The best books about Cambodia

2 authors have picked their favorite books about Cambodia and why they recommend each book.

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Legend

By Eric Blehm,

Book cover of Legend: The Incredible Story of Green Beret Sergeant Roy Benavidez's Heroic Mission to Rescue a Special Forces Team Caught Beh

Tells the story of a Special Forces group inserted into Cambodia who unknowingly landed on the fringes of an NVA Division basecamp. They are compromised and fight to survive. Meanwhile, other units are trying to rescue the beleaguered troops and Americans are dying in their attempt. Sgt. Benevidez repels to the ground, treating wounded soldiers, organizing their retreat, and battling the enemy – severely wounded and left for dead. His actions warranted the Medal Of Honor. An uplifting story about a special soldier who actually survived the ordeal.


Who am I?

I served as an infantryman in Vietnam with both the 25th ID and the 101st Airborne. Curiosity about what other units did during the war drove me to read about their exploits and learn about what else took place outside of my little part of the war. I am also the admin of a website dedicated to the Vietnam War and its Warriors. My intent over the last eleven years is to educate the public and continue our legacy.  


I wrote...

Cherries: A Vietnam War Novel

By John Podlaski,

Book cover of Cherries: A Vietnam War Novel

What is my book about?

In 1970, John Kowalski is one of many young, naive teenage soldiers sent to Vietnam to fight in an unpopular war. Dubbed “Cherries” by their more seasoned peers, these newbies suddenly found themselves thrust into the middle of a terrible nightmare. On-the-job training is intense, however, most of these teenagers were hardly ready to absorb the harsh mental, emotional, and physical stress of war. When coming under enemy fire and witnessing death first-hand, a life-changing transition begins...one that can't be reversed.

The author is an excellent storyteller, readers testify that they're right there with the characters, and joining them in their quest for survival; sharing the fear, awe, drama, and sorrow, witnessing bravery, and sometimes, even laughing at their humor. Cherries tells it like it is and when finished, readers will have a much better understanding of what these young men had to endure for an entire year. It's a story that is hard to put down.

Carrying Cambodia

By Hans Kemp, Conor Wall,

Book cover of Carrying Cambodia

Books on Cambodia predominantly cover the communist revolution and genocide. Carrying Cambodia is a different proposition, a photo book that depicts the resourcefulness of ordinary Cambodians in the post-war era. The two authors/photographers spent considerable time on the back of motorbikes cruising the highways and by-ways of Cambodia to capture the incredible efforts its people have to make to get from A to B. Images of trucks, bikes, tuk-tuks, and cyclos unbelievably overloaded with people and produce give a candid impression of the daily struggle of citizens living in unjust, broken societies, but also celebrates a resurging Khmer spirit in the face of incredible challenges.


Who am I?

I'm a writer and journalist with an eye on South and Southeast Asia. I first visited Cambodia in 1995, an ill-fated trip into Koh Kong, then a war-torn backwater town. I returned in 2001 to research a TV documentary about the likely effects of tourism on the Angkor monuments, Cambodia’s tourist magnet. I’ve visited many times since, traveled on trucks, motorbikes, beaten-up Toyotas, and by bicycle, and have written extensively about the southeast Asian kingdom’s post-war recovery, popular culture, tragic politics, and seedy underbelly. Cambodia is a small country, but its turbulent past and uncertain future, along with its wonderful people, touched me like few other places.


I wrote...

The Cambodian Book of the Dead (A Detective Maier Mystery)

By Tom Vater,

Book cover of The Cambodian Book of the Dead (A Detective Maier Mystery)

What is my book about?

Cambodia 2001 - a country re-emerges from a half-century of war, genocide, famine, and cultural collapse. German Detective Maier travels to Phnom Penh, the Asian kingdom’s ramshackle capital to find the heir to a Hamburg coffee empire. Maier’s search for the young coffee magnate leads into the darkest corners of the country’s history and back in time, through the communist revolution to the White Spider, a Nazi war criminal who hides amongst the detritus of another nation’s collapse and reigns over an ancient Khmer temple deep in the jungles of Cambodia. Maier is forced into the worst job of his life – he is to write the biography of the White Spider – or die. Apocalypse Now meets The Beach in this dark, explosive thriller.

