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Into the Heart of Borneo

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  1,873 Ratings  ·  97 Reviews
The story of a 1983 journey to the center of Borneo, which no expedition had attempted since 1926. O'Hanlon, accompanied by friend and poet James Fenton and three native guides brings wit and humor to a dangerous journey.
Paperback, 208 pages
Published September 12th 1987 by Vintage (first published 1984)
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Community Reviews

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Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
Humor can be found on the mere incongruity of the person with the place he finds himself in. That is why we enjoy watching those Tarzan-in-the-big-city themed movies: the bewildered savage treating modern civilization as just another type of jungle and behaving just as he was before in his former habitat.

This is a travelogue which did a Tarzan in reverse. Two Englishmen, one a poet (James Fenton) and the other a naturalist (the author, Redmond O'Hanlon) placed themselves in the interior jungles
Sep 05, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I read this book on my first trip to South East Asia. This book (his first) I consider to be OHanlon's masterpiece. An absurd, aging, overweight British naturalist with an enthusiasm for nature that border's on the manic, travels with the perfect straight-man, the poet James Fenton, up river deep into the wilds of Borneo, in order to catch a glimpse of the Borneo rhinocerous. The local Dayak guides, masters of the forest, never tire of ridiculing and abusing OHanlon and Fenton - "Redmond you're ...more
Mar 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
Fun! Two British guys who had no business mucking about in a tropical jungle decide to go into the center of Malaysia where no European or American had been in fifty years. Armed with cigarettes, alcohol, antibiotics and books, they embark on a nutty, sweaty and very funny trip with three native men as guides. There's lots of singing, drinking, dancing and humor, and a bit of sex. Certainly not an educational book but very entertaining. The writer, a middle-aged academic with a belly is merciles ...more
Jun 09, 2012 rated it liked it
My good friends Natalie and Dave gave me this book just before I left to live in Penninsular Malaysia, and it has really served to pique my interest in the country I now live in. I found this to be an informative and well-written book, and the author definitely knew his way around Borneo and its customs.

My quibbles with the book did slightly detract from my overall enjoyment of the narrative. O'Hanlon had the tendency to go on and on about different birds he encountered along the way, as well as
Sep 25, 2009 rated it really liked it
This classic travel adventure recounts a 1983 trip into, well, the heart of Borneo by the author, Redmond O’Hanlon, his friend the poet James Fenton, and three local Iban guides. The purpose of the trip is, ostensibly, to try to rediscover the Borneo Rhinoceros that is believed to be extinct. The story evolves around the unlikely party’s boat trip upriver from Kuching on South China Sea to Mt. Batu Tiban. The trip is at times dangerous, as they traverse rapids and face other natural challenges e ...more
Mindy McAdams
May 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Reading this book inspired me to book a 22-day trekking tour of Malaysian Borneo, the fabled land of Iban headhunters and the magnificent hornbill. O'Hanlon -- an Englishman, literary scholar and amateur naturalist -- undertook an 1800s-style expedition into the jungle in 1983 with three local Iban guides and one English friend, a poet. About their adventure he wrote this thoroughly enjoyable book, filled with laugh-out-loud humor and wondrous descriptions of birds, rivers, forests, the incredib ...more
Forty Something
Nov 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Such a treat! On the surface, it is a trip to Borneo, but just as distinctly, the British way of life & culture permeate through. I feel this book took me both to Malaysia and to the UK.

The man put himself through such an ordeal for our reading pleasure, he told his tale in such a delightful and engaging manner and I laughed so many times that a 5-star rating is richly deserved.

I wasn't surprised to find this quote in a wonderful Guardian profile of O'Hanlon (
Jan 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Totally hilarious. Surprisingly, the celebrated British poet James Fenton, whom you'd think would be the albatross on this junket, comes across as rather better equipped to handle Borneo's rigors than does designated adventurer Redmond O'Hanlon. But really, neither "fats Redmon" nor "old Jams"(NB, whippersnappers: he was 34 at the time) had any business traipsing through the jungle, and the fact that both emerged from the experience in reasonably good shape is nearly a miracle. The many throw-up ...more
Britt Vasarhelyi
Feb 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: adults and older teens
Recommended to Britt by: yard sale
This is one of two books I always keep nearby so I can read a few pages when I'm in between activities.

