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Put the kettle on, your feet up, and get lost in West Bali. We've put together a reading list that, we're pretty sure, will give you some inspiration for your next holiday.

Good books about Bali

Good books about Bali

Brilliant books about Bali

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The Real Bali Guidebook – the Wild West
– Mark Eveleigh –

For decades the travel press has been trying to search out ‘the new Bali’…yet ‘the old Bali’ never disappeared: it’s still thriving out west, where the people still maintain a traditional culture in villages that are bordered by deserted beaches, paddy terraces and jungles that, even today, are still haunted by deer, jungle pig, flying foxes and hornbills.

This book was created to let sustainably-minded travellers in on the secrets that West Bali holds, and to offer some much-needed support to the families and small businesses that continue to maintain their cultural heritage in an area that is still overlooked by all but a handful of the millions of tourists who visit the island each year.

 

More than 50 unique experiences are outlined in detail, along with 70 alluring hotels, resorts, homestays and eateries (to suit all budgets). Only the best have been selected out of the hundreds we’ve visited. They’re all either locally-owned or are committed to operating sustainably and to empowering the people who call this very unspoiled region home.

 

If you’re searching for off-the-beaten-track destinations and authentic Bali experiences this book could keep you travelling for months.

The Real Bali Guidebook
DritwodChandeiers
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Driftwood Chandeliers
– Mark Eveleigh –

 

The  life and death cycles of an idyllic Balinese village have been going on, almost undisturbed, for generations – but when the bodies of two foreigners are discovered life for the entire village is altered forever.

Driftwood Chandeliers is set in a traditional village in rural Bali, where Brazilian surfer Natalia de Souza has been hired to manage a small resort. Life flows to the rhythm of ceremonies that honour and appease the island’s gods and spirits, and all is peaceful – until an unexpected chain of events drives a wedge into the harmonious community of fisher-folk and paddy-people.

As the character-rich plot unfolds – in an evocative, fast-paced story that is part mystery, part magical realism – it becomes clear that everyone must ultimately choose sides. Even the ghosts and demons cannot remain neutral forever.

Dewi's Delicios Recipes
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Dewi's Delicious Recipes
– Dewi and Rasta Cafe –

 

Here's a book straight out of West Bali! Anyone who's eaten at Dewi and Rasta Cafe in Medewi will tell you – Dewi's food is absolutely delicious! The cafe is at Dewi and Rasta's home and during regular times you'll find Dewi in her kitchen throughout the day – but in 2020 when Covid disrupted international travel, Dewi found she had time on her hands to work on something her guests have often asked for – her recipes. This 40-page book is a celebration of the down-to-earth cafe, and contains 15 recipes (12 of which are vegetarian) for sambals, starters, mains and sweet treats.

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Bali: Sekala & Niskala
– Fred B. Eisman –

 

One of the best possible sources for anyone who wants to try to get their head around the complexities of religion and magic on the island. This well written, and intensely researched, book shows that the world we see (sekala) and the realm of the occult (niskala) are intertwined in countless ways through everyday life on ‘the island of the gods’. Even Balinese experts often refer to this book for background on such things as rites of passage, blood sacrifices and the Balinese calendar (good luck with that one!).

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Secret Bali: An Unusual Guide
– Narina Exelby and Mark Eveleigh –

 

Black sand that has healing power; why you shouldn't whistle on a beach at night; beautiful rice terraces; a workshop where batiks are created with natural dyes; a place to petition the spirits for a baby; flute-playing pigeons; one of the world's best unofficial street-art exhibitions; a mysterious breed of cattle; a miniature Borobudur temple....

 

Secret Bali is a homage to an island paradise that still bewitches those who take the time to explore it. More than that, it is a tribute to the Balinese people – one of the richest and most hospitable cultures in the world. Some of the places in this book are located in parts of the island that few visitors will ever see; others lie like dropped gems , right beside the well-trodden tourist trail. Even dedicated connoisseurs of Bali will find some treasures among these pages.

