60 books like Syria

By Gertrude Bell,

Here are 60 books that Syria fans have personally recommended if you like Syria. 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 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 Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War

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 cannot ignore the turmoil that has become Syria over the past decade. Many books have appeared about the peaceful demonstrations that turned violent and a civil war and a proxy war for Iran, Russia, the US, and various Arab states. This book provides a detailed history of how Syria descended into such violence.  It gave me a detailed understanding of how the ‘Opposition’ to the Asad government emerged in the country. And engages with the stories of the Opposition fighters in their exile in adjacent countries. Concluding that the war is not yet over, it provides some hope for those of us who watch from a distance as Russia and Iran reposition and redeploy in response to other critical global events.  

By Robin Yassin-Kassab, Leila Al-Shami,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

*Shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize 2017*

In 2011, many Syrians took to the streets of Damascus to demand the overthrow of the government of Bashar al-Assad. Today, much of Syria has become a war zone where foreign journalists find it almost impossible to report on life in this devastated land.

Burning Country explores the horrific and complicated reality of life in present-day Syria with unprecedented detail and sophistication, drawing on new first hand testimonies from opposition fighters, exiles lost in an archipelago of refugee camps, and courageous human rights activists among many others. These stories are expertly interwoven with…


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 Imad's Syrian Kitchen: A Love Letter from Damascus to London

Jasmin O'Hara Author Of Asylum Speakers: Stories of Migration From the Humans Behind the Headlines

From my list on migration and displacement from first-hand perspectives.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been working to amplify voices of refugees and asylum seekers since 2015, when a 12-year-old boy named Mez joined my family as the first of four foster brothers I now have from Eritrea, Sudan, Libya and Afghanistan. Their stories led me to the Calais Jungle in an attempt to challenge the negative media portrayal of those experiencing displacement. I’ve since worked in refugee camps across the world from France to Bangladesh, sharing food, stories, laughter, and tears, asking questions and learning from those I meet. My book is a compilation of the stories that have impacted me most (Mez being the first), and a testament to those who shared them with me. 

Jasmin's book list on migration and displacement from first-hand perspectives

Jasmin O'Hara Why did Jasmin love this book?

I love to cook, and I love to eat. I love using food as a vehicle to tell stories.

This is a bustling, vibrant tour of 90 Syrian dishes celebrating the flavours of Syria that can easily be made in the comfort of your own home–the first cookbook from my friend Imad–a renowned chef from Damascus.

By Imad Alarnab, Evi-O Studios (illustrator), Andy Sewell (photographer)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Imad's Syrian Kitchen as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Complete with heartfelt stories, stunning photography, and beautiful illustrations, Imad's Syrian Kitchen features 90 sensational recipes celebrating the flavors of Syria.

This is the first cookbook by Imad Alarnab, a renowned chef from Damascus. Imad now runs an acclaimed restaurant in London, which was named GQ’s “Best Breakthrough Restaurant 2022.” Imad’s Syrian Kitchen is a bustling tour through 90 traditional and adapted Syrian dishes that can be made in the comfort of your own home. Imad introduces us to the delicious flavors and techniques of the Syrian kitchen. And alongside delicious recipes, mouthwatering photography, and beautiful illustrations, Imad shares the…


Book cover of Daughter of Damascus: A Memoir

Andrea Rugh Author Of Within the Circle: Parents and Children in an Arab Village

From my list on Middle Eastern culture written by insiders.

Why am I passionate about this?

My work as an anthropologist has focused on understanding the worldviews of people of different backgrounds and nationalities in the Middle East. This is despite the tendency now for anthropologists to pursue more theoretical and academic research. Although there are many ways to acquire an understanding of culture, the best is of course to live and work with local people. The next best way is to listen to them explaining themselves. These books by cultural insiders do just that. The authors come from several sub-cultures of the Arab world and religions. They all describe their own versions of culture, that although overlapping in many ways, also show the distinctiveness of each group.

Andrea's book list on Middle Eastern culture written by insiders

Andrea Rugh Why did Andrea love this book?

