Updated May 20th, 2020
Since the start of the revolution there have been tons of books written about Syria – some brilliant, others so so, and even more that are terrible.
To help you sift through it all, i’ve compiled a reading list consisting of my top reads and broken these out into three imperfect (and sometimes overlapping) categories:
1) Recent history, context and analysis
2) Personal experiences, testimonies and memoirs
3) Reporting and dispatches
I’ll add to this list as I consume more! If you have any recommendations, please share!
Recent History, Context and Analysis
Syria by Samer Abboud
A solid overview and analysis of the conflict (2nd edition published in 2018). Provides swift, but pointed historical background from the 20th century and then dives into the complexities of the Syrian uprising, the revolutionary project and the subsequent war, fragmentation and catastrophe.
Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War by Robin Yassin-Kassab, Leila Al-Shami
A critically important book and record of the struggle for Syria – from the ground on up. This book more than others provides detailed account and perspectives from the grass roots underground activists, fighters and ordinary citizens who led this ‘revolution from below’.
Assad or We Burn the Country: How One Family’s Lust for Power Destroyed Syria by Sam Dagher
Quite possibly the best book written this far, the author ties together his fantastic reporting and access to insiders (and uniquely top regime insiders like Manaf Tlass) to weave together a holistic view of how the regime waged war on Syrians.
The Impossible Revolution: Making Sense of the Syrian Tragedy by Yassin al-Haj Saleh
From one of Syria’s most respected thinkers and dissidents, this compilation of essays combining personal experience and analysis, provides valuable texture to our understanding of both the revolution and counter-revolution, as everything unfolded.
Authoritarian Apprehensions: Ideology, Judgment, and Mourning in Syria by Lisa Wedeen
Building upon her earlier work, Ambiguities of Domination which explores the false rituals, expectations and orchestrated obedience under Hafez Al-Assad, this piece dives deep(!) into explaining the ideological and societal factors that enable regime resilience.
Experiences, Testimonies and Memoirs
We Crossed a Bridge and it Trembled: Voices from Syria by Wendy Pearlman
A powerful collection of first-person testimonies, synthesized from interviewing hundreds of Syrians that illustrates life living under dictatorship, the euphoria of rebellion, fear and trauma of flight and reflections of dreams delayed.
No Turning Back: Life, Loss and Hope in Wartime Syria by Rania Abouzeid
This work follows the lives of four Syrians over the course of six years while weaving their journeys throughout the events and moments of the nation’s downward spiral. An important read that shatters any illusion of clean narratives and absolutes in a nation destroyed.
The Home That Was Our Country: A Memoir of Syria by Alia Malek
A beautifully written memoir that skillfully weaves family history with that of Syrias. She captures the individual schizms and contradictions so many were facing while illustrating how the regime dominates all aspects of life.
Brothers of the Gun, A Memoir of the Syrian War by Hisham Marwan, Molly Crabapple
A pointed and sharp recount of life in a disintegrating nation, within and around Raqqa. The memoir covers the absurdity of it all – from rebel and opposition incompetence to living life in a Daesh (ISIS) cafe.
My Country: A Syria Memoir by Kassem Eid
This memoir provides us with a searing view into the realities of life in Syria under the Assad’s pre-revolution – the exploitation, nepotism, corruption and thinly veiled sectarianism that marked daily life. His testament to struggle in Ghouta post-revolution is raw and honest and covers his evolution: first as an activist then pushed after chemical attacks as a fighter and then as an activist on hunger strike.
The Pianist from Syria: A Memoir by Aeham Ahmad
Set in Yarmouk, this autobiography captures the heart-wrenching decisions the author makes to find hope and survive the utter absurdity of daily life under siege, and ultimately the choice to escape to Europe.