Secret Bali
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Love and Death in Bali
– Vicki Baum –

 

Written in 1937 but set during the Dutch invasion of 1906, this unexpectedly gripping and moving story is probably the most exciting novel ever set in Bali. The puputan (mass suicides) of the royal families form a bloody climax to the story but it makes a beautiful read too for portrayals of Balinese village life that travellers who get off the beaten track will surely recognise over a century later.

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A House in Bali
– Colin McPhee –

When writer and composer Colin McPhee first heard gamelan he realized that it was the music of his dreams. Written in 1947 (almost a decade after McPhee and his wife finally abandoned their house in Bali), this book still continues to inspire lovers of Bali with its passion, excitement, evocative descriptions and sheer fascination for the islanders’ way of life. Perhaps it was his musical background that allowed the beauty of the island to sing through every page of his story.

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Island of Demons
– Nigel Barley –

 

The fictionalized story of German artist Walter Spies who lived in Ubud in the 1930s and was a magnet to the rich and famous – Charlie Chaplin, Noel Coward, Vicki Baum, Barbara Hutton (one of the world’s richest women)… Written from the viewpoint of Spies’s artist friend Rudolf Bonner, this poignant and sometimes very funny book is also occasionally disturbing (to whit the artists’ appetites for young Balinese men). It seems that, even at that time, life in Ubud could be a little too frantic and Spies eventually moved to what he called ‘a mountain hut’ in East Bali. Island of Demons follows the artists even farther as he tries to flee his sad destiny at the start of World War II.

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Secrets of Bali: Fresh Light on the Morning of the World
– Jonathan Copeland and Ni Wayan Murni –

 

One of the best sources for accurate information on Balinese daily life. There are often said to be two sides to every story in Bali…but if you can find it within the pages of Secrets of Bali chances are that you’ll be getting the truth. Written by Jonathan Copeland but in conjunction with Ni Wayan Murni (owner of Murni’s Warung, Jalan Raya Ubud), this is one of the best sources of information on…well, on pretty much every question you might have about Bali’s culture, traditions and lifestyle.

Secrets of Bali
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Bali Chronicles
– Willard A. Hanna –

 

Originally published as Bali Profile: People, Events, Circumstances 1001-1976, this reprinted version (with an infinitely catchier title – and a swashbuckling cover) offers a wonderful insight into almost a thousand years of history. It might not go back to the beginnings of humankind’s dominion on the island – did you know for example that the first sea voyage undertaken by man was believed to have been between Bali and Lombok (on a bamboo raft) about 850,000 years ago? This is the book to read if you want to understand the island’s history from the days of the Majapahit invasion through the oppression of the Dutch years to the tourism boom of the 1970s (which seems to have terrified the author with its invading army of hippies).

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Island of Bali
– Miguel Covarrubias –

 

The Mexican author described this book as a "bird's-eye view of Balinese life and culture". Covarrubias lived in Bali for three years in the 1930s yet his depth of knowledge and research comes across on every page and his explanations of art, traditions and witchcraft present a window to anyone who would like to understand Bali almost a century later.

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Travelling to Bali – Four Hundred Years of Journey
– Compiled by Adrian Vickers –

 

From the account of the first Dutch fleet in 1579, through Miguel Covarrubias's "dire predictions" for the tourism future of Ubud written in 1937 (I kid you not!) this book – compiled in 1994 – includes excerpts of some of the best writing, both foreign and local, to come out of the Island of the Gods. Well worth looking up.

Must-read books about Indonesia

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Kopi Dulu – Caffeine-Fuelled Travels Through Indonesia
– Mark Eveleigh –

 

A journey of 15,000 kilometres – by rail, road, on foot and under sail – through about 50 Indonesian islands, shining a light on what has been described as the world’s most invisible country. From tracking tigers in the Sumatra jungle to the mystical Dayak tribe that lives near the geographical centre of Borneo, this book touches on some of Indonesia’s most intriguing secrets. Mark meets Tana Toraja’s ‘living dead’, the Bugis people who build and sail the spectacular Sulawesi schooners and the villagers who are literally besieged by dragons in the Komodo archipelago. He surfs the legendary reefs of G-Land, Nias and Occy’s Left (and pioneers a previously un-surfed wave in the remote Alor Archipelago). He road-trips across Sulawesi and Flores and sails in the wake of Alfred Russel Wallace around Spice Islands, which have remained largely unchanged for centuries.