Offended by the government’s destruction of ancient parts of the Damascus bazaar, Tergeman decides to record the Syrian traditions she experienced growing up in the city before they are lost. In somewhat idyllic form, she describes the celebrations and feast days, traditional foods, colorful characters announcing Ramadan hours, café storytellers, and the proverbs and sayings that were part of everyday life. Best of all, she conveys the warmth of family and community life. With a wealth of detail that only a Syrian can describe, the book gives us a glimpse into the values and beliefs that until recently were an integral part of the culture. Although many traditions are lost now, they still serve as a model for the way life should be in normal times. 

By Siham Tergeman, Andrea Rugh (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Daughter of Damascus presents a personal account of a Syrian woman's youth in the Suq Saruja ("old city") quarter of Damascus in the 1940s. Siham Tergeman wrote this book to preserve the details of a "genuine Arab past" for Syrian young people. In it, she relates the customs pertaining to marriage, birth, circumcision, and death. She writes of Ramadan festivities, family picnics to the orchards of the Ghuta, weekly trips to the public bath, her school experiences, Damascene cooking, peddlers' calls, and proverbs. She includes the well-known dramatic skits, songs, and tales of the Syrian Hakawati storytellers. And, through the…


Book cover of Boy, Everywhere

Katharine Orton Author Of Nevertell

From my list on to take you on a truly epic journey.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always been drawn to epic journeys. From Jules Verne’s stories exploring the lengths, depths, and breadths of the known world, to little hobbits trekking across vast fantasy scapes in order to steal from dragons, something about the huge proportions of these grand adventures has always drawn me in. Perhaps it was no wonder, then, that my first book Nevertell was set in Siberia: a place so big that its sheer size tested the limits of my imaginings. If you, too, are drawn to sprawling, epic journeys, then these five fabulous recommendations are for you.

Katharine's book list on to take you on a truly epic journey

Katharine Orton Why did Katharine love this book?

Some books get a lot of praise, and some books truly deserve it. Boy, Everywhere is one of those books. Not only does it follow an epic journey across vast distances that’s fraught with danger and strife, it also follows a child going from a life he loves in Damascus to new and challenging beginnings in England. What’s so astounding about Sami’s journey is that it could so easily be real – and for many, it is. This book will take you on a journey of understanding and empathy, as well as across continents.

By A.M. Dassu,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Boy, Everywhere as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

This debut middle-grade novel chronicles the harrowing journey taken by Sami and his family from privilege to poverty, across countries and continents, from a comfortable life in Damascus, via a smuggler's den in Turkey, to a prison in Manchester. A story of survival, of family, of bravery ... In a world where we are told to see refugees as the 'other', this story will remind readers that 'they' are also 'us'.


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 Damascus Station

Paul Cranwell Author Of A Material Harvest

From my list on thriller novels you will never forget.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been fascinated by thrillers since I was first allowed to read them. My childhood bookcase was full of Hammond Innes, Alistair MacLean, and every Nevil Shute novel. Later, these were joined by many others, not least John Le Carré. Banking gave me an insight into the murky world of money, bringing with it real-life stories as compelling as those I love reading about. My obsession with the genre is not only with elegant, complex plots but also with what motivates the characters to take the extraordinary risks they do in such challenging environments. The five thrillers I’ve chosen are my absolute favorites. I hope you enjoy them.

Paul's book list on thriller novels you will never forget

Paul Cranwell Why did Paul love this book?

I loved the seamless interweaving of narratives, the central quest to secure an asset for the CIA against the hostile backdrop of Damascus, the love story between two truly star-crossed lovers, and the complex survival story of those battling the vicious Assad regime.

I loved the unforgettable tension and pace that was maintained throughout the book and the insight it gave into what it is to be a spy working in the most difficult environment.

By David McCloskey,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Damascus Station as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

CIA case officer Sam Joseph is dispatched to Paris to recruit Syrian Palace official Mariam Haddad. The two fall into a forbidden relationship, which supercharges Haddad's recruitment and creates unspeakable danger when they enter Damascus to find the man responsible for the disappearance of an American spy.

But the cat and mouse chase for the killer soon leads to a trail of high-profile assassinations and the discovery of a dark secret at the heart of the Syrian regime, bringing the pair under the all-seeing eyes of Assad's spy catcher, Ali Hassan, and his brother Rustum, the head of the feared…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Syria, Damascus, and bedouin?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Syria, Damascus, and bedouin.

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