11 Books About Syria to Make Sense of the Civil War

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.

The cover of the book Brothers of the GunBrothers 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 cover of the book The Way of the StrangersThe Way of the Strangers

Graeme Wood

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.

 

The cover of the book No Turning BackNo Turning Back

Rania Abouzeid

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.”

 

The cover of the book Syria BurningSyria Burning

Charles Glass

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 cover of the book The Home That Was Our CountryThe Home That Was Our Country

Alia Malek

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.

 

The cover of the book SyriaSyria

John McHugo

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.

 

The cover of the book Death Is Hard WorkDeath Is Hard Work

Khaled Khalifa

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.

 

The cover of the book Syrian NotebooksSyrian Notebooks

Jonathan Littell

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 cover of the book The Battle for HomeThe Battle for Home

Marwa al-Sabouni

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 cover of the book The Rise of Islamic StateThe Rise of Islamic State

Patrick Cockburn

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.

 

The cover of the book Among the RuinsAmong the Ruins

Christian Sahner

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.

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10 Horror Books That Prove War is Hell

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Writing horror fiction that revolves around war can be a difficult task. It doesn’t matter if you’re telling a story centered around warfare itself, situated on its edges, or examining its aftermath: when you’re dealing with real events that have taken countless lives and affected even more, finding the right way to show awareness of the human cost of these events is crucial.

When done well, the addition of horrific elements into stories of warfare can accentuate certain themes, and can magnify the most chilling aspects of war. Here’s a look at ten works of fiction that add a dose of the supernatural into real-life horrors, creating something that blends the visceral power of history with the terror of the uncanny.

The cover of the book Frankenstein in BaghdadFrankenstein in Baghdad

Ahmed Saadawi

As its title suggests, Ahmed Saadawi’s novel is set in the city of Baghdad. The year is 2005: American troops occupy the city, suicide bombings punctuate the landscape, and the abuses of the Baathist regime still haunt the memories of many. Into this landscape steps an ominous figure: a man created from the bodies of the dead, who seeks revenge on those who murdered the people whose limbs and organs now comprise him. As he replaces bits of himself, though, his quest for revenge grows murkier, leading the narrative into a complex and haunting place.

 

The cover of the book Blood CrimeBlood Crime

Sebastia Alzamora

The Spanish Civil War has been the backdrop for many tales of the supernatural: Guillermo del Toro’s acclaimed films “The Devil’s Backbone” and “Pan’s Labyrinth” both come to mind. Sebastià Alzamora’s novel Blood Crime sets up a morally tense situation from the outset, with different factions circling one another in a besieged town. The presence of a vampire lurking in the shadows ups the tension further, as the narrative moves from the surrealism of war to something akin to a nightmare.

 

The cover of the book She Said DestroyShe Said Destroy

Nadia Bulkin

The aftereffects of war and political unrest abound in the stories contained in Nadia Bulkin’s collection She Said Destroy. Key among them is “Intertropical Convergence Zone,” which draws its inspiration from the thirty-plus years when Hajji Suharto was President of Indonesia. The political crackdowns and repression that characterized his regime are, in this story, turned into something more surreal and ominous — and yet the weight of history gives it an increased power as well.

 

The cover of the book KokoKoko

Peter Straub

Some of Peter Straub’s most unnerving fiction takes readers far into the uncanny; others focus on a more human variety of monster. In Koko, the aftermath of the Vietnam War provides the backdrop for a harrowing story of memory and murder. Its central characters are a group of American veterans, reunited by the horrific actions taken by someone with whom they served. What emerges is a winding tale of shifting identities and secret histories, an unsettling novel with a sprawling scope.

 

The cover of the book The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous GeographiesThe Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies

John Langan

The title story of this collection from John Langan blends a host of elements: a story of several friends being stalked by a sinister supernatural figure, with a science-fictional spin on a familiar figure from horror literature thrown in. The fact that this story centers around a group of veterans with PTSD, and that it thematically lines up with its larger themes of perception and violence, gives it an even greater weight.