Survival in the Killing Fields

By Haing Ngor, Roger Warner,

Book cover of Survival in the Killing Fields

There are beach reads and there are must reads. Ngor’s memoir is the latter, preferably consumed in the secure comforts of one’s own home. Known for his Oscar-winning role in the movie The Killing Fields, Ngor is a Cambodian doctor who survived the country-wide massacre committed by the Khmer Rouge (who were funded by the Chinese Communists). He narrates his personal journey through the deepest horrors in human history, full of savagery, unrelenting brutality, and often sheer madness. It is a heavy story, difficult and disturbing, but also a story of the human spirit. We do not need to look far to find the true heart of darkness.  


Who am I?

I’m a Vietnamese-American writer, traveling and living in Asia for the past two decades. I have published a bicycle travel memoir, a Southeast Asian cookbook, a Vietnamese biography, an essay collection about escaping abroad, and a translation of the most famous Vietnamese diary. I am a professional hammock weight, wine taster, foodie, and connoisseur of Asian literature.


I wrote...

Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam

By Andrew X. Pham,

Book cover of Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam

What is my book about?

Catfish and Mandala is the story of an American odyssey—a solo bicycle voyage around the Pacific Rim to Vietnam—made by a young Vietnamese-American man in pursuit of both his adopted homeland and his forsaken fatherland. Intertwined with an often humorous travelogue spanning a year of discovery is a memoir of war, escape, and ultimately, family secrets.

Andrew X. Pham was born in Vietnam and raised in California. His father had been a POW of the Vietcong; his family came to America as "boat people." Following the suicide of his sister, Pham quit his job, sold all of his possessions, and embarked on a year-long bicycle journey that took him through the Mexican desert; on a thousand-mile loop from Narita in South Korea to Kyoto in Japan; and, after five months and 2,357 miles, to Saigon, where he finds "nothing familiar in the bombed-out darkness." In Vietnam, he's taken for Japanese or Korean by his countrymen, except, of course, by his relatives, who doubt that as a Vietnamese he has the stamina to complete his journey ("Only Westerners can do it"); and in the United States he's considered anything but American. A vibrant, picaresque memoir written with narrative flair and an eye-opening sense of adventure, Catfish and Mandala is an unforgettable search for cultural identity.

West to Cambodia

By S.L.A. Marshall,

Book cover of West to Cambodia

Slam Marshall is the author of many books about the American military. He was a Brigadier General and served in WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. This book will give the reader a view of what it’s like to fight under the worst possible conditions, under constant surveillance, and over ground where the enemy continually held the advantage. This is a tribute to the GIs who fought those impossible battles.


Who am I?

As a combat Marine, I believe these books honor the brave men who served and died for America. I joined the Marine Corps at 17 years of age after graduating from St. Petersburg High School. I served as a machine gunner with the famed 5th Marine Regiment during the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. I was wounded 3 times by mortar round, grenade, and gunshot. I've written nine books around these subjects as well as an off-Broadway stage play titled The Battle For Nong Son. Many of my books are recommended reading for all newly commissioned officers at The Basic School. I am the recipient of the U.S. Marine Corps Combat Correspondents Association Brigadier General Robert L. Denig Memorial Distinguished Service Award for writing, as well as the Silver Star, 3 Purple Hearts, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Palm, the Civil Action Combat Medal, and the Marine Combat Ribbon among other decorations.


I wrote...

Guns Up!: A Firsthand Account of the Vietnam War

By Johnnie M. Clark,

Book cover of Guns Up!: A Firsthand Account of the Vietnam War

What is my book about?

"Guns up!" was the battle cry that sent machine gunners racing forward with their M60s to mow down the enemy, hoping that this wasn't the day they would meet their deaths. Marine Johnnie Clark heard that the life expectancy of a machine gunner in Vietnam was seven to ten seconds after a firefight began. Johnnie was only eighteen when he got there, at the height of the bloody Tet Offensive, and he quickly realized the grim statistic held a chilling truth.

The Marines who fought and bled and died were ordinary men, many still teenagers, but the selfless bravery they showed day after day in a nightmarish jungle war made them true heroes. This new edition is filled with photographs and updated information about those harrowing battles, also contains the real names of these extraordinary warriors and details of their lives after the war. The book's continuing success is a tribute to the raw courage and sacrifice of the United States Marines.

