The book launch special
Man of Contradictions hits the shelves at last...
Welcome to the fourth edition of Bundle of Contradictions. I hope you are all doing well.
It’s been a whirlwind month since Man of Contradictions was launched on September 1. Shortly afterwards, I made my way to a bookshop in central Sydney to check that I had in fact just published a book and it wasn’t all a crazy dream. I’ve been trying to write a book about Indonesia for some years but it was very hard to find a publisher. The typical conversation would end something like this: “We like your writing, we like your idea, but can you pick another country because no-one cares about Indonesia?”🤷♂️
I’m grateful to the Lowy Institute and Penguin Random House for backing this project and shepherding it onto the market in the middle of a global pandemic, which is an unsettling time to be publishing a book. I wondered for a while if I should delay publication but we went ahead and I’ve been blown away by the reception, especially given how hard it normally is to get people reading/thinking/talking about Indonesia.
The book is already on its third print run, it has received many positive reviews, and there has been much interest from media organisations, think-tanks and academic institutions. I’ve been particularly pleased to see a lot of enthusiasm from Indonesia, where the book isn’t even on sale yet. People have been spreading pirated versions of Man of Contradictions on WhatsApp (a compliment, as one Indonesian friend told me, but not great for sales!). And, amid a flood of Indonesian language stories, some netizens even created their own fake news memes about the book, which were debunked by various Indonesian fact-checking organisations.
Here are some coverage highlights so far:
“A richly textured and nuanced treatment of the Indonesian leader Jokowi. Ben has drawn upon his considerable knowledge of Indonesia and the region to produce an indispensable guide to a critical yet often misunderstood leader and nation.” – Kurt Campbell, former US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
“A sharp critique that deserves to be heard. From the point of view of a keen observer like Ben Bland, we can better understand Jokowi and, ultimately, better understand Indonesia's complexities.” – Wahyu Dhyatmika, editor-in-chief, Tempo magazine
“The book is quite brilliant in capturing the limits of a man’s ability to challenge and reform from within an entrenched political system.” – Una Galani, Reuters
“A landmark new book. It should be required reading for anyone seeking to understand the leader of Australia’s giant northern neighbour.” – James Massola, Sydney Morning Herald
“Highly readable … Bland is performing excellent service by introducing Indonesia to what, it’s to be hoped, is a new set of readers.” – Professor Edward Aspinall, Australian National University
“Bland is a good writer” – Richard Borsuk, The Jakarta Post
“The great value of Bland’s book is the way he colourfully and insightfully explains Jokowi’s chameleon political character.” – Greg Earl, Asia Society Australia
“Ben Bland’s penetrating biography of Indonesia’s Jokowi not only clarifies his subject’s contradictions, it does so in sparkling prose.” – Milton Osborne, historian and author of Southeast Asia: An Introductory History
“The book offers vivid glimpses of Jokowi as he grappled with the challenges of leading one of the most diverse and complex nations in the world.” – Michael Vatikiotis, author of Blood and Silk: Power and Conflict in Modern Southeast Asia
“An accessible introduction to the country’s most well-known and powerful politician… Bland brings to bear a wealth of personal experience covering Indonesian politics over the past decade.” – Professor Thomas Pepinsky, Council on Foreign Relations
Jokowi’s Indonesia needs a lot more than a reboot - op-ed for Bloomberg
Book extract in Australian Financial Review
Interview with Fran Kelly on ABC RN Breakfast
Interview with Phillip Adams on ABC RN Late Night Live
Tea Leaves Podcast with Kurt Campbell and Rich Verma
TV interview with CNBC
News story on ABC Indonesian
Ravi Vellor column in Straits Times
Cover story for Nikkei Asian Review
Interview with The Diplomat
Zoom event with the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club (of which I used to be vice president back in the days when Face bar was still a Jakarta drinking hole of choice)
Zoom event with former Jokowi adviser Yanuar Nugroho for ISEAS in Singapore - more than 400 people logged in for this! It was under “Chatham House” rules but the Indonesian media still wrote about it
Zoom event with Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong (where I launched my first book in 2017)
Zoom discussion with CSIS Indonesia, featuring top political science talent Philips Vermonte, Amalinda Savirani and Djayadi Hanan
I have many more events upcoming, including a seminar with the ANU Indonesia Project on October 7, a discussion with Greta Nabbs-Keller for the Australian Institute of International Affairs on October 8 and a talk with Febriana Firdaus at the Ubud Writers Festival on October 29 (sadly online only this year). I’m also taking bookings for bar and bat mitzvahs, birthdays and anniversaries (joke).
If you really must read something else…
…then I’d highly recommend these five books to make sense of what’s going in Hong Kong:
The recommendations came out of an interview I did with Alec Ash, the author of Wish Lanterns, for the smart Five Books website. It was a really thought-provoking exercise.
Thanks for the support and for reading to the end. If you haven’t got Man of Contradictions yet, or you need to buy a present for that special someone in your life, it’s available here and in all good bookshops in Australia. I’m hoping for some good news on Southeast Asian distribution soon. If you have read my book already (and enjoyed it), please consider leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads as it really helps the algorithmic juices to flow and bring the book to other people’s attention.
Stay sane and safe.