100 books like Burning Country

By Robin Yassin-Kassab, Leila Al-Shami,

Here are 100 books that Burning Country fans have personally recommended if you like Burning Country. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Mirror to Damascus

Dawn Chatty Author Of Syria: The Making and Unmaking of a Refuge State

From my list on capturing the essence of Syria and its people.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a social anthropologist who has lived, dreamed, and worked in Syria most of her life. Having spent my childhood in Damascus I always yearned to return. After completing my PhD at the University of California, Los Angeles, in the economy of modern Bedouin Tribes, I won a Fulbright award to teach at the University of Damascus. Since then, Damascus has been at the centre of my academic and social life. I met my husband there, a British helicopter pilot, sent there to learn Arabic. I'm an emeritus professor of anthropology and forced migration at the University of Oxford and my research has been on the forced migrant communities who make up Syria’s cosmopolitan society.

Dawn's book list on capturing the essence of Syria and its people

Dawn Chatty Why did Dawn love this book?

I found this book in a bookstore in Damascus in 1977 during a two-year Fulbright teaching post at the University of Damascus. Far more than a travel writer’s account of the city – the first in maybe 100 years it was a ‘love note’ to a city that had enchanted the young traveler. Reading it opened my eyes to the immense charm of the city and many of its secrets. Colin Thurbon returned to Damascus 50 years later in 2017 and found the city empty of tourists again. The first time, because it had not yet been ‘discovered’  by European tourists, and the second time because all the tourists had left. But the old city was much unchanged by the Syrian civil war with only limited damage to the Tomb of Salaheddin next to the monumental and breathtakingly beautiful Umayyad mosque.  

By Colin Thubron,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mirror to Damascus as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A 50th anniversary edition of Colin Thubron's celebrated first book, a portrait of Syria's capital city, with a new introduction by the author.

Described by the author as simply 'a work of love', Mirror to Damascus provides a rich and fascinating history of Damascus from the Amorites of the Bible to the revolution of 1966, and is also a charming and witty personal record of an extraordinary city.

In explaining how modern Damascus is rooted in immemorial layers of culture and tradition, Colin Thubron explores the historical, artistic, social and religious inheritance of its people. Along the way, he shares…


Book cover of Syria: The Desert and the Sown

Dawn Chatty Author Of Syria: The Making and Unmaking of a Refuge State

From my list on capturing the essence of Syria and its people.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a social anthropologist who has lived, dreamed, and worked in Syria most of her life. Having spent my childhood in Damascus I always yearned to return. After completing my PhD at the University of California, Los Angeles, in the economy of modern Bedouin Tribes, I won a Fulbright award to teach at the University of Damascus. Since then, Damascus has been at the centre of my academic and social life. I met my husband there, a British helicopter pilot, sent there to learn Arabic. I'm an emeritus professor of anthropology and forced migration at the University of Oxford and my research has been on the forced migrant communities who make up Syria’s cosmopolitan society.

Dawn's book list on capturing the essence of Syria and its people

Dawn Chatty Why did Dawn love this book?

The Desert and the Sown is perhaps the most personal of all Gertrude Bell’s travel books revealing a deeply affectionate engagement with the people and places of Syria. It is the first of her books that I read while researching the subject of Bedouin tribes in early 20th century Syria. I wanted to know what connection the Bedouin tribal elites had to the major trading cities such as Damascus, Homs, and Aleppo. There, in her description of Damascus, she revealed the evidence I had been looking for: “In Damascus the sheikhs of the richer tribes have their townhouses; you may meet Muhammad of the Hasene or Bassan of the Beni Rashid peacocking down the bazaars on a fine Friday; in embroidered cloaks and purple and silver kerchiefs fastened about their brows with camel’s hair ropes bound with gold…” I can just see those tribal leaders now in my mind’s…

By Gertrude Bell,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'You may rely upon one thing - I'll never engage in creating kings again; it's too great a strain.'

Gertrude Bell - traveller, scholar, archaeologist, spy - was one of the most powerful figures in the Middle East in the 20th century. With T.E. Lawrence, she was a significant force behind the Arab Revolt and was responsible for creating the boundaries of the modern state of Iraq, as well as installing the Hashemite dynasty, with Faisal I as king, in Iraq and Transjordan. Her knowledge of the Arab world was forged through decades of travel and the relationships she built…


Book cover of The Merchant of Syria: A History of Survival

Dawn Chatty Author Of Syria: The Making and Unmaking of a Refuge State

From my list on capturing the essence of Syria and its people.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a social anthropologist who has lived, dreamed, and worked in Syria most of her life. Having spent my childhood in Damascus I always yearned to return. After completing my PhD at the University of California, Los Angeles, in the economy of modern Bedouin Tribes, I won a Fulbright award to teach at the University of Damascus. Since then, Damascus has been at the centre of my academic and social life. I met my husband there, a British helicopter pilot, sent there to learn Arabic. I'm an emeritus professor of anthropology and forced migration at the University of Oxford and my research has been on the forced migrant communities who make up Syria’s cosmopolitan society.