 

The cover of the book DeathlessDeathless

Catherynne M. Valenti

There’s no shortage of conflict when looking at the history of Russia in the 20th century. In her novel Deathless, Catherynne M. Valente gives this history a supernatural spin, incorporating elements of Russian folklore that accentuate the sinister aspects of totalitarianism under Stalin. Think omnipresent ever-watching beings, immortal entities making sinister bargains, and the moral bargains ordinary people make in order to survive. Here, the presence of the otherworldly is far from escapist.

 

The cover of the book Anno Dracula: The Bloody Red BaronAnno Dracula: The Bloody Red Baron

Kim Newman

The Bloody Red Baron is one of several novels by Kim Newman set in an alternate timeline blending history from the 19th century onward with characters from the literature of the period. (The title of the first of these, Anno Dracula, might give you a sense of who’s at the center of this.) The Bloody Red Baron reimagines the First World War, leaving the very human horrors in place but adding in a layer of disquieting supernatural menace.

 

The cover of the book Black Mad WheelBlack Mad Wheel

Josh Malerman

The middle of the 20th century found the United States military involved in a number of actions overseas, from combat to covert operations. The novel Black Mad Wheel involves a small group of musicians summoned by the military to investigate a strange sound in the desert. What ensues is an unsettling story about the nature of time and the unanticipated perils of conflict.

 

The cover of the book When the World WoundsWhen the World Wounds

Kiini Ibura Salaam

Conflicts abound in the stories found within Kiini Ibura Salaam’s collection When the World Wounds, from tales of aliens clashing with the rules of their society to a surreal account of post-Katrina New Orleans. Among the most gripping works in the collection is “Hemmie’s Calenture,” about a woman who escapes from slavery only to find herself caught up in a long-running supernatural conflict set against the backdrop of the War of 1812. Here, questions of power and the human cost of warfare remain in the forefront of the narrative.

 

The cover of the book The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us AllThe Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All

Laird Barron

Laird Barron’s forays into horror rarely shy away from the phantasmagorical or the ominous, but he simultaneously never loses sight of the human scale at which these works play out. That blend of psychological veracity and imaginative terrors makes for deeply compelling reading. The protagonist of the story “The Men From Porlock” has seen unspeakable things in Europe during the First World War; after returning back to the United States, he finds himself witnessing uncanny echoes of that time and glimpses of the impossible.

The 10 Best Books to Understand Modern War and Technology

War

Photo © Shutterstock

Where do you see the world in ten years? Twenty? Fifty?

With change around every corner, it’s hard to gauge what will happen. The everlasting development of new technology has altered the nature of the way we live. Our advancements in military technology have made it possible to wipe out entire groups of people with one hasty decision, and our obsession with the internet only continues to grow. With nuclear weapons, crazed leaders, corporate control, and an undying hunger for power, who knows where we’ll land in the coming decades? The future is laced with fear, and everything could dwindle away in dust and ashes if we move in the wrong direction.

With the world around us constantly evolving, we need to be educated and prepared for what comes next. The best way to brace yourself for where we’re to go is to know where we are, and the list of books below can help you do just that. Spanning all topics, from artificial intelligence to nuclear bombs and cyberculture, you’ll be sure to walk away from these reads with more knowledge and understanding than you ever thought possible.

The cover of the book Shooting Ghosts

Shooting Ghosts

Thomas J. Brennan & Finbarr O’Reilly

War takes an emotional toll on those who fight it, and soldiers suffer injuries that go well beyond physical afflictions. This joint memoir, written by a U.S. Marine and a conflict photographer, demonstrates that psychological wounds run deep and can’t be ignored. Readers of Shooting Ghosts will witness an important relationship develop between these two men as they help each other to make peace with their haunting pasts. This book makes known the reverberations that last long after combatants and civilians have returned home, a particularly poignant point as we approach the fifteenth year of continuous battle in the Middle East.

The cover of the book Future War

Future War

Robert H. Latiff

Robert H. Latiff devoted his life to researching and developing new combat technologies, making him a leading expert on the place of technology in war and intelligence. He has also calculated the cost of our innovation, weighing the benefits against the consequences. In Future War, Latiff explains the ways in which war has changed, and discusses the new weapons we will use to fight and how the skills of a soldier will continue to adapt. What are the new rules of war? Latiff addresses exactly that.