It is absolutely hysterical, droll, meaty, and a dazzling window on a life almost none of us will ever experience. If I tell you that a poet in Borneo adopts as a mascot a parasite that has invaded his body, you'll think I'm nuts. I'm afraid you'll just have to read this amazing book to disprove me.

Actually, my copy has gone missing and I've torn up bookshelves, random stacks of books and hidin
Ann Michael
Dec 17, 2007 rated it really liked it
a bit snarky but hilarious. O'Hanlon's depiction of James Fenton is really rather appealingly odd...a collection of inside jokes and quasi-macho derring-do, drily told. I don't know why I find this so funny, but I do.
Oct 26, 2014 rated it liked it
Jeff Johnson
Jul 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is one of my all time favorites. O'Hanlon is a fine writer, but more, he designs adventures in an admirable way.
Peter Staadecker
Jul 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
O'Hanlon is a student of 19'th century English literature. His heroes of that age - including Darwin - seem to have inspired him to undertake a number of his own modern day Victorian style voyages of exploration, usually with equally unlikely companions.

In "Into the Heart of Borneo" he travels with the poet James Fenton, into Sarawak, supposedly with the goal of finding the almost extinct Borneo rhinoceros.

Aside from having read 19'th century literature, O'Hanlon's main qualifications for this
Un viaggio raccontato con un profondo senso umoristico inglese, alla ricerca del Rinoceronte Bianco del Borneo.
Molto divertente
Jun 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel
Naturalist O’Hanlon and his fellow scholar-adventurer, James Fenton embark on a river journey deep into the forests of Borneo. They are guided by three Iban men: authoritative Headman Dana, small and quiet Inghai, and their main translator, the lively lothario, Leon.

Travel narratives set in remote places like Borneo are intrinsically interesting to me, because I’m bound to learn something new about other people and cultures. This is certainly true of O’Hanlon’s book. Before reading Into the Hear
Aug 03, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: armchair travelers
An enjoyable travelogue in the manner of Eric Newby, Bill Bryson, and other self-admittedly cack-handed travelers. The wonderfully ill-prepared O'Hanlon and his companion, the even more ill-prepared James Fenton (a poet), trek through Borneo, where countless dangers could befall them (but happily don't, thanks to the deft assistance of three native guides). True, there are leeches and dreadful food, not to mention some close calls, but O'Hanlon describes these misadventures with high humor.

May 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
I picked up this book at The Book Thing because it obviously takes place in a faraway place that is near and dear to my heart...The book was written in the 80s, so I was a bit hesitant...but after reading a chapter, I proved myself wrong. The travel memoir was enjoyable and fun. I read in awe as Redmond and "Jams" hiked into the middle of Borneo to look for rhino(!!?) and observe different birds....the author's descriptions of leeches and other small creepy crawlies had me quite alarmed (yet, ST ...more
Feb 07, 2010 rated it liked it
“Well done, old chap.” Into the Heart of Borneo is the story of a 1983 journey into the uncharted mountains of Borneo in search of a possibly extinct rhinoceros. Of course this is really just an excuse for two Englishmen, one slightly overweight and the other slightly overage, to go on a rousing adventure, for which they are totally unprepared. Ever-witty Redmond O’Hanlon, the London Times literary reviewer, accompanied by his poet laureate friend, James Fenton and three native guides, describes ...more
Aug 06, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: explore-travel
I am a bit disappointed with this book it was not as exciting as I hoped, because to my opinion he talked on and on about the different birds he saw and the birds he did not see. And also he referenced quite often in text back to passages from other books, and during these passages I lost interest. Also the journey itself into the jungle was not so exciting as I hoped, I had the impression that it was a short journey into the jungle and suddenly they were already back at the starting town, then ...more
Aug 04, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: travel
Bruce Chatwin, Paul Theroux and Redmond O'Hanlon - for me, this is the 'Rat Pack' of British travel writing. The first novel of O'Hanlon I read was 'Congo Journey' and I really loved it. 'Into the Heart of Borneo' was the first book he wrote about one of his travels, so I was very curious for it. After completing the book, I felt a little bit dissapointed, because I expected more. The trip he and his companion are taking is quite short: they travel up a river, ascend a hill, hope to find the asi ...more
Aug 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
Thoroughly enjoyable. Lighthearted and witty for the most part, as O'Hanlon, and "the greatest poet in all Inglang" Fenton trek, cruise and tumble their way into Borneo, guided by three Iban practical jokers. It neither exoticises the locals, nor is it sentimental toward this 'wilder' nature; instead it celebrates the sense of humour that pervades in the difficult circumstances they often find themselves in. O'Hanlon describes the adventure to the finest detail, each chapter often recounts each ...more
Jon Wilson
Apr 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
4.5 Stars really, as I ultimately found it just shy of perfect.

