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Into the Heart of Borneo

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  2,163 ratings  ·  112 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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Average rating 4.04  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,163 ratings  ·  112 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
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.
John Fredrickson
Feb 28, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: nature, travel
This is a very strange tale of a naturalist and a poet, who somehow get roped into a trip through the wilds of Borneo. The actual purpose of their trip remains obscure. Their journey exposes them to much of the nature of Borneo, which includes leeches, snakes, and a wonderful variety of birds. Along the way the 2 Englishmen and their guides go through some amusing misadventures. The humor throughout the book is strong and does not spare anyone, including the author himself.

While the book was gen
Anna Kander
Read this for a book club.
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.

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
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
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 (
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.
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
John Meyer
Feb 04, 2018 rated it it was ok
"Into the Heart of Borneo" is one of those classic travel books - and therein lies the trouble. While it will introduce you to a unique part of the world few of us will enter, it will also not encourage you to make the same journey. It's a "There and Back" again tale with little humour (despite what the cover promises) and a lot of sweating and bad-tasting fish. The botanist and the poet are off in search of a mythical rhinoceros. Will they see one? That's the central premise. It's also forgotte ...more
Emily Goode
Oct 27, 2018 rated it liked it
Into the Heart of Borneo is a travel book about author Redmond O’Hanlon and his friend James Fenton’s quest in 1983 to find a Borneo rhinoceros. This journey takes them, along with their guides, by foot and boat through the jungles of Borneo. While the stories about the native people and the descriptions of the environment were interesting, I found myself growing bored with O’Hanlon’s tendency to discuss native birds at length throughout the book as well as his references and quotes from other l ...more
Feb 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Thoroughly delightful. Wonderful book to read if you've read any of the classics (for example, Alfred Russell Wallace) and/or are just in for a rousing good armchair travelogue about Borneo as experienced by two middle-age Brits with virtually no previous jungle experience. O'Hanlon has the storyteller's gift of capturing dialogues. I found myself continually smiling at the two men's good-humoured exchanges and their guides' well-meaning advice as they try to keep their charges alive and well fe ...more
Apr 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the funniest, and best travel books I've read. It accompanied me on my own, far tamer travels in Borneo - not everyone can go searching for the rare Sumatran rhino with three Iban tribesmen and an English poet in a dugout canoe, but anyone can enjoy reading about it. And I did, immensely.
Mar 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very entertaining. Reading this book is like being in the jungle.

“So this was how the people in the far interior died [-...-] of scepticaemia, of a misjudged cut with the parang in a clearing, of a scratched mosquito-bite that became boil, of a fish-spine in the foot. No wonder the population was so perpetually young, so beautiful.”

Apr 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adventure
Pretty good - very entertaining, with lots of birds.
John Hardwick
Jan 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Read this some years ago with GREAT enjoyment
Darcy Hoover
Feb 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the funniest tales I've read, Redmond's dry wit will have you sore from laughing, all the while by his side struggling deep in the jungle......
Brandt Huffman
Nov 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Quite funny — like reading hitcher’s guide to the jungle
Sep 02, 2018 rated it did not like it
Eric Newby - “the funniest travel book I’ve ever read”. He must be having a laugh
Murf Clark
Oct 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Hilarious and smart
Jul 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
An easy, simple, pleasant read.
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
Rick Eckhardt
Mar 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Of all the adventure books I've read, overall this is the best.
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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.
“...[the birds] were the yellow of all yellows, the kind of yellow that every other yellow secretly wishes to be.” 5 likes
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