The cover of the book Almighty

Almighty

Dan Zak

In his book Almighty, Washington Post reporter Dan Zak examines America’s complex relationship with the nuclear bomb. He takes a look at the arms race and World War II, when we dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Zak’s book is of particular importance now, as our current world sees nations like Iran and North Korea experimenting with deadly missiles. Zak’s reporting showcases a diverse set of beliefs on the issue of nuclear bombs, featuring points of view from the biophysicist who first exposed atomic energy to the world, the prophet who predicted the creation of Oak Ridge, generations of activists, and Washington bureaucrats and diplomats.

The cover of the book Life 3.0

Life 3.0

Max Tegmark

Artificial Intelligence has the potential to change everything about life as we know it, more so than any other technology. The rise of AI can affect crime, war, justice, jobs, society and, perhaps most importantly, our sense of humanity. Many books and movies have been centered on the development of AI gone wrong, making the topic all the more frightening. Max Tegmark – an MIT professor who’s helped mainstream research on how to keep AI beneficial – takes an unbiased approach in his book by exposing a variety of viewpoints on the matter, and examines the meaning of life as it is now, and how it’ll change in the future.

The cover of the book The Hacking of the American Mind

The Hacking of the American Mind

Robert H. Lustig, MD, MSL

It turns out the American mind isn’t such a happy place. Robert Lustig believes that our culture has been ravaged by addiction and depression, suffering irreparable damage. Neuromarketing has enabled corporate America to brainwash consumers (all of us consumers), creating an endless cycle of desire and consumption. In The Hacking of the American Mind, Lustig reveals why we enter this state of consciousness, and calls to the conversation the big-name corporations that helped create this mess and the members of government who allowed it to happen. But don’t worry too much – Lustig also offers solutions we can all use in our daily lives to pursue happiness.

The cover of the book World Without Mind

World Without Mind

Franklin Foer

World Without Mind traces the history of computer science and exposes the corporate ambitions of Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon. In the book, author Franklin Foer argues that these four companies are a huge threat to our identities and decision-making abilities, with a great impact on intellectual property and privacy. To effectively save our individuality and change the course of the future, we must reclaim our private authority and alter the way that we engage with the corporate world.

The cover of the book The Friendly Orange Glow

The Friendly Orange Glow

Brian Dear

The Friendly Orange Glow documents the astounding, untold story of PLATO: the 1960s computer program that marked the beginning of cyberculture. PLATO engineers made notable hardware breakthroughs with plasma displays and touch screens, and are responsible for countless software innovations including chat rooms, instant messaging, message boards, screen savers, multiplayer games, online newspapers, interactive fiction, and emoticons – all things that we couldn’t imagine living without today.

The cover of the book The Four

The Four

Scott Galloway

Surely you’ll recognize the logos hiding on this book cover. They represent the four largest and most powerful corporations in the world today: Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple. Almost all of us use services provided by “the Four” on a regular basis, and will continue to do so without question. But have you ever stopped to ask yourself: How did they infiltrate our lives so completely that they’re almost impossible to avoid? How many smaller companies have they crushed to get where they are today? And what will the future bring? Galloway, one of the world’s most celebrated business professors, analyzes the strategies of the Four, and demonstrates how they manipulate us every single day.

The cover of the book Soonish

Soonish

Kelly and Zach Weinersmith

Renowned cartoonist Zach Weinersmith and well-known researcher Dr. Kelly Weinersmith join forces in Soonish to give readers a comic glimpse of the future, and the technologies that’ll likely transform our lives – robot swarms, space elevators, and nuclear fusion powered-toasters, to name a few. The Weinersmiths combined their own research with that of the scientists to investigate why these cool technologies are needed, how they would work, and how we can achieve them in the nearish future.

The cover of the book Wired for War

Wired for War

P. W. Singer

Military expert P.W. Singer reveals how science fiction is becoming reality on the battlefield, quickly and constantly modifying how wars are being fought. He looks at the way politics, economics, law, and ethics have changed in conjunction with technological advancements, and combines historical evidence with first-person accounts to prove that when technologies multiply, life on the front lines and at home are altered. We are continuously replacing men with machines, and though taking humans off the battlefield makes wars easier to start, it leads to more complications than ever before.