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  • Published: 6 February 2024
  • ISBN: 9781847927057
  • Imprint: Bodley Head
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 656
  • RRP: $36.99


Indonesia and the Birth of the Modern World

A true masterpiece of narrative history and the definitive story of the revolution that ignited the end of colonialism worldwide

A story of staggering scope and drama, Revolusi is the masterful and definitive account of the epic revolution that sparked the decolonisation of the modern world.

On a sunny Friday morning in August 1945, a handful of tired people raised a homemade cotton flag and on behalf of 68 million compatriots announced the birth of a new nation. With the fourth largest population in the world, inhabiting islands that span an eighth of the globe, Indonesia became the first colonised country to declare its independence after the Second World War.

Four million civilians had died during the wartime occupation by the Japanese that ousted the Dutch colonial regime. Another 200,000 people would lose their lives in the astonishingly brutal conflict that ensued - as the Dutch used savage violence to reassert their control, and as Britain and America became embroiled in pacifying Indonesia's guerrilla war of resistance: the 'revolusi'. It was not until December 1949 that the newly created United Nations forced The Netherlands to cede all sovereignty to Indonesia, finally ending 350 years of colonial rule and setting a precedent that would reshape the world.

Drawing on hundreds of interviews and eye-witness testimonies, David Van Reybrouck turns this vast and complex story into an utterly gripping narrative that is alive with human detail at every turn. A landmark publication, Revolusi shows Indonesia's struggle for independence to be one of the defining dramas of the twentieth century and establishes its author as one of the most gifted narrative historians at work in any language today.

  • Published: 6 February 2024
  • ISBN: 9781847927057
  • Imprint: Bodley Head
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 656
  • RRP: $36.99

About the author

David Van Reybrouck

David Van Reybrouck is considered ‘one of the leading intellectuals in Europe’ (Der Tagesspiegel) and is a pioneering advocate of participatory democracy. He founded the G1000 Citizens' Summit, and his work has led to trials in participatory democracy throughout Belgium and The Netherlands. He is also one of the most highly regarded literary and political writers of his generation, whose most recent book, Congo: The Epic History of a People, won 19 prizes, sold 500,000 copies and has been translated into a dozen languages. It was described as a ‘masterpiece’ by the Independent and ‘magnificent’ by The New York Times.

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Praise for Revolusi

A magnificent fusion of oral history, sparkling analysis, and historical wisdom. Revolusi has it all: a masterpiece

Sebastian Mallaby

Real history invariably resides in the memories of ‘ordinary people,’ people who fall through the cracks, who are excluded from the ‘panoptic’ view of history, or the history of the victors (History with a capital H). Among the book’s many gifts—the depth of its research, the breadth of its inquiries, the poetry of its prose—it is this that has affected me the most: the insistence and humility of finding and allowing these voices, these eyewitnesses to history, to come to the fore. With scientific meticulousness and a rare narrative brilliance, Revolusi gives us a history at once vast and intimate, a history in colour

Laksmi Pamuntjak

David Van Reybrouk's book on the Democratic Republic of Congo was an extraordinary tour de force, setting a new standard for accessible and intelligent historical writing about sub-saharan Africa. His new work, Revolusi, is as passionate, rigourous, perceptive, powerful and highly readable. Again, Van Reybrouk combines a historian's clear analytic eye with a journalist's joy at discovering and recounting the experiences of participants in great events. The Indonesian revolution, with all its complexity and horror and excitement and influence, comes alive over these 600 or so pages. This is a magisterial but gripping account of events of urgent importance to us now

Jason Burke

A comprehensive, authoritative, and highly readable history of Indonesia, with a focus on the crisis decade of the 1940s, from the Japanese invasion to liberation from Dutch rule in 1949. Seamlessly interwoven with hundreds upon hundreds of personal testimonies, Van Reybrouck’s narrative is a masterly display of the historian’s craft and a welcome corrective to the fiction that the Dutch in the East Indies were a benign force

J M Coetzee

An astounding feat of both research and storytelling. History at its best

Yuval Harari

History as it should be. Carried by a democracy of ordinary voices, meticulous research, an eye for decisive detail, vivid language and drama, Van Reybrouck forges a fantastic visionary compass to where history was heading at the time: the imagining of a new world order by people of colour

Antjie Krog

David Van Rebyrouck's Revolusi is a major account of one of the most unlikely and astonishing sagas of decolonization. A fully embodied chronicle that combines the skills of a journalist and a historian, the book is a towering achievement. It was the last chance to tell the story of the Indonesian revolution while some of its participants were still alive, and Van Reybrouck seized it

Thomas Meaney

A rare blend of formal daring, intellectual resourcefulness and journalistic fluency, Revolusi briskly ushers Indonesia onto the centre stage of modern history. It reveals, too, decolonisation as the main event of the 20th century — what has shaped our present and will decisively define the future

Pankaj Mishra

A wonderful and important book. David Van Reybrouck has written an authoritative and powerful history of Indonesia that not only reframes the birth of a nation but helps challenge ideas about the end of the European Age of Empire

Peter Frankopan

Relating the story of this place is . . . a mammoth task, requiring a monumental research effort. This is what the Belgian historian David Van Reybrouck has achieved in his superb history, Revolusi


A long overdue and utterly compelling narrative history of the birth of Indonesia . . . unfolds over a vast geopolitical canvas and yet never falters . . . It is as intricate as the waterways of the archipelago and yet it hums along, like a steamer on the Java Sea, propelled by the stories of its astonishing cast

Financial Times

A majestic and beautifully written ode to revolution that aims to remind us of the immense significance of this period of history… compellingly written and marvellously translated

Times Literary Supplement

It’s often been said that Indonesia is the world’s largest ‘invisible country’. If that’s true, the revolution beginning in 1945 must surely be the most consequential ‘invisible revolution’ of the last hundred years . . . compelling

History Today

David Van Reybrouck’s immensely readable new history . . . fills an important gap . . . Van Reybrouck has visited just about every place that figures in Indonesia’s history, and evokes them with a narrative zest all too rare among historians

Adam Hochschild, Atlantic

A detailed account, enriched with oral testimony ... Revolusi will hopefully stimulate new interest in Indonesian history in the West

Literary Review

An electrifying narrative . . . The strength of Mr. Van Reybrouck’s chronicle lies as much in the hundreds of interviews he conducted with very old participants in (and witnesses to) the war as in his impressive command of historical detail

Tunku Varadarajan, Wall Street Journal

This powerful account of the colonization of Indonesia takes the form of a people's history, using interviews with those who lived under - and sometimes defied - Dutch rule

New Yorker

[David Van Reybrouck] is a historian who gets his boots dirty. From remote Asian islands to Dutch nursing homes, [he] has tracked down eyewitnesses to Indonesia’s colonial period, producing the definitive account of a neglected epoch


This meticulous history of Indonesia spans several centuries, focusing on Dutch colonization of the archipelago and a drawn-out internal revolution that embroiled British, American and Japanese forces

New York Times Book Review

An outstanding account of one nation's unsung fight for freedom . . . The firsthand narratives are enthralling . . . [A] magnificent book

Todd Kushner, Washington Independent Review of Books