The Lost Executioner

By Nic Dunlop,

Book cover of The Lost Executioner: The Story of Comrade Duch and the Khmer Rouge

Between 1975 and 1979, the Khmer Rouge communist-ruled Cambodia and drove its population onto rural communes where millions perished from murder and malnutrition. Countless well-researched books have been written on the subject. The Lost Executioner stands out for the commitment of its author. For years, photographer Nic Dunlop carried a photograph of Comrade Duch in his pocket as he traveled through post-war Cambodia, trying to understand the horrors inflicted on its population until he came face to face to face with the head of the Khmer Rouge secret police who was responsible for some 20.000 deaths. The Lost Executioner not only dissects the horror of recent Cambodian politics but also asks pertinent questions about the role of journalists in conflict zones.


Who am I?

I'm a writer and journalist with an eye on South and Southeast Asia. I first visited Cambodia in 1995, an ill-fated trip into Koh Kong, then a war-torn backwater town. I returned in 2001 to research a TV documentary about the likely effects of tourism on the Angkor monuments, Cambodia’s tourist magnet. I’ve visited many times since, traveled on trucks, motorbikes, beaten-up Toyotas, and by bicycle, and have written extensively about the southeast Asian kingdom’s post-war recovery, popular culture, tragic politics, and seedy underbelly. Cambodia is a small country, but its turbulent past and uncertain future, along with its wonderful people, touched me like few other places.


I wrote...

The Cambodian Book of the Dead (A Detective Maier Mystery)

By Tom Vater,

Book cover of The Cambodian Book of the Dead (A Detective Maier Mystery)

What is my book about?

Cambodia 2001 - a country re-emerges from a half-century of war, genocide, famine, and cultural collapse. German Detective Maier travels to Phnom Penh, the Asian kingdom’s ramshackle capital to find the heir to a Hamburg coffee empire. Maier’s search for the young coffee magnate leads into the darkest corners of the country’s history and back in time, through the communist revolution to the White Spider, a Nazi war criminal who hides amongst the detritus of another nation’s collapse and reigns over an ancient Khmer temple deep in the jungles of Cambodia. Maier is forced into the worst job of his life – he is to write the biography of the White Spider – or die. Apocalypse Now meets The Beach in this dark, explosive thriller.

Cambodia's Curse

By Joel Brinkley,

Book cover of Cambodia's Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land

Cambodia, Joel Brinkley writes, is the most dangerous country in the world. The first one falls in love with it, then it breaks one’s heart. Cambodia’s Curse is a book of two tales. Brinkley’s retelling of the war years is a little revisionist but the chapters on the post-war reconstruction, the dirty politics, the lack of opportunities for ordinary people, and the venality of the government that remains in place to this day rightly and masterfully lay the blame for countless missed opportunities to create a more equitable society both into the hands of the international community’s attempts to create ‘democracy’ and Hun Sen’s regime.


Who am I?

I'm a writer and journalist with an eye on South and Southeast Asia. I first visited Cambodia in 1995, an ill-fated trip into Koh Kong, then a war-torn backwater town. I returned in 2001 to research a TV documentary about the likely effects of tourism on the Angkor monuments, Cambodia’s tourist magnet. I’ve visited many times since, traveled on trucks, motorbikes, beaten-up Toyotas, and by bicycle, and have written extensively about the southeast Asian kingdom’s post-war recovery, popular culture, tragic politics, and seedy underbelly. Cambodia is a small country, but its turbulent past and uncertain future, along with its wonderful people, touched me like few other places.


I wrote...

The Cambodian Book of the Dead (A Detective Maier Mystery)

By Tom Vater,

Book cover of The Cambodian Book of the Dead (A Detective Maier Mystery)

What is my book about?

Cambodia 2001 - a country re-emerges from a half-century of war, genocide, famine, and cultural collapse. German Detective Maier travels to Phnom Penh, the Asian kingdom’s ramshackle capital to find the heir to a Hamburg coffee empire. Maier’s search for the young coffee magnate leads into the darkest corners of the country’s history and back in time, through the communist revolution to the White Spider, a Nazi war criminal who hides amongst the detritus of another nation’s collapse and reigns over an ancient Khmer temple deep in the jungles of Cambodia. Maier is forced into the worst job of his life – he is to write the biography of the White Spider – or die. Apocalypse Now meets The Beach in this dark, explosive thriller.

