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A Life Beyond Boundaries: A Memoir

An intellectual memoir by the author of the acclaimed Imagined Communities
Born in China, Benedict Anderson spent his childhood in California and Ireland, was educated in England and finally found a home at Cornell University, where he immersed himself in the growing field of Southeast Asian studies. He was expelled from Suharto’s Indonesia after revealing the military to be behind the attempted coup of 1965, an event which prompted reprisals that killed up to a million communists and their supporters. Banned from the country for thirty-five years, he continued his research in Thailand and the Philippines, producing a very fine study of the Filipino novelist and patriot José Rizal in The Age of Globalization.

In A Life Beyond Boundaries, Anderson recounts a life spent open to the world. Here he reveals the joys of learning languages, the importance of fieldwork, the pleasures of translation, the influence of the New Left on global thinking, the satisfactions of teaching, and a love of world literature. He discusses the ideas and inspirations behind his best-known work, Imagined Communities (1983), whose complexities changed the study of nationalism.

Benedict Anderson died in Java in December 2015, soon after he had finished correcting the proofs of this book. The tributes that poured in from Asia alone suggest that his work will continue to inspire and stimulate minds young and old.


  • “Benedict Anderson transformed the study of nationalism … and was renowned not only for his theoretical contributions but also for his detailed examinations of language and power in Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines.”
  • “Everything Anderson wrote was boldly original, challenging assumptions by uncovering a neglected or suppressed voice. He was never content to tell an audience what they wanted to hear.”
  • “Anderson, who died late last year, had an intuitive sympathy for nationalism’s anti-imperial origins. This was underpinned by his view of history, which was shaped by a rare and unfamiliar perspective. At the time of Imagined Communities’ publication, he was a political scientist at the centre of the small community of westerners working on Southeast Asia. Not only his training but also his family background had equipped him, in ways his posthumously published memoir A Life Beyond Boundaries makes clear, to understand nationalism’s extraordinary insurgent appeal.”
  • “Engaging and winningly modest memoir... [full of] canny and pertinent observations on modern academia: the prevalence of jargon and the lack of language skills. Poignantly, he tells us how lucky he feels about his achievements. We should feel the same.”
  • “[A Life Beyond Boundaries] is a neat and tidy book about his unusual trajectory and sensibility, infused with inside jokes, idiosyncratic asides, and sly humor. It is also a tart overview of academic life. But mostly the memoir is a primer for cosmopolitanism and an argument for traversing geographical, historical, linguistic, and disciplinary borders.”
  • “Throughout his memoir, Anderson’s writing is gentlemanly, kind, laced with jokes and vignettes of his favourite interviews, like those he conducted with two Indonesian brothers who exemplified the almost incestuous politics in Jakarta – one was the head of army intelligence, the other a member of the politburo of the Communist party of Indonesia.”
  • “One of the greatest … deserves still to be central to our thinking about the world.”
  • “Fiercely, movingly local, concentrated on a handful of remarkable men and fateful years, but also … expansively global.”
  • “Far and away the most influential study of nationalism.”
  • “A formidably erudite and beautifully illustrated study.”
  • “The global need for transnational solidarity is a project toward which Anderson wishes to bring continued attention. Therein… lies the transformative quality of the book… Anderson’s reflections offer tools for challenging the simplified outlook of globalization and, in his own words, recognizing the 'emancipatory possibilities of both nationalism and internationalism.'”


  • Benedict Anderson on 'mapping the terrain' of nationalism

    "Nationalism has been ‘around’ on the face of the globe for, at the very least, two centuries. Long enough, one might think, for it to be reliably and generally understood. But it is hard to think of any political phenomenon which remains so puzzling and about which there is less analytic consensus" — in this essay, taken from the Introduction to Mapping the Nation, Benedict Anderson makes sense of some of the difficulties in ‘mapping the terrain’ of nationalism, as well as looking at theorists (including feminist scholarship) who have brought new meaning to this important area of political study.

    Benedict Anderson's ground-breaking study of nationalism, Imagined Communities, is out this week in a new edition, and available at a 40% discount through Saturday, October 15th.

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  • Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities

    Announcing a new edition of this world-famous work on the origins and development of nationalism, 40% off until Saturday October 15th.

    Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities remains the most influential book on the origins of nationalism, filling the vacuum that previously existed in the traditions of Western thought. Cited more often than any other single English-language work in the human sciences, it is read around the world in more than thirty translations. Following the rise and conflict of nations and the decline of empires, Anderson draws on examples from South East Asia, Latin America and Europe’s recent past to show how nationalism shaped the modern world.

    This new edition is 40% off until Saturday October 15th. Click here to activate.

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  • Ebook Highlights from Verso’s Archive from $1/£1


    We’ve come to realize that our 90% off ebook sale has placed our readers in a dual crisis of both shortening time and expanding options, leaving many paralyzed or uncertain on how to navigate this vast terrain of radical ebooks. The task is certainly daunting. With a diverse list of authors ranging from Rosa Luxemburg, Ellen Meiksins Wood, Fredric Jameson, David Harvey, and Benedict Anderson to Patrick Cockburn, Liza Featherstone, John Berger, and Richard Seymour, choosing the right bundle can be a challenge. 

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Other books by Benedict Anderson