Good books about Bali

What we say: 3.5 stars

We had the good fortune to hear Bill Dalton speak in Ubud last week. Bill is the founder of Moon Publications and the author of what started as the first proper guidebook to Indonesia, eventually becoming the Indonesia Handbook. For years it was the guidebook to the archipelago.

Only through books will you learn which offerings you can eat

Only through books will you learn which offerings you can eat

During the talk, the question was asked “What is a good book about Bali?” and funnily enough Bill was a bit stuck for an answer — as was most of the crowd! We’ve been talking about this since and so here is a list of a half dozen or so books about Bali that we’ve either read or have heard glowing reports on.

Under the Volcano
by Cameron Forbes (2007)
If you read just one book on Bali before or during your trip, make it this popular history book. Written in a compelling style and traversing a vast array of subjects relevant to Bali today, this will open your eyes to Bali’s history and the current challenges communities here face.
Available in good bookstores in Bali

A House in Bali
by Colin McPhee (1980)
Musicologist McPhee came to Bali to document gamelan music and this book tells of his time on the island. Includes memorable descriptions of Bali in the 1930s.
Buy now from Book Depository

Island of Bali
by Miguel Covarrubias (1937)
Originally published in 1937, this book is perhaps unexpectedly readable even if occasionally hysterical and still rings true today. Covarrabias and his wife lived in Bali over two stretches of time, and the book relates the island’s history, arts and rich culture.
Buy now from Book Depository

A Short History of Bali: Indonesia’s Hindu Realm
by Robert Pringle (2004)
This is a drier introductory historical text for Bali. While it is heavier going than some of the other books, it gives the reader a solid grounding in the history of island from the Bronze Age through to Megawati’s presidency.
Buy now from Book Depository

A Tale from Bali
by Vicki Baum (1937)
This slightly dry historical novel is based on the events leading up to the 1906 puputan in Denpasar. Though it’s now decades old, much remains relevant to today and it offers an interesting insight into a pivotal period in Bali’s history.
Buy now from ABEBooks

Fragrant Rice: My Continuing Love Affair with Bali
by Janet de Neefe (2003)
The memoir of an Australian restaurateur who married a Balinese man and raised four children here, this is another easy-read introduction to the culture of the island — with recipes.
Buy now from Book Depository

A Little Bit One O’clock: Living with a Balinese Family
by William Ingram (1998)
The author tells of his time spent with a Balinese family, revealing the way ties bind relatives together on the island while also narrating his own cultural journey.
Buy now from Amazon

Got a favourite book about Bali? Do let us know via the comments below, as we’re always on the lookout for more!

The above is an extract from our upcoming iPhone App for Bali.

Last updated: 17th April, 2015

About the author:
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.
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