Syria’s Secret Library: Reading and Redemption in a Town Under Siege by Mike Thomson
This work serves as a reminder to the revolutionary spirit and hopeful example set by the people in Daraya. Under siege and constant barrage this account of Syrians resisting through mind, body and soul illustrates how dreams of a new, transformed nation can be delayed, not crushed.
Death is Hard Work: A Novel by Khaled Khalifa
A story of familial obligation against the backdrop of a nation’s demise and fragmentation – while a work of fiction, the specificity of the character’s experiences transports you into today’s Syria, wracked by regime and militia warlordism, corruption and the absurdities of a broken nation.
The Crossing: My Journey to the Shattered Heart of Syria by Samar Yazbek
We are taken on three journeys into ‘liberated’ Idlib (“on the ground but betrayed by the sky”) to bear witness the evolving trauma, devastation and perseverance of a resisting population. A tough but necessary read, that takes us down the path of a Syria that “has been hung, drawn and quartered.” Powerful work.
Reporting and Dispatches
A Woman in the Crossfire: Diaries of the Syrian Revolution by Samar Yazbek
A searing account of the first four months of the revolution documenting the many ways Syrians (and she) resisted and crossed the fear barrier. A testament to the sacrifices so many have made, including the author who was branded a traitor to her community and sect.
Syrian Dust: Reporting from the Heart of the War by Francesca Borr
A vivid and raw account of life in the divided city of Aleppo in 2012-13. This work illustrates the contrast between the hopes, expectations and romantic narratives with the ugliness, horror and exhaustion of war.
The Morning They Came For Us: Dispatches from Syria by Janine di Giovanni
Reporting from Syria in 2012, this work is grounded on the human, lived experiences of the people she connects to – activists, ordinary citizens, regime soldiers. At times embedded with FSA groups, other times with the regime army or proponents (like nuns in Maloula), she reports clearly, so audiences can come to own conclusions.
Our Women on the Ground: Essays by Arab Women Reporting from the Arab World by Zahra Hankir
Overall an important and well overdue compilation of perspectives from Women journalists that goes beyond Syria. The essays from or about Syria are powerful – Ruqia Hasan from Raqqa, Zeina Karam, Natacha Yazbeck, Nour Malas, Lina Sinjab, Hwaida Saad and Zaina Ehraim
Enab Baladi: Citizen Chronicles of the Syrian Uprising
“This is the story of an idea called Daraya.” A collection of Enab Baladi reports from the early days of resistance to community organizing to forced displacement – this is an important record of the Syrian revolutionary experience, rooted in a town that has inspired so many of us. Free PDF cam be found here.
Reads in the queue I hope to get to (somehow) in coming months. These are in no particular order, but will add to the list above if deemed appropriate!
- Syria After the Uprisings: The Political Economy of State Resilience, Joseph Daher
- The Syrian Revolution: Between the Politics of Life and the Geopolitics of Death, Yasser Munif
- The Rule of Violence: Subjectivity, Memory and Government in Syria, Salwa Ismail
- The Battle for Syria: International Rivalry in the New Middle East, Christopher Philips
- Operation Caesar: At the Heart of the Syrian Death Machine, Garance Le Caisne
- Destroying a Nation: The Civil War in Syria, Nikolaos van Dam
- The Syrian Jihad: Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Evolution of an Insurgency, Charles R. Lister
- Syria: The Making and Unmaking of a Refuge State, Dawn Chatty
- Aleppo: The Rise and Fall of Syria’s Great Merchant City, Philip Mansel
- Syria’s Endangered Heritage, Franklin P. Lamb
- The War for Syria, Raymond Hinnebusch
- The Syrian Uprising, Omar Imady, Raymond Hinnebusch
- New Media and Revolution: Resistance and Dissent in Pre-uprising Syria, Billie Jeanne Brownlee
- A Land of Permanent Goodbyes, Atia Abawi
- No Knives in the Kitchens of This City, A Novel: Khaled Khalifa
- I Was Born Twice: Stories of Syria’s Tears, Hasan Almossa