Young Soeharto: The Making of a Soldier, 1921-1945

Young Soeharto: The Making of a Soldier, 1921-1945
David Jenkins , author
Date of publication:  2021
Publisher:  ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute
Number of pages:  503
Code:  BM588
Soft Cover
ISBN: 9789814881005
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"In his exhaustively researched and magnificently written biography of Suharto's early life, Australian journalist David Jenkins reveals his lifelong fascination with a man characterized in an earlier biography written by a German journalist in the 1970s as "The Smiling General." For behind that smile, no one really knew what the man was thinking -- or much about him. 

What Jenkins describes so well is the evolving landscape of the late Dutch period in Indonesia. The level of detail is often mesmerizing. 

Until now, there was only Suharto's account of these formative years in which he presents himself as a model policeman and soldier. In interviews that Jenkins conducted with members of the Japanese occupation force who trained Suharto, they told a different story of a man who was cautious, reserved, and tended to do as he was ordered to get ahead."

James Castle, The Jakarta Post, 2021. 

'The first volume of David Jenkins' long-awaited biography of the architect of modern Indonesia is now available from Singapore's ISEAS Publishing. 

Released on June 30, 2021, Young Soeharto: The Making of a Soldier, 1921 - 1945 is a masterpiece. At once comprehensive and compelling, the biography will be a delight to serious scholars and armchair historians alike. While the massive volume runs 503 pages comprising 300 pages of text and over 150 pages of footnotes, bibliography and glossary, it also contains nearly 20 pages of photographs and is beautifully printed. The reader is carried easily on the Jenkins' smooth prose, sharpened by the Australian journalist's decades as a reporter and editor of note. 

As in the rest of the book, Jenkins is masterly in his treatment of the behavior of both Japanese and Indonesians as defeat loomed for the former, and includes information from interviews with former Japanese soldiers who were Soeharto's superiors and remembered him well. Indeed, another one of the book's strengths is the knowledge gleaned from Japanese sources. 

And here the book concludes, leaving the reader hungry for the promised volumes two and three that will take us through the early years of independent Indonesia, the deadly turmoil of the 1960s and Indonesia's economic rise to middle income status under Soeharto until he resigned in May 1998, amid the pressure and instability generated by the Asian financial crisis."

Hamish McDonald, Born survivor | Inside Story2021.

"Written with Jenkins's characteristic clarity and verve, and painstakingly sourced, it is an enthralling read. As the list of acknowledgements shows, he managed to speak with most of the key surviving figures from the Soeharto era before they died.

The knowledge Jenkins has garnered since he arrived in Jakarta in 1969 as correspondent for the old Melbourne Herald has been a long time brewing. The two scholars whose endorsements appear on the cover of Young Soeharto, Benedict Anderson and Jamie Mackie, both died some years ago. Rather than some Javanist feat of posthumous telepathy, their approval came from their close reading of the draft and their guidance as it proceeded. 

.... This volume runs to some 500 pages and covers only the first twenty-four years of his life. ....The core of this volume is a highly readable narrative of some 300 pages."

Robert W. Hefner, Cambridge University Press, 10 August 2022

"Jenkins writes with an engaging and theoretically unpretentious prose. He manages to strike a deft narrative balance between the personal details of  Soeharto life and the broad sweep of developments in Indonesian politics, society, and culture. This is, certainly, a long book. But it is a masterful study that deserves to be read by any and all readers with an interest in Soeharto and the bittersweet project of Indonesian nationhood."

John Roosa, Pacific Affairs: Volume 95, No. 3, September 2022

"Amidst his other work, Jenkins has been interviewing people who knew Soeharto and had been collecting documents (in Dutch, Japanese, and Indonesian) about him ever since. He has consulted many of the leading historians specializing in twentieth-century Indonesia. With a gestation period of about five decades, this biography is extraordinarily well-researched. One cannot imagine it ever losing its status as the most comprehensive and reliable source on Soeharto's life."