It seems natural to compare this to the travel writing of Bill Bryson, and similarities do exist, but O'Hanlon (and Fenton) offer their very British take on the comedic quest. I enjoyed every minute even tho O'Hanlon often seemed to be trying to insert the most arcane examples of sentence structure. Lots of talk about birds and, if I had any interest in ornithology, I'm sure I would have been fascinated. I found the three native guid
May 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel
A solid bit of armchair travel. Filled with very good information about a very remote and fascinating place. Written in an enjoyable style, this books at times seems a bit out of place in modern travel writing, and more a nostalgic reflection of 19th centry travel writing.

I would not recommend this to a person who is new to travel writing, or who is not particularly interested in traveloges. But for those who enjoy reading about others adventures off the beaten path, this is actually a book I wo
Sep 28, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013
A quick read, lots of fun, very educational, but did I relish it all the way through? No. I did laugh out loud, and I will recommend it to my husband. I struggled with the British syntax and colloquialisms and what felt like a very loose structure. This could have merited a 4, but I felt the author did not do enough to set the stage for this journey for me. I did not have context for who he was, who his traveling partner was, outside of this trip. I may edit this after I've had a chance to discu ...more
Mary Licking
Sep 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: armchair travelers, naturalists
Interactions are hilarious - those of Redmond with his comic foil, the poet James Fenton, and the 3 Iban guides who take good care of those two. They traverse by boat a river to center Borneo, all the while wet, covered with insects and leeches, and most of the ambulation that occurs is on riverbanks and other inclines. Encounters with native tribes are negotiated by the Iban, and postcards of British royalty play a part. Excerpts from historical accounts of the area are inserted into the text a ...more
Jan 30, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: nature lovers, travelers, and everyone else
Still a great book, the second i've read by the author.
Redmond goes with his friend, a sarcastic poet named James, into the heart of Borneo in the newly formed Malaysia in the search of the legendary woolly Borneo rhino.
The book is full of amazing natural history descriptions, first hand accounts of indigenous customs and people, a mixture highbrow and crude humor, and several sad moments.
Although the book isn't as funny as "In Trouble Again" it's definitely a great read, especially if you are
Arne Grove
Feb 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
"I had the pleasure of reading this wonderfull book in the plane on my way home to Europe from my first trip to Malaysia and Indonesia. This reading gave added value to the evaluation of my trip, even I did not go to the same places and with a different approach. I also enjoyed the feeling of connection to the old tradition from Wallace and Mikluko-Maklai. A lot is still the same, but I had the advantage of using Google, TripAdvisor, GPS and personal network."
Novieta Tourisia
Aug 19, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As I passionately write on any subject, including travel (writing), reading Into the Heart of Borneo was like finding a fresh-new-enlightening idea. This 1980s travelogue was written by O'Hanlon, the natural history editor of the Times Literary Supplement.

His honest and humorous way in telling of his post-SAS survival training experience -- in Borneo that was, make this uplifting tale being a fun adventure and resourceful guide for travel book readers.
Oct 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
Wow -- wonderful and funny and sad. Two english guys go up a river, climb a mountain, go up another River and find a man who once killed 6 of the rhinosauruses they are looking for, but along the way we see a stone-age civilization as it collides with and is then destroyed, like we know the jungle they are Travelling through will be destroyed, by contact with the west.
17/4/16 Retrospectively changed from 3 stars to 4 stars.
I liked it more than 3 stars, and have recently read an excerpt publication of this book - a Penguin 70 called Borneo and the poet.
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Redmond O'Hanlon is a British author, born in 1947. Mr. O'Hanlon has become known for his journeys into some of the most remote jungles of the world, in Borneo, the Amazon basin and Congo. He has also written a harrowing account of a trip to the North Atlantic on a trawler.
More about Redmond O'Hanlon...
“...[the birds] were the yellow of all yellows, the kind of yellow that every other yellow secretly wishes to be.” 5 likes
More quotes…