Maverick Mahathir

Malaysian Maverick may not have cashed in on review buzz. But it still offers a great insight into Malaysian politics.

Luke Hunt

Publishers' nightmares often stem from a failure to coordinate logistics — new releases must already be on the shelves when reviews are published to maximize sales among the reading public. Author and journalist Denis Warner, a grand old South-east Asian stager, once confided in me his loathing for particular publishers who wasted great book reviews by failing to deliver the product on time.

Usually, sloppy management at the printers — in distribution or the public relations department — is to blame. Occasionally, though, circumstances really are beyond anyone’s control, particularly in Warner’s time when leaders like Indonesia’s Sukarno were hardly renowned for their love of a free press.

How much has changed in recent years is a matter of opinion…

The latest example of a book hitting the market in an untimely fashion is Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times by Barry Wain and published by Palgrave Macmillan. Published more than a year ago, the book was subjected to procrastinating censors in Malaysia and months of delays in its release, even after Mahathir said he had no objections to its release.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

Given Mahathir’s harsh stance on press freedom during his 22-year tenure as Malaysia’s prime minister, it was refreshing to see such a book hit the shelves across the country, and more than a year later to still be on the country’s best sellers list.

However, urban myths still persist suggesting the book is banned, that expats caught with a copy will have their visas cancelled, or that dark forces would come out to play against anybody caught with a copy of what is a critical but bang-on-the-money read about Malaysia’s longest serving leader.

Wain, the former managing editor of the Wall Street Journal Asia, has done a tremendous job in unraveling and piecing together the Mahathir years, when politics and business went hand in glove, and what was good for the nation’s leader was 'good' for the nation. As such, it's a less than flattering picture of the man whose government dreamt big and reportedly squandered more than 100 billion ringgit.

He also details the heady factionalism that has plagued the United Malays National Organizations (UMNO) along with the forging and breaking of relationships, including opposition leader and former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, former prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and current Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Maverick Mahathir is making itself mandatory reading for scholars and analysts who follow the country. But it also deserves a much wider audience, among locals, expatriates and anyone with a basic interest in understanding how this country can tick.

Luke Hunt
Contributing Author

Luke Hunt

Luke Hunt is a South-east Asia correspondent for The Diplomat and has worked in journalism for more than 25 years.

View Profile