Dawn's book list on capturing the essence of Syria and its people

Dawn Chatty Why did Dawn love this book?

Diana and I published our books with Hurst Publishers at the same time and we shared many book launch events. Her book focuses on one man, Abu Chaker, and uncovers his amazing resilience and business acumen as he moves through life twice losing everything he had. He arrives in England to invest in and revive a struggling textile mill. It is a remarkable story repeated many times by other enterprising Syrian merchants and gives the rich history of a nation built on trade. Over millennia Syria has seen great conflict and turmoil, but like the remarkable story of The Merchant of Syria, it continues to survive.

By Diana Darke,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Merchant of Syria tells the life of Abu Chaker, a cloth merchant from Homs who lived from 1921 to 2013. Barely literate, he nevertheless built up a commercial empire based on trust, then lost everything twice through political instability and war, before coming to northern England as an economic migrant. The climax of this devout Sunni Muslim's tumultuous life was to buy and save a Yorkshire wool mill, which still serves as the headquarters of the textile manufacturing company he turned into a global brand. Standing on Little Horton Lane in Bradford, Briggella Mill continues to manufacture the finest…


Book cover of Beautiful Agitation: Modern Painting and Politics in Syria

Dawn Chatty Author Of Syria: The Making and Unmaking of a Refuge State

From my list on capturing the essence of Syria and its people.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a social anthropologist who has lived, dreamed, and worked in Syria most of her life. Having spent my childhood in Damascus I always yearned to return. After completing my PhD at the University of California, Los Angeles, in the economy of modern Bedouin Tribes, I won a Fulbright award to teach at the University of Damascus. Since then, Damascus has been at the centre of my academic and social life. I met my husband there, a British helicopter pilot, sent there to learn Arabic. I'm an emeritus professor of anthropology and forced migration at the University of Oxford and my research has been on the forced migrant communities who make up Syria’s cosmopolitan society.

Dawn's book list on capturing the essence of Syria and its people

Dawn Chatty Why did Dawn love this book?

This is a truly remarkable work. I was expecting a straightforward book of art but discovered a wonderful portrait of Syria in the 20th century. It is an original, creative, and deeply contextualized lens into the modern political history of Greater Syria. It successfully brings natural Syria, Bilad al Sham, into our frame of reference through the work of three main artists: Khalil Gibran, Adham Ismail, and Fateh al Moudarres. In its early chapters, it skillfully describes and analyses Syria’s interface with the late Ottoman period. The Interwar Mandate period is particularly well researched and articulated in drawing Syrian plastic arts into view, as France and other European diplomats, philosophers, and anthropologists’ influenced individual Syrian poets, and philosophers either during their sojourns in Europe or at home in Syria. Beautiful Agitation is an enchanting read, scholarly and lively, making sense for the first time of important Syrian artists’…

By Anneka Lenssen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In modern Syria, a contested territory at the intersection of differing regimes of political representation, artists ventured to develop strikingly new kinds of painting to link their images to life forces and agitated energies. Examining the works of artists Kahlil Gibran, Adham Ismail, and Fateh al-Moudarres, Beautiful Agitation explores how painters in Syria activated the mutability of form to rethink relationships of figure to ground, outward appearance to inner presence, and self to world. Drawing on archival materials in Syria and beyond, Anneka Lenssen reveals new trajectories of painterly practice in a twentieth century defined by shifting media technologies, moving…


Book cover of Assad or We Burn the Country: How One Family's Lust for Power Destroyed Syria

Jonathan Spyer Author Of The Transforming Fire: The Rise of the Israel-Islamist Conflict

From my list on the human impact of war.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a writer and journalist. I grew up in London’s Jewish community, and lived in Israel and Jerusalem for most of my life. I'm fascinated by the Mid-East region, its history, religions, music, cultures, and colors, and by Jewish history. As a result of my experiences as a soldier in the Second Lebanon War of 2006, and the Second Intifada of 2000-4, my focus on conflict became central to my work. After the 2006 war, I became a conflict reporter, and I've covered war and insurgency in Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Ukraine, Lebanon, and Israel/West Bank/Gaza for a variety of publications. I also like to focus on the ways war and conflict impact human lives.   

Jonathan's book list on the human impact of war

Jonathan Spyer Why did Jonathan love this book?

The definitive account so far of the Syrian civil war, and of the insurgency against the dictatorship of Bashar Assad.  Sam Dagher combines a literary sensibility, deep knowledge of Syria, and acquaintance with the people on the ground, and an ability for tireless and dogged reporting and truth-seeking. The passages dealing with the Assad regime’s slaughter of arrested civilians in its jails are harrowing and are a reminder of the horrifying nature of this regime and the need for it to remain isolated and under pressure. At the same time, Dagher remains a cool and dispassionate analyst of the progress of the conflict, and of the factors which enabled the regime and its allies to prevail.  

