it demanded a huge price in violence, human suffering, and the loss of cultural traditions; like them too, it offered a glittering prize. The prize turned out not to be the freedom and equality of which the revolutionaries had dreamt, but a previously inconceivable unity enforced by a state of a completely new kind. The Faustian bargain in by which Indonesia was created in the 1940s is at the heart of this book.

All the chapters save one have been revised and updated for this publication, with the injection of some additional optimism called for by post-1998 democracy. The exception is the earliest paper, from 1967, on the paroxysm of violence that punctuated Indonesia's independent history from 1965-1966. This piece has been left unchanged as a document in the early quest for understanding of those horrific events.


"Any book from noted historian Anthony Reid is to be welcomed as making a significant contribution to the literature on Indonesia. A collection of Reid's essays from over four decades a particularly special event, capturing the best of his work, allowing reflections on the perspectives of the times and reminding us that the insights of a good historian can have a timeless quality...To Nation by Revolution is deeply engaging...[and] a satisfying and enlightening read. It is strongly recommended to all with an interest in the complex place known as 'Indonesia.'" - Damien Kingsbury

"...His sincerity is praiseworthy. Reid has left the chapter on his then optimistic view of Indonesia's political climate at the time as one in which 'a more relaxed atmosphere among intellectuals' prevailed and 'opinions can be expressed without fear of an attack in the night'. He trusts his readers to infer with the benefit of hindsight the contradiction that the then newly installed New Order eventually morphed into the same fear-inducing monster from which Indonesia was supposed to be rescued when the essay first appeared." - Elizabeth Chandra


Anthony Reid is Emeritus Professor of Southeast Asian History at the Australian National University and a former Director of the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore. His other works include An Indonesian Frontier: Acehnese and Other Histories of Sumatra, Negotiating Asymmetry: China's Place in Asia, The Blood of the People: Revolution and the End of Traditional Rule in Northern Sumatra and Verandah of Violence: The Background to the Aceh Problem.


Publication Year: 2011
360 pages, 229mm x 153mm
ISBN: 978-9971-69-535-4, Paperback

NUS Press