8 books directly related to the Khmer Rouge 📚

All 8 Khmer Rouge books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

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

By Nic Dunlop,

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

Why this book?

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.

Ghost Money

By Andrew Nette,

Book cover of Ghost Money

Why this book?

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.

Carrying Cambodia

By Hans Kemp, Conor Wall,

Book cover of Carrying Cambodia

Why this book?

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.

Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur

By Ben Kiernan,

Book cover of Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur

Why this book?

This book is the first global history of genocide and is indispensable for understanding the phenomenon of genocide. What is so useful about the book is not merely its broad coverage but Kiernan's masterful analyses of genocides occurring in widely different times and places.

Survival in the Killing Fields

By Roger Warner, Haing Ngor,

Book cover of Survival in the Killing Fields

Why this book?

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.  

The King's Last Song

By Geoff Ryman,

Book cover of The King's Last Song

Why this book?

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, an emotionally scarred police officer, a motorbike taxi driver struggling to get by. You won’t forget this book.

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

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

Why this book?

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. 

River of Time: A Memoir of Vietnam and Cambodia

By Jon Swain,

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

Why this book?

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 have finally lost the war and the withdrawal begins.