The King's Last Song

By Geoff Ryman,

Book cover of The King's Last Song

Ryman is known mainly as a science fiction and fantasy writer, and there’s a hint of that here, as the story moves back and forth between the twelfth century, the heyday of the Khmer Empire, and present-day, post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia. My own writing has tried to depict life in the ancient days, so I of course wanted to see how someone else would do it. The answer is superbly. Ryman gives us an epic-scale life story of the great king Jayavarman VII, about whom next to nothing is known on a personal level. But now there’s plenty, or so it can seem, because it’s impossible not to buy into this portrait: the king’s inner motivations, his empathy for ordinary people in his realm, his accomplishments that are both military and spiritual. And Ryman’s depiction of a modern society recovering from genocide rings horribly true, peopled by an aging French archaeologist,…


Who am I?

I first saw Angkor, capital of the Khmer Empire, in 1969 as a teenager and was bowled over by the place. I kept coming back as a journalist and author. They say you should write about things that truly crank your engine, and I found mine—imperial conquest, Hindu and Buddhist spirituality, astounding architecture, and the lives of the millions of people who inhabited and built the place. I’ve now written three non-fiction books and two historical novels set in the civilization’s twelfth-century peak. The novels are an effort to recreate life in the old days. They draw heavily on my years in Southeast Asia, experiencing what life is like in the present day.


I wrote...

A Woman of Angkor

By John Burgess,

Book cover of A Woman of Angkor

What is my book about?

The time is the twelfth century, the place Cambodia, birthplace of the lost Angkor civilization. In a village behind a towering stone temple lives a young woman named Sray, whom neighbors liken to the heroine of a Hindu epic. Hiding a dangerous secret, she is content with quiet obscurity, but one rainy season afternoon is called to a life of prominence in the royal court. There her faith and loyalties are tested by attention from the king. Struggling to keep her devotion is her husband Nol, palace confidante and master of the silk parasols that were symbols of the monarch's rank. The novel evokes the rites and rhythms of the ancient culture that built the temples of Angkor, then abandoned them to nature.

Ghost Money

By Andrew Nette,

Book cover of Ghost Money

Ghost Money is a gripping thriller set in late 90s Cambodia, as the country lurches violently out of its long-running civil war. Vietnamese-Australian ex-cop Max Quinlan has been hired to find businessmen Charles Avery who has disappeared in the chaos. Teaming up with a Cambodian journalist, Quinlan leaves the freewheeling capital Phnom Penh to the battle-scarred border to Thailand. As the political temperature soars, Quinlan is slowly drawn into a mystery that reaches back into Cambodia's bloody history. Ghost Money is a story about what happens to people trapped between the past and the present, the choices they make, and what they do to survive.


Who am I?

I'm a writer and journalist with an eye on South and Southeast Asia. I first visited Cambodia in 1995, an ill-fated trip into Koh Kong, then a war-torn backwater town. I returned in 2001 to research a TV documentary about the likely effects of tourism on the Angkor monuments, Cambodia’s tourist magnet. I’ve visited many times since, traveled on trucks, motorbikes, beaten-up Toyotas, and by bicycle, and have written extensively about the southeast Asian kingdom’s post-war recovery, popular culture, tragic politics, and seedy underbelly. Cambodia is a small country, but its turbulent past and uncertain future, along with its wonderful people, touched me like few other places.


I wrote...

The Cambodian Book of the Dead (A Detective Maier Mystery)

By Tom Vater,

Book cover of The Cambodian Book of the Dead (A Detective Maier Mystery)

What is my book about?

Cambodia 2001 - a country re-emerges from a half-century of war, genocide, famine, and cultural collapse. German Detective Maier travels to Phnom Penh, the Asian kingdom’s ramshackle capital to find the heir to a Hamburg coffee empire. Maier’s search for the young coffee magnate leads into the darkest corners of the country’s history and back in time, through the communist revolution to the White Spider, a Nazi war criminal who hides amongst the detritus of another nation’s collapse and reigns over an ancient Khmer temple deep in the jungles of Cambodia. Maier is forced into the worst job of his life – he is to write the biography of the White Spider – or die. Apocalypse Now meets The Beach in this dark, explosive thriller.

