For much of the history in part one Forbes turns to outsiders who have visited or settled in Bali: Alfred Russel Wallace and Jared Diamond for biogeography; Stamford Raffles for early colonial impressions; painter Walter Spies and musicologist Colin McPhee for the first half of the 20th century; and artist Donald Friend, surfer Steve Palmer, convert Made Wijaya and doctor Denny Thong for more recent views. But he also looks at the lives of native Balinese of different ages and backgrounds, from princes to peasants.
There are two chapters on the killings of 1965-66, which also cover their long-term effects and the lack of any kind of "truth and reconciliation" process. The bombings in 2002 and 2005 feature prominently, and are oddly foreshadowed in earlier periods. And there's some coverage of the effects of tourism.
Part two broadens its geographical scope, with chapters on jihadist networks in Indonesia and the drug trade in Southeast Asia, both of them emphasizing Australian links. A final chapter considers different concepts of Balinese identity: the ajeg Bali movement, the position of Chinese and Muslim minorities, and the tension between tradition and modernity.
Forbes works his own personal stories into this account, which sometimes leads to digressions. Rwanda does offer a parallel to the 65/66 killings, but two pages on his visit there seems excessive, and there is some outright name-dropping: "On the morning in 1986 that I was to fly with Rajiv Gandhi to the ashram established by Mahatma Gandhi near Naigpur..."
There are better histories of Bali for scholarly purposes — Forbes himself draws on the works of historians such as Geoffrey Robinson and Adrian Vickers — but Under the Volcano may appeal to those after an "Australian newsroom" perspective. It's easy to read, but at the same time covers topics that many tourists may not otherwise learn about.