The best books about Laos 📚

Browse the best books on Laos as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of Air America

Air America

By Christopher Robbins

Why this book?

From 1965 onwards, the USA, conducted a covert anti-communist war in Laos. While the CIA created a clandestine hilltribe army, the air support for these troops was provided by Air America, ostensibly a private airline that was owned by the agency. Small spotter planes flew to 100s of airstrips across Laos to distribute troops, aid and weapons while collecting vast amounts of opium grown by the mercenaries the US had hired, later refined into heroin and sold to US troops fighting in Vietnam. Robbins’ book, which is somewhat revisionist, nonetheless brilliantly tracks the history of the airline from its beginnings…

From the list:

The best books about Laos and the CIA's covert war there

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Book cover of A Dragon Apparent: Travels in Cambodia, Laos & Vietnam

A Dragon Apparent: Travels in Cambodia, Laos & Vietnam

By Norman Lewis

Why this book?

This classic travel book, first published in 1951, is said to have inspired Graham Greene to travel to Vietnam and to write The Quiet American, the greatest piece of fiction on white men in Southeast Asia. It is also a charming and charmed eyewitness account of the dying days of the French colonial occupation of Indochina which makes A Dragon Apparent a document so much of its time that readers might it find quaint, patronizing, and perhaps a little racist. The locals don’t come away very well but neither does the author who barely speaks to them. That said,…

From the list:

The best books about Laos and the CIA's covert war there

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Book cover of Cheating Death: Combat Air Rescues in Vietnam and Laos

Cheating Death: Combat Air Rescues in Vietnam and Laos

By George J. Marrett

Why this book?

George Marrett was in my squadron the year prior to me and we tell of some of the same people. Cheating Death is about search and rescue. Same airplane, different mission. A-1s were taildragger airplanes with a 2,700 horsepower engine, could carry 10,000 pounds of external ordinance, and had two 20mm guns in each wing. It was low and slow compared to a jet and could stay over a survivor for a long time until a rescue was made. The author tells of several exciting rescues of pilots who were shot down deep in enemy territory and explains how it…

From the list:

The best books written by pilots who experienced combat during the Vietnam War

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Book cover of Food From Northern Laos: The Boat Landing Cookbook

Food From Northern Laos: The Boat Landing Cookbook

By Dorothy Culloty, Kees Sprengers

Why this book?

This is a cookbook documenting northern Lao food preparation, Lao ingredients, and Lao recipes by a couple, Dorothy and Kees, who worked in Laos as volunteers. They met with many people I knew and wrote about including the family who ran The Boat Landing guesthouse. This is an extremely well-researched book on the food of the Luang Namtha district, which includes excellent photography, precise recipes, ingredient explanations, and a clear glossary. The recipes are authentic to the core so you might not be able to source many of the ingredients outside Laos but it’s an important book for anyone interested…
From the list:

The best books on Lao cuisine and food culture

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Book cover of Fish and Fish Dishes of Laos

Fish and Fish Dishes of Laos

By Alan Davidson

Why this book?

This is a reprinting of Alan Davidson's study of the fish cookery of Laos. It contains a catalogue of species, as well as a collection of recipes. This book is an invaluable companion to have in hand while you peruse the markets in Laos or the regions around it. However, like his seminal work The Oxford Companion to Food, Davidson’s meticulous empirical approach to research and his indomitable knack for finding an amusing anecdote makes it an excellent armchair read too.
From the list:

The best books on Lao cuisine and food culture

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Book cover of A Short History of Laos: The Land in Between

A Short History of Laos: The Land in Between

By Grant Evans

Why this book?

Historian Grant Evans does a thorough and highly readable if academic job to introduce remote, mysterious, landlocked Laos, the land of a million elephants from its distant beginnings as a conglomeration of waxing and waning city-states to its French colonial era and tragic role in the Vietnam War, its current post-revolutionary stasis and persistent refusal to become a nation serving its citizens. Anyone contemplating a visit to Laos should carry this book in their luggage as it touches on almost all aspects, cultural and economic, historical, and societal of one of the last communist nations surviving today.

From the list:

The best books about Laos and the CIA's covert war there

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