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White Rajah

UK Publisher: Abacus

This is a wonderful piece of swashbuckling historical biography, which recalls the best and worst of the British imperial character.

Sir James Brooke’s curious career began in 1841 when he was caught up in a war in Brunei, which had started because a party of local Dayaks had refused to furl their umbrellas in the presence of the Sultan. With characteristic opportunism and the backing of the Sultan, Brooke made war on the Dayak tribespeople and eventually found himself ruling over the substantial kingdom of Sarawak. How he achieved this is a romantic, sometimes horrifying story.

Brooke was an extraordinary eminent Victorian, whose story was the stuff of legend and whose dynasty is remembered throughout South-East Asia. Seventy years after his death Errol Flynn wanted to play him in a movie, and his life was the basis for the novel Kalimantaan.

Nigel Barley was born in Kingston-on-Thames, UK, in 1947. He read Modern Languages at Cambridge and completed a doctorate in...