The best books about Myanmar from someone who has traveled throughout it

Who am I?

Rory MacLean is one of Britain's most innovative travel writers. His books – which have been translated into a dozen languages — include UK top tens Stalin's Nose and Under the Dragon as well as Pravda Ha Ha and Berlin: Imagine a City, "the most extraordinary work of history I've ever read" according to the Washington Post which named it a "Book of the Year". Over the years he has travelled throughout Burma – apart from when banned by the military government for his writings – coming to know it as a deeply-wounded and fractured golden land of temple bells, be-medalled generals who enrich themselves through drug deals and ever-optimistic men and women who fight on to restore its ‘democratic transition’.


I wrote...

Under the Dragon: Travels in a Betrayed Land

By Rory MacLean,

Book cover of Under the Dragon: Travels in a Betrayed Land

What is my book about?

Thirty-four years ago the Burmese people rose up against their military government. The unarmed demonstrators were cut down, leaving more than 5,000 dead. In Under the Dragon, Rory MacLean meets the victims and perpetrators of that first great national uprising, unravelling a paradox of selfless generosity and sinister greed in a country stitched together by love and fear. He exposes the tragedy of a thousand betrayals, giving voice to those too frightened to speak for themselves. Under the Dragon is an important, perceptive, historical, and heart-breaking portrayal of a golden land that remains shot through with desperation and fear, but also – in even the darkest places -- with beauty and courage.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Decline of the English Murder and Other Essays

Rory MacLean Why did I love this book?

No surprise that George Orwell, author of the two defining parables of the 20th century, should be at the top of my list, especially as his five years in Burma attuned him to the suffering of the oppressed. More moving than ‘Burmese Days’ is his short story ‘A Hanging’ in which he watches a condemned criminal walk towards the gallows … and sidestep a puddle. In that fleeting moment Orwell marks the preciousness of human life and the heartlessness of power.

By George Orwell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Decline of the English Murder and Other Essays as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It was in Burma, a sodden morning of the rains. A sickly light, like yellow tinfoil,
was slanting over the high walls into the jail yard. We were waiting outside the
condemned cells, a row of sheds fronted with double bars, like small animal cages.
Each cell measured about ten feet by ten and was quite bare within except for a plank
bed and a pot of drinking water. In some of them brown silent men were squatting at
the inner bars, with their blankets draped round them. These were the condemned men,
due to be hanged within the next…


Book cover of The Burman: His Life and Notions

Rory MacLean Why did I love this book?

Should a Sunday-born man marry a lady born on Wednesday? To bring luck is a house to be built on male, female or neuter foundation posts? George Scott served as Frontier Officer for three decades at the end of the nineteenth century, but his enduring legacy is as a collector and sympathetic chronicler of the old ways in a country ‘where people are small and ghosts are big’.

By Sir George Scott,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Burman as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it.

This work is in the public domain in the United States of America, and possibly other nations. Within the United States, you may freely copy and distribute this work, as no entity (individual or corporate) has a copyright on the body of the work.

Scholars believe, and we concur, that this work is important enough to be preserved, reproduced, and made generally available to the public. To ensure a quality reading experience, this work has been…


Book cover of The Glass Palace

Rory MacLean Why did I love this book?

The finest novel written on the English in Burma. Set during the British invasion of 1885, a poor boy is lifted on the tides of political and social chaos that shaped Burma and India.

By Amitav Ghosh,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Glass Palace as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The International Bestseller from the Man Booker Prize shortlisted author

'An absorbing story of a world in transition' JM Coetzee

'A Doctor Zhivago for the Far East' The Independent

Rajkumar is only another boy, helping on a market stall in the dusty square outside the royal palace, when the British force the Burmese King, Queen and all the Court into exile. He is rescued by the far-seeing Chinese merchant, and with him builds up a logging business in upper Burma. But haunted by his vision of the Royal Family, he journeys to the obscure town in India where they have…


Book cover of Golden Earth: Travels in Burma

Rory MacLean Why did I love this book?

Among the 20th century’s finest travel writers, Norman Lewis visited Burma in the early 1950s.  ‘Golden Earth’ is a bittersweet portrait of the then-optimistic, now-lost land – before communist incursions and military dictatorship shattered the dream.

By Norman Lewis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Golden Earth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"a simple blueprint for Utopia" - the best travel book on Burma since World War II - despite travelling at a time of massive internal insecurity, Norman Lewis still found the eternal Burma, where pagodas are the only punctuation on the horizon and strangers are treated with an overwhelming friendliness - an overnight best-seller when first published - revisits the tragic Burma road, treked by so many refugees fleeing Burma before the Japanese advance in 1942


Book cover of From the Land of Green Ghosts: A Burmese Odyssey

Rory MacLean Why did I love this book?

"Nearly every night I dream of the Shan State, of Mandalay, of the jungle. The landscapes of my dreams resemble real ones, yet they shift like images on silver screens…" Pascal Khoo Thwe’s mesmerizing biography stretches from his grandmother’s creation stories to civil war and a chance conversation about James Joyce which leads to a new life in Britain. A minor masterpiece.

By Pascal Khoo Thwe,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked From the Land of Green Ghosts as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The astonishing story of a young man's upbringing in a remote tribal village in Burma and his journey from his strife-torn country to the tranquil quads of Cambridge.

In lyrical prose, Pascal Khoo Thwe describes his childhood as a member of the Padaung hill tribe, where ancestor worship and communion with spirits blended with the tribe's recent conversion to Christianity. In the 1930s, Pascal's grandfather captured an Italian Jesuit, mistaking him for a giant or a wild beast; the Jesuit in turn converted the tribe. (The Padaung are famous for their 'giraffe women' - so-called because their necks are ritually…


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Book cover of The River of Eternity

Bruce Balfour

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What is my book about?

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Ray was raised with the teenage children of Ramesses as their friend, but his own mysterious past exposes him to threats inside and outside of the Egyptian court. When a prince is killed, Ray is framed for the murder and must run to protect Bull, the oldest son of Ramesses. So begins Ray’s dangerous journey from the snake pit of royal palace intrigue into a violent world of treachery and enemies that will take years to conquer if he can survive.

The River of Eternity

By Bruce Balfour,

What is this book about?

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