The Elimination

By Rithy Panh, Christophe Bataille, John Cullen (translator)

Book cover of The Elimination: A Survivor of the Khmer Rouge Confronts His Past and the Commandant of the Killing Fields

Filmmaker Rithy Panh does not like the word trauma. He prefers to describe the after-effects of what happened to his Cambodian family as “an unending desolation.” Ever since the Khmer Rouge were driven from power in 1979 and he survived as a teenager, he has not stopped thinking about his family and trying to understand Comrade Duch, a man Rithy regards as “The Commandant of the Killing Fields." Mao and Stalin, Nazism and the Nurenberg Trials, and The Hague all hover at the edges of Rithy’s consciousness. He describes dispossession; dehumanization beginning with the annulment of names; demonization of education and traditional notions of culture; deportation;  slow starvation; corruption; terror; torture and language itself. Rithy Panh is a documentary filmmaker and reading The Elimination is an act of witness by both writer and reader. 


Who am I?

I am a longtime American journalist and former New York University Professor of Journalism who has written 10 books of non-fiction, several addressing issues of trauma. I was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia to two survivors of the Holocaust and was a baby immigrant to the U.S. after the Communist take-over of 1948. Although I have written a lot about the arts (music, books, and theater), I have also had a long-term interest in the psychological effects of psychic trauma in survivors of racism, antisemitism, sexism, genocide, war, illness, and natural disaster. My upcoming book is The Year of Getting Through It about being diagnosed with and undergoing treatment for endometrial cancer during COVID.

I wrote...

The Long Half-Lives of Love and Trauma

By Helen Epstein,

Book cover of The Long Half-Lives of Love and Trauma

What is my book about?

As a journalist and the daughter of two sole survivors of the Holocaust, I wrote a trilogy of books about the transmission of trauma between generations. The first was Children of the Holocaust, which was followed by Art Spiegelman’s Maus, Eva Hoffman’s Lost in Translation, and many other “second generation” books. The last is The Long Half-Lives of Love and Trauma, which looks at how the sexual and intimate ramifications of trauma played out in my family.

Holocaust literature does not generally delve into issues of love and sex, though these aspects of life did not disappear either during the Holocaust or afterward. I write about what happened in my survivor family of Czech Jews and the long psychotherapy that helped to unravel its mysteries.

River of Time

By Jon Swain,

Book cover of River of Time: A Memoir of Vietnam and Cambodia

Personally, I love historical memoirs, real stories from people who were there. Fast forward 14 years of war from the time Michel left Hanoi to dive into the memoir of another who fell for the allure of Vietnam and Cambodia. British journalist Jon Swain was in the region from 1970 to 1975 and saw the horrors committed by the Khmer Rouge when it finally took Phnom Penh in Cambodia. Having been captured by the Khmer Rouge he was saved from execution only by the actions of The New York Times interpreter, Dith Pran. It was this story and experience that inspired the Oscar-winning movie The Killing FieldsThe author’s love for Indochina shines through the pages despite the fact that he is often sickened by the brutality and atrocities he witnessed. He also successfully captures the doomed atmosphere in Saigon as the Americans and the South Vietnamese realise they…


Who am I?

In the crucial period after the end of WW2 the stage became set for thirty years of war in Vietnam, yet there’s very little written of it. My stepfather was there, and Hanoi, Adieu is a memoir of his experiences and his sentiments about what happened in the country he’d grown to love. I have a fascination for Southeast Asian history and he was keen for me to tell his story such that readers could absorb the history through his book. I have recommended here those I enjoyed and found useful from a historical or atmospheric perspective in the larger context of French Indochina. I hope you will too.


I wrote...

Hanoi, Adieu - A Bitterweet Memoir Of French Indochina

By Mandaley Perkins,

Book cover of Hanoi, Adieu - A Bitterweet Memoir Of French Indochina

What is my book about?

Hanoi, Adieu is an intimate and compelling journey through the exotic and tumultuous final decades of French Indochina. It’s a unique book in that it is a memoir and eyewitness account from one of the few French civilians who remained in Hanoi throughout the chaotic and tragic aftermath of World War II. Michel L’Herpiniere worked with the writer to bring to life this little-known history that led to thirty years of war in Vietnam. The book was shortlisted for the 2006 NSW Premier's Award for Non-fiction: Narrative as strong and clear-eyed in discerning the political intricacies and their deadly consequences, as it is poetically evocative of the landscape and people… Hanoi, Adieu is an exquisitely beautiful and most beguiling story.” (Judge’s comments) 

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