Kopi Dulu
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Fever Trees of Borneo
– Mark Eveleigh –

 

Sponsored by Heineken to reach the parts other explorers cannot reach, itinerant traveller Mark Eveleigh sets off on foot and by canoe across the heart of Borneo. On the way he endures shipwreck, malaria, leeches and exhaustion, not to mention enforced alcohol abuse and
barbecued mouse-deer foetus. Such hardships, you would imagine, might be enough to put a man off his boiled fish and rice, but the author confronts each challenge with a spirit that is as understated as it is refreshing. All too often travelogues dwell on the downside of
discovery, but Mark’s unique blend of enthusiasm and humour is genuinely absorbing and immensely readable.

– Global Adventure Magazine

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Indonesia Etc
– Elizabeth Pisani –

 

A contract to cover Indonesia as a correspondent for Reuters and The Economist in 1988 began a fascination that turned Elizabeth Pisani into one of the most widely travelled foreign writers in the country. Indonesia Etc is packed with fascinating insights from a widely-travelled and adventurous journalist. The depth of information that this book encompasses is staggering, yet it remains an entertaining and light-hearted read. Elizabeth Pisani had a talent for creating a page-turner while at the same time painting insightful and poignant pictures of everything from radical Islamism to Tana Toraja’s "living dead" to the Bali bombs.

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The Malay Archipelago
– Alfred Russel Wallace –

 

More than 150 years after it was written, The Malay Archipelago is probably still the best travel book ever written about what would later become Indonesia. The celebrated naturalist (a contemporary of Charles Darwin) landed only briefly at Bali, spending a few days exploring the Singaraja area in June 1856. Wallace’s lively words make exciting reading even now, and still inspire travellers with an ambition to get to know the world’s greatest island nation. Indonesia boasts an estimated 17,500 islands, of which more than 6,000 are said to be uninhabited. Wallace spent eight years travelling about 22,000km through virtually unexplored islands… many of which remain virtually unknown to outsiders even now.

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Ring of Fire: An Indonesian Odyssey
– Lawrence Blair, with Lorne Blair –

 

The story of the various journeys that English brothers Lawrence and Lorne Blair made while filming the 10-year exploration (sponsored by, of all people, Ringo Starr) of Indonesia. From 1972 the brothers travelled through New Guinea, Sumba, Komodo, Krakatao, Sulawesi, Borneo and, of course, Bali filming their classic adventure-travel documentary series Ring of Fire. This remains one of the best travel books on Indonesia.

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The Year of Living Dangerously
– Christopher J. Koch –

 

A classic 1978 thriller (and love story) set among the drama and violence of the Communist coup attempt of 1965. Perhaps best known for the classic movie, starring Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver, the book has aged well and is still an infinitely worthwhile read these days. It is set in Java, mostly around Jakarta and there are scenes that will still be familiar to visitors who know the nation’s capital today. A real classic.

Audible
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We're massive fans of Audible (Narina is, especially). We love to listen to audio books when we're roadtripping, and find it a convenient way to keep "reading" while negotiating boarding queues, taxis and public transport. Unfortunately none of the books we've recommended above are currently available on Audible (very few books about Bali are – unless you consider Eat, Pray, Love a "Bali book"), but if you're looking for a book to listen to while you're travelling or lounging next to a pool, take a look through Audible's "shelves", where there are more than 200,000 titles. If you don't yet have an account, keep in mind that you get one free book when you sign up.
PS we're Amazon affiliates and so if you do accept a free book – or buy one – through our link, you'll be supporting our work on this site, at no extra cost to you.

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