James Brooke of Sarawak (1953)

James Brooke of Sarawak (1953)

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This biography of the first white Raja of Sarawak, James Brooke, was actually written in the 1950s and only shortly after Sarawak had been turned into a British Crown Colony after having been an almost feudal state passing through three generations of Brookes before the maelstrom of the Second World War brought its unique status crashing down. Even then, there were still many people in Sarawak who pined for the days of the White Raja with one of the British governors even being murdered by a pro-Raja group irked at the British usurption of their feudal state. Written so shortly after the ending of this bizarre but interesting colonial outpost Emily Hahn clearly connects with the participants in a way that perhaps modern historians would struggle with.

Emily Hahn is clearly sympathetic to her subject, but then again it does seem that there is a lot to admire about James Brooke. He comes across as a surprisingly modern leader who is more detached from his contemporary attitudes than he is with modern ones. He clearly had limitations, such as in finance, overly sensitive on some issues and not the world's greatest communicator on paper. But he also clearly inspired devotion, was very protective of his charges and had a surprisingly open mind to new ideas and concepts such as towards evolution and religion. He clearly tussled with the necessity of opening up the local economy whilst fearing the impact that it might have on the local population. He in no way was an imperial exploiter and often used whatever wealth he was able to acquire for the good of his people and territory.
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First edition. 1953. Hardback with dustjacket in very good condition. Ernest Baker

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