Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country, is extraordinarily complex, and few books give so complete and vivid an introduction as does this one. Friend, a masterly political scientist, economist, and anthropologist and an insightful travelogue observer, has met most of the major actors who have shaped Indonesia since its independence and is thus able to bring them to life. We learn, for example, that Sukarno had a remarkable command of English, demonstrated when he quipped about corruption under his administration, "Britannia rules the waves, but Indonesia waives the rules." Friend treats with great objectivity the bloodbath -- part settling of old scores and ethnic hatreds, part attack on Communists -- that brought Suharto to power in 1966. He also details the end of the Suharto era and the political infighting and economic volatility that has followed -- leaving the reader with an informed understanding of contemporary developments in this important but distant country.
Get the best of Foreign Affairs' book reviews delivered to you.