By Sam Dagher,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Assad or We Burn the Country as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In spring 2011, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad turned to his friend and army commander, Manaf Tlass, for advice about how to respond to Arab Spring-inspired protests. Tlass pushed for conciliation but Assad decided to crush the uprising -an act which would catapult the country into an eight-year long war, killing almost half a million and fueling terrorism and a global refugee crisis.ASSAD OR WE BURN THE COUNTRY examines Syria's tragedy through the generational saga of the Assad and Tlass families, once deeply intertwined and now estranged in Bashar's bloody quest to preserve his father's inheritance. Drawing on exclusive interviews with…


Book cover of Winning Wars: The Enduring Nature and Changing Character of Victory from Antiquity to the 21st Century

Beatrice Heuser Author Of War: A Genealogy of Western Ideas and Practices

From my list on war in general.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have studied aspects of war and strategy – mainly on the political-military interface level – for the past forty years of my life. My interest originated from my parents’ stories about their childhood and early youth in the Second World Wars, its horrors and hardships, and from myself living in South-East Asia during the time of the Vietnam War. Moreover, I became obsessed with the fear of nuclear war through reading and hearing about it. So I have studied aspects of war, much as an oncologist studies cancer, in the hope that a better understanding may eventually help us ban it in practice (and not just in theory as it has been since the Briand-Kellogg Pact of 1928).

Beatrice's book list on war in general

Beatrice Heuser Why did Beatrice love this book?

This book begins with our inherited views of what constitutes victory – the proudly-displayed Greek panoply of captured weapons, the Roman triumph, the medieval view of battle as awesome divine judgment, and the modern quest for “decisive battle” in mind. By contrast, other cultures – Iran, Assad’s Syria, China, and Russia for example, which are covered brilliantly – may be content with indecisive, drawn-out conflicts which give them the chance to keep their fingers in many pies and incrementally increase their influence. 

Thus our modern Western construct assuming that peace is the norm and war the exception, or that war should aim for a neat victory, and a lasting peace settlement imposed on the defeated adversary, is just that: a construct, rarely reflecting views and practices in other times and in other parts of the world. 

By Matthias Strohn,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

While 'winning' might be considered a fundamental part of the human objective, what constitutes winning and how one might achieve it remain somewhat abstract, in war as in any other human endeavour. 'Winning' militarily at the tactical level - in a firefight or a battle - has always been more quantifiable than at the strategic level. At the strategic level, success might be measured by means of three big ideas: ownership; intervention for effect; and fighting for ideas. The divergence between success at the tactical level and the political context of the war creates a challenge at the operational level…


Book cover of The Lycian Shore: A Turkish Odyssey

Sara Wheeler Author Of Glowing Still: A Woman's Life on the Road

From my list on travel by women to inspire a journey of your own.

Why am I passionate about this?

Over the course of my so-called career as a travel writer, the ‘I’ve-Got-A Big-One’ school favoured by the male of the species has ceded ground. Women, less interested in ‘conquering,’ have pioneered a kind of creative non-fiction that suits the travel genre. I prefer it to the blokeish business of seeing how dead you can get. It notices more. As the decades unfurled – Pole to Pole, via Poland – I realised, more and more, the debt I owe to the other women who not only set sail but also unsparingly observed the world that turns within each self. 

Sara's book list on travel by women to inspire a journey of your own

Sara Wheeler Why did Sara love this book?

In many books, Freya Stark (1893 to 1993) covered mostly what we used to call the Middle and Near East – Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan.

In The Lycian Shore she sails in a small yacht along the coast of south-west Turkey. I love this book – it shows what women travel writers can do when they blend history and personal observation. I used to take her chapters apart when I started out to learn how she did it.

By Freya Stark,

Why should I read it?

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


Book cover of The Kurdish Spring: A New Map of the Middle East

Janet Biehl Author Of Ecology or Catastrophe: The Life of Murray Bookchin

From my list on Rojava (Kurdish region of Syria).

Why am I passionate about this?

I was the partner and late-life collaborator of the late social ecology theorist Murray Bookchin. Shortly before his death his 2006, the Kurdish freedom movement took up his ideas, as Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK’s thought leader, had recommended them. Öcalan created a new ideology based in part on social ecology, promoting face-to-face democracy through citizen assemblies and councils; the liberation of women; a cooperative economy; and an ecological orientation. In several northern provinces of Syria, activist Kurds started building liberatory institutions based on these ideas, at first illicitly, under the Assad regime’s brutal persecution. Then a few years later, after the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011, the northern provinces declined to take sides in the conflict but instead created a revolution, turning the democratic, gender-equal institutions they had been building into the polity of self-governing provinces, known as Rojava (now known as the Democratic Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria). As a result of my connection with Bookchin, I was privileged to visit three times and witnessed the revolution.

