In This Review

Indonesia: Peoples and Histories
Indonesia: Peoples and Histories
By Jean Gelman Taylor
Yale University Press, 2003, 544 pp

This is a rich and fascinating excursion into Indonesian history that is guided not by the usual commanding authority of political events, but by the story of how different peoples, as communities, have interacted over the centuries to produce an Indonesia that, although diverse, can also be called a nation. The focus is on social, economic, and religious developments, with the social aspect including court life from ancient times through Dutch rule and the dominant figures of post-independence Indonesia. Taylor is able to cram all sorts of nuggets of Indonesian lore and theoretical insights into her book through the use of nearly a hundred "capsules" -- sets of brief paragraphs set off from the text by frames. The capsules range from such historical puzzles as why the Javanese population mushroomed so early, before the advent of the standard twentieth-century causes of population growth, to how "Indianization" took place in different parts of Indonesia, from the spread of Islam and the evolution of caliphs and sultans, and to many, many more esoteric matters that deserve to be more than just footnotes. Taylor is clearly a sympathetic and enthusiastic scholar of all things Indonesian, but she is fair-minded and does not hold back on presenting the dark side of some phases of Indonesian history.