The best books about Borneo 📚

Browse the best books on Borneo as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of Three Came Home

Three Came Home

By Agnes Keith

Why this book?

Again, it’s Agnes Keith, but this time using her gentle voice to describe the trials that she, her husband, and their son and their neighbors and friends endured during their stays in Japanese World War II prison camps in tropical Borneo. One critic wonderingly comments about this book that it “records but never renders pain, observes human nature but never attacks any individual” and concludes “the author’s writing is restrained and touching.”

From the list:

The best books on 20th Century Borneo

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Book cover of A Town Like Alice

A Town Like Alice

By Nevil Shute

Why this book?

Some odd 1950s social attitudes caught me by surprise when I re-read this much-loved book from my past (what are those bruises all about?). Don’t let this put you off this wonderful story of courage and hardship as Jean Paget, an ordinary woman is swept up in the Japanese invasion of Malaya, faces terrible hardships in her group of female prisoners. Starving and sick, they are helped by an Australian, Sgt Joe Harman, also a prisoner, but his kindness results in the most terrible retribution. To say more would ruin the shock of this fabulous story, but I guarantee that…

From the list:

The best romance books with handsome men in a parlous state

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Book cover of Land Below the Wind

Land Below the Wind

By Agnes Keith

Why this book?

This book gives readers a clear picture of what it was like for an American woman, married to a British colonial, to live in North Borneo just before the Japanese Army invaded in 1942. It was truly an innocent place so far from the cares of the world. I read it in 1968, just before my first sojourn in Sabah, Malaysia. Much had changed by then, but it helped me understand the experiences of some of the older people I met. Today, Sabah remains a land “below the wind” (located south of the annual tropical cyclone belt.) But, as I…
From the list:

The best books about exotic Asian travel and adventures

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Book cover of A Stroll Through Borneo

A Stroll Through Borneo

By James Barclay

Why this book?

This book, by a well-born English friend of mine, was written when he was young and fancy free; he was then (in 1978) accurately described on the book jacket as a cheerful young man “who greets each new acquaintance and experience with enormous enthusiasm” as he makes his way alone, without fuss (while making local indigenous friends along the way) for five months through what was then one of the last remaining wild spots in the world. 

From the list:

The best books on 20th Century Borneo

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Book cover of Through Formosa: An Account of Japan's Island Colony

Through Formosa: An Account of Japan's Island Colony

By Owen Rutter

Why this book?

A delightful travelogue based on a brief trip Rutter made in the spring of 1921, from Kaohsiung up the west coast to Taipei. At that time, Taiwan was a Japanese colony and largely closed to tourists, and Through Formosa a rare glimpse. Rutter was an English colonial administrator and rubber planter in Borneo, so as well as typical travel descriptions of transport, accommodation, and sights, we also get informed opinions on matters such as how the Japanese colonial government was developing agriculture and trying to assimilate the aborigines. 

From the list:

The best travel books about Taiwan and why you should visit

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Book cover of The Last Wild Men of Borneo: A True Story of Death and Treasure

The Last Wild Men of Borneo: A True Story of Death and Treasure

By Carl Hoffman

Why this book?

Carl Hoffman’s book is a compelling read of other Westerners in Borneo. It’s a well-written account of a Swiss environmentalist and an American entrepreneur, both of my generation, who had vastly different experiences—and so different from mine. The former “goes native” while trying to save the forest and finally disappears without a trace. The latter manages to find the cultural treasures he is looking for but is blamed for exploiting the native tribes who produced them. The author learned all this by extensive travel to the region and up the rivers and jungles these men journeyed. The phrase “Wild…
From the list:

The best books about exotic Asian travel and adventures

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

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