Janet's book list on Rojava (Kurdish region of Syria)

Janet Biehl Why did Janet love this book?

After World War I, the great powers who carved up the Middle East should have by all rights given the huge population of Kurds there a state of their own. But the new Turkish republic made sure they didn’t, and as a result of this historic betrayal, Kurdish people have lived as a minority in several Middle Eastern countries, whose dictatorial governments persecuted them brutally and often still do. Phillips, a longtime champion of Kurdish human rights, surveys their condition and traces their current evolution into a vibrant political community, arguing for international recognition of their right to self-determination.

By David L. Phillips,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Kurds are the largest stateless people in the world. An estimated thirty-two million Kurds live in "Kurdistan," which includes parts of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran-today's "hot spots" in the Middle East. The Kurdish Spring explores the subjugation of Kurds by Arab, Ottoman, and Persian powers for almost a century, and explains why Kurds are now evolving from a victimized people to a coherent political community.

David L. Phillips describes Kurdish rebellions and arbitrary divisions in the last century, chronicling the nadir of Kurdish experience in the 1980s. He discusses draconian measures implemented by Iraq, including use of chemical weapons,…


Book cover of The Home That Was Our Country

Danny Ramadan Author Of Crooked Teeth: A Queer Syrian Refugee Memoir

From my list on memoirs written refugees and immigrants.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have gone through the refugee experience, and it has shaped me. I grew up queer in Syria, became a man in Egypt, a refugee in Lebanon, then an author in Canada. At the expense of romanticizing something so deeply painful, I do believe that the experience has made me a better man. It matured me, offered me a deep connection with others within my community, and built an unmatched appreciation of my culture of home back in Syria and my culture of diaspora here in Canada. As a fiction writer, I am obsessed with writing queer stories about immigration. 

Danny's book list on memoirs written refugees and immigrants

Danny Ramadan Why did Danny love this book?

I read this book back in 2018. As a Syrian writer, I was feeling quite lonely at the time, singular in the publishing community. Someone told me they heard about this book on NPR, and I jumped on it.

The book is a reversal of my own story. The author, a Syrian born in the US, travels back to Syria to search for her grandmother’s home. The observations feel authentic, and the storytelling feels meaningful. I was quite engrossed by the narrative; I could barely put the book down. 

By Alia Malek,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Home That Was Our Country as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

At the Arab Spring's hopeful start, Alia Malek returned to Damascus to reclaim her grandmother's apartment, which had been lost to her family since Hafez al-Assad came to power in 1970. Its loss was central to her parent's decision to make their lives in America. In chronicling the people who lived in the Tahaan building, past and present, Alia portrays the Syrians-the Muslims, Christians, Jews, Armenians, and Kurds-who worked, loved, and suffered in close quarters, mirroring the political shifts in their country. Restoring her family's home as the country comes apart, she learns how to speak the coded language of…


Book cover of The Morning They Came For Us: Dispatches from Syria

Robert Desiderio Author Of The Occurrence: A Political Thriller

From my list on inspiring thought in the creation of fiction.

Why am I passionate about this?

My first memory of storytelling was as a kid reading Jules Verne’s, The Mysterious Island in the basement of my house in The Bronx where I grew up. It transported me to a  world of magic and mystery. The effect of that experience wouldn’t seriously take hold for decades when I realized the acting career I’d pursued for twenty years wasn’t where I was meant to be. Fascinated with mysteries and metaphysics and studying the world of past lives and reincarnation led me to incorporate this vast realm into what I write. The Occurrence, my first novel, took these ideas and thread them through a story of politics and spirituality. 

Robert's book list on inspiring thought in the creation of fiction

Robert Desiderio Why did Robert love this book?

Janine Di Giovanni is a daring foreign correspondent with decades of experience covering the Middle East. Her reporting from the trenches is riveting.

She takes you inside the massacres, as she waits in halls, tunnels, and burned-out buildings with those whose stories she came to tell. If it wasn’t true, this book would be read alongside the best thriller writers. 

By Janine di Giovanni,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Morning They Came For Us as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Doing for Syria what Imperial Life in the Emerald City did for the war in Iraq, The Morning They Came for Us bears witness to one of the most brutal, internecine conflicts in recent history. Drawing from years of experience covering Syria for Vanity Fair, Newsweek, and the front pages of the New York Times, award-winning journalist Janine di Giovanni gives us a tour de force of war reportage, all told through the perspective of ordinary people-among them a doctor, a nun, a musician, and a student. What emerges is an extraordinary picture of the devastating human consequences of armed…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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