Since the start of the Syrian revolution in 2011 and the subsequent repression, war, interventions and exodus that have resulted in the implosion of the nation, it is critical to move beyond soundbites to gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of unfolding events.
However with countless books about Syria published it can be overwhelming to sift through them all and find the best ones. That's why I've compiled a list of the best books on Syria covering recent history, context and analysis.
Whether you are a student of Syria, an academic or someone looking to gain a basic understanding, these books provide critical and nuanced perspectives. I’ve also added at the bottom of this piece the ever-growing list of books in my reading queue that I hope to get through (one day!).
Check it out and let me know if I missed anything or have any suggestions!
Also, check out these lists of Top Syria Books:
Top 9 Best Syria Books: Recent History, Context and Analysis
Note: My recommendations are based solely on my own reads, preferences and perspectives. Any purchases you make through our links may earn Syrian Memories a small commission which goes towards helping sustain this initiative.
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.
Syria After the Uprisings: The Political Economy of State Resilience by Joseph Daher
This book explores the Syrian uprising holistically by examining local socioeconomic, political, regional and international developments. The central argument is the regime’s resilience is grounded in its political economy (the combination of crony capitalism, clientism and repression).
The Syrian Revolution: Between the Politics of Life and the Geopolitics of Death by Yasser Munif
The author rejects the simple narratives across left and right Syria discourse to present a “micropolitical analysis of the Syrian uprising” grounded on experiences in the northern city of Manbij (Aleppo Governorate.)
Red Line: The Unraveling of Syria and America's Race to Destroy the Most Dangerous Arsenal in the World, by Joby Warrick
This is a vivid account of a key dimension of the past ten years - Chemical weapons usage and the effort to dismantle the Assad regime chemical weapons program. The author not only provides a detailed recounting of the Ghouta chemical attacks but also the role of various actors (US, Russia, France etc).
ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror by Hassan Hassan and Michael Weiss
Perhaps the first, most serious and illuminating of all the books written about the background and rise of ISIS (Daesh). The authors draw from a wide range of contacts – rebels, spies, diplomats, ideologues – and provide clear perspective on the political, economic and social grievances that spurned ISIS’s growth.
On the reading list – 34 books on Syria in my queue!
Because of the length of this reading list i've categorized the list (imperfectly) as follows:
- Overarching Reads
- The Assad Regime Response and Reaction
- International Implications of Syria
- Syrian Regional Experiences, Extremism and Minority Groups
- Russia’s Intervention in Syria
The Origins of the Syrian Conflict: Climate Change and Human Security by Marwa Daoudy
Syria 2011-2013: Revolution and Tyranny before the Mayhem by Azmi Bishara
Destroying a Nation: The Civil War in Syria, Nikolaos van Dam
The War for Syria, Raymond Hinnebusch
The Syrian Uprising, Omar Imady, Raymond Hinnebusch
The Syria Dilemma, by Nader Hashemi (Editor), Danny Postel
The Political Economy of Investment in Syria by Linda Matar
Revolution in Syria by Kevin Mazur
Leading Protests In The Digital Age: Youth Activism In Egypt And Syria
Dancing in Damascus: Creativity, Resilience, and the Syrian Revolution by Miriam Cooke
New Media and Revolution: Resistance and Dissent in Pre-uprising Syria by Billie Jeanne Brownlee
Language, Identity, and Syrian Political Activism on Social Media by Francesco L. Sinatora
Shooting a Revolution: Visual Media and Warfare in Syria by Donatella Della Ratta
Conflict Propaganda in Syria: Narrative Battles by Oliver Boyd-Barrett
The Assad Regime Response and Reaction
Syria: The Fall of the House of Assad by David W. Lesch
Middle East Authoritarianisms: Governance, Contestation, and Regime Resilience in Syria and Iran by Steven Heydemann, Reinoud Leenders
The Rule of Violence: Subjectivity, Memory and Government in Syria, Salwa Ismail
Operation Caesar: At the Heart of the Syrian Death Machine by Garance Le Caisne
Al-Buti and the Syrian Revolution by Bachar Bakour
International Implications of Syria
The Battle for Syria: International Rivalry in the New Middle East by Christopher Philips
Syria: The Making and Unmaking of a Refuge State by Dawn Chatty
Syria and the Chemical Weapons Taboo: Exploiting the Forbidden by Michelle Bentley
Syria and the Neutrality Trap: The Dilemmas of Delivering Humanitarian Aid through Violent Regimes by Carsten Wieland
Everybody's War: The Politics of Aid in the Syria Crisis by by Jehan Bseiso, Michiel Hofman, Jonathan Whittall
Syria Betrayed: Atrocities, War, and the Failure of International Diplomacy by Alex J. Bellamy
Syrian Regional Experiences, Extremism and Minority Groups
Rojava Revolution, War and the Future of Syria’s Kurds by Thomas Schmidinger
The Kurds of Northern Syria: Governance, Diversity and Conflicts
Syrian Armenians and the Turkish Factor: Kessab, Aleppo and Deir ez-Zor in the Syrian War
Aleppo: The Rise and Fall of Syria’s Great Merchant City by Philip Mansel
The Syrian Jihad: Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Evolution of an Insurgency by Charles R. Lister
Russia’s Intervention in Syria
The Russian Military Intervention in Syria by Ohannes Geukjian
Operation Aleppo: Russia's War in Syria by Tim Ripley
Putin's War in Syria: Russian Foreign Policy and the Price of America's Absence by Anna Borshchevskaya
Did I miss anything? Share any great reads with me!