A civil war has been raging within Syria since 2011, gradually taking on a more international scope as it has overlapped with other regional conflicts and drawn attention from global powers. Reading about it can be a wrenching experience, with numerous stories of death and displacement, along with atrocities, extremism, and the legacy of authoritarianism all present.
What follows is a look at a number of books that explore aspects of the war in Syria from a host of perspectives. Some come from people who witnessed harrowing events firsthand; others provide a more distanced look at the conflict and its implications. If you’re looking to better understand what’s happening in Syria, from the war itself to its causes to its regional and global effects, these books can help.
Brothers of the Gun
Marwan Hisham and Molly Crabapple
Marwan Hisham has plenty of firsthand experience of the conflict in Syria, beginning with his participation in protests against the regime of Bashar al-Assad and continuing through his work as a journalist. For this richly detailed account of a nation at war, Hisham’s prose is accentuated by the striking, visceral artwork of Molly Crabapple.
The Way of the Strangers
Graeme Wood has written extensively about the Middle East and global politics for The Atlantic, among other publications. In his book The Way of the Strangers, he focuses on a narrative that dovetails painfully with the story of the ongoing war in Syria, exploring what has caused people across the region to become associated with the Islamic State’s oppressive regime. Wood’s narrative provides insights into the region’s politics and conflicts.
No Turning Back
Rania Abouzeid has written extensively about Syria for a host of publications over the years; in her book No Turning Back, she focuses on the human cost of the conflict. In his review of the book for the New York Times, Christopher Dickey noted that the book contained “a tremendous sense of intimacy with the victims and the violence that surrounds them.”
Few conflicts, global or regional, arise completely spontaneously, and the Syrian War is no exception. In his book Syria Burning, Charles Glass–who’s been writing about the Middle East for decades — delves into the causes of the current war and explores the implications that it might have on the region in the years to come.
The Home That Was Our Country
In her book The Home That Was Our Country, Alia Malek writes about an apartment belonging to her grandmother, which she traveled to Damascus to reclaim when the Arab Spring began. She offers a portrait of the diverse communities in the city around this space, tracing the societal changes in Syria over the years and decades.
For readers looking at the larger canvas of Syrian history, John McHugo’s comprehensive look at Syria over the course of the last hundred years will be tremendously helpful. In exploring this history, McHugo delves into how colonialism shaped the nation, Syria’s involvement in global wars, and a series of other events leading up to its present conflict.
Death Is Hard Work
Not all explorations of a war’s effect on a nation come through memoirs of sprawling histories. In Death Is Hard Work, Khaled Khalifa uses fiction to show how war has affected Syria, blending absurdism and tragedy along the way. In the tale of estranged siblings attempting to bury their father’s body as a war rages around them, Khalifa offers a different window on the war, but one no less memorable.
Jonathan Littell’s Syrian Notebooks provides a firsthand account of the Homs Uprising in 2012, one of the key events in Syria’s civil war. The book that resulted is one that traces the escalation of a conflict, demonstrating how it evolved from a civil conflict to something much more expansive.
The Battle for Home
Syrian architect Marwa al-Sabouni offers a unique perspective on both the recent history of Syria and of the implications of the war taking place there. Her exploration of the architecture of Syria ventures into the numerous cultures that have thrived there, while also looking at how architecture might play a part in healing some of the wounds within Syrian society.
The Rise of Islamic State
Patrick Cockburn writes regularly about the Middle East for the Independent, and has written extensively about the region’s geopolitics. In The Rise of Islamic State, Cockburn explores the origins and implications of the extremist group that has played a significant role in the conflict. For readers looking to learn more about how this organization has affected Syria and its neighbors, Cockburn’s book offers a harrowing look.
Among the Ruins
Christian Sahner’s book offers a historical glimpse at Syria, written just as the nation’s civil war was beginning. Sahner offers a historian’s perspective on events, and brings in a sweeping view of the events in the nation’s past that have had a significant influence on the conflict going on there now.