Roger Hamilton, Asian Affairs, March 2022

"This is an outstanding book. As the notes attest, it is the product of a prodigous amount of research in Dutch, Indonesian, British, US and Japanese archives. It also draws on Jenkins' many interviews with the leading protagonists. His analysis of Soeharto's life and character provides an unrivalled account of the beginning of his rise to 32 years of supreme power."

About the publication

Update: Mr David Jenkins’ book ‘Young Soeharto: The Making of a Soldier, 1921-1945’ was awarded the Biography Accolade at ICAS Book Prize 2023

When a reluctant President Sukarno gave Lt Gen Soeharto full executive authority in March 1966, Indonesia was a deeply divided nation, fractured along ideological, class, religious and ethnic lines. Soeharto took a country in chaos, the largest in Southeast Asia, and transformed it into one of the “Asian miracle” economies—only to leave it back on the brink of ruin when he was forced from office thirty-two years later. 

Drawing on his astonishing range of interviews with leading Indonesian generals, former Imperial Japanese Army officers and men who served in the Dutch colonial army, as well as years of patient research in Dutch, Japanese, British, Indonesian and US archives, David Jenkins brings vividly to life the story of how a socially reticent but exceptionally determined young man from rural Java began his rise to power—an ascent which would be capped by thirty years (1968–98) as President of Indonesia, the fourth most populous nation on earth. Soeharto was one of Asia’s most brutal, most durable, most avaricious and most successful dictators. In the course of examining those aspects of his character, this book provides an accessible, highly readable introduction to the complex, but dramatic and utterly absorbing, social, political, religious, economic and military factors that have shaped, and which continue to shape, Indonesia.

“A dazzlingly impressive piece of scholarship ... a wonderfully readable story.”
—The late Professor Jamie Mackie

“Jenkins has succeeded, in a manner like none before him, to convey the feel, spirit, energy and texture of these formative years of Indonesia’s making, marked by violence, triumph and calamitous failure, and brutal intrigue. Jenkins’s Soeharto reveals the man… and his long, mostly quiet emergence, in brilliant contextual detail, and shows how he developed his extraordinary capacity for political adroitness and concise, decisive leadership.”
– Emeritus Professor R.E. Elson, author of Suharto: A Political Biography (Cambridge University Press, 2001)

“David Jenkins [is] the leading historian of the Indonesian military.”
—The late Professor Benedict Anderson, author of Java in a Time of Revolution: Occupation and Resistance, 1944-1946 
(Cornell University Press, 1972)

“An extremely valuable contribution to the literature on Indonesian political history... Using Soeharto’s life as a connecting thread, David Jenkins weaves together a marvelous and colourful study of Indonesia political and military life …. fascinating.”
—Dr Peter McCawley, author of Banking on the Future of Asia and the Pacific: 50 Years of the Asian Development Bank 
(Asian Development Bank, 2017)


  • Young Soeharto: The Making of a Soldier, 1921-1945
    [Whole Publication, ISBN: 9789814881012], by David Jenkins , author
  • Preliminary pages
  • 1. “The Sultan came to me and asked about that family tree”
  • 2. “The cork on which the Netherlands floats”
  • 3. “They regard Holland as a very weak power”
  • 4. “An invisible motivating force”
  • 5. “What kind of Islam is this?”
  • 6. “Soeharto is a closed book”
  • 7. “I was suited to the disciplined life of the military”
  • 8. A reassuringly familiar world
  • 9. A policeman for the Japanese
  • 10. An armed force conjured out of nothing
  • 11. “The whole island was ablaze with enthusiasm”
  • 12. “Don’t make them too strong!”
  • 13. “Soeharto was a cautious man”
  • 14. “Why did they choose Soeharto?”
  • Glossary and Abbreviations
  • Notes
  • Acknowledgements
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • About the Author
  • Dutch photo section
  • Japanese photo section

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