The best books about Myanmar

6 authors have picked their favorite books about Myanmar and why they recommend each book.

Soon, you will be able to filter by genre, age group, and more. Sign up here to follow our story as we build a better way to explore books.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission (learn more).

From the Land of Green Ghosts

By Pascal Khoo Thwe,

Book cover of From the Land of Green Ghosts: A Burmese Odyssey

"Nearly every night I dream of the Shan State, of Mandalay, of the jungle. The landscapes of my dreams resemble real ones, yet they shift like images on silver screens…" Pascal Khoo Thwe’s mesmerizing biography stretches from his grandmother’s creation stories to civil war and a chance conversation about James Joyce which leads to a new life in Britain. A minor masterpiece.


Who am I?

Rory MacLean is one of Britain's most innovative travel writers. His books – which have been translated into a dozen languages — include UK top tens Stalin's Nose and Under the Dragon as well as Pravda Ha Ha and Berlin: Imagine a City, "the most extraordinary work of history I've ever read" according to the Washington Post which named it a "Book of the Year". Over the years he has travelled throughout Burma – apart from when banned by the military government for his writings – coming to know it as a deeply-wounded and fractured golden land of temple bells, be-medalled generals who enrich themselves through drug deals and ever-optimistic men and women who fight on to restore its ‘democratic transition’.


I wrote...

Under the Dragon: Travels in a Betrayed Land

By Rory MacLean,

Book cover of Under the Dragon: Travels in a Betrayed Land

What is my book about?

Thirty-four years ago the Burmese people rose up against their military government. The unarmed demonstrators were cut down, leaving more than 5,000 dead. In Under the Dragon, Rory MacLean meets the victims and perpetrators of that first great national uprising, unravelling a paradox of selfless generosity and sinister greed in a country stitched together by love and fear. He exposes the tragedy of a thousand betrayals, giving voice to those too frightened to speak for themselves. Under the Dragon is an important, perceptive, historical, and heart-breaking portrayal of a golden land that remains shot through with desperation and fear, but also – in even the darkest places -- with beauty and courage.

Decline of the English Murder and Other Essays

By George Orwell,

Book cover of Decline of the English Murder and Other Essays

No surprise that George Orwell, author of the two defining parables of the 20th century, should be at the top of my list, especially as his five years in Burma attuned him to the suffering of the oppressed. More moving than ‘Burmese Days’ is his short story ‘A Hanging’ in which he watches a condemned criminal walk towards the gallows … and sidestep a puddle. In that fleeting moment Orwell marks the preciousness of human life and the heartlessness of power.


Who am I?

Rory MacLean is one of Britain's most innovative travel writers. His books – which have been translated into a dozen languages — include UK top tens Stalin's Nose and Under the Dragon as well as Pravda Ha Ha and Berlin: Imagine a City, "the most extraordinary work of history I've ever read" according to the Washington Post which named it a "Book of the Year". Over the years he has travelled throughout Burma – apart from when banned by the military government for his writings – coming to know it as a deeply-wounded and fractured golden land of temple bells, be-medalled generals who enrich themselves through drug deals and ever-optimistic men and women who fight on to restore its ‘democratic transition’.


I wrote...

Under the Dragon: Travels in a Betrayed Land

By Rory MacLean,

Book cover of Under the Dragon: Travels in a Betrayed Land

What is my book about?

Thirty-four years ago the Burmese people rose up against their military government. The unarmed demonstrators were cut down, leaving more than 5,000 dead. In Under the Dragon, Rory MacLean meets the victims and perpetrators of that first great national uprising, unravelling a paradox of selfless generosity and sinister greed in a country stitched together by love and fear. He exposes the tragedy of a thousand betrayals, giving voice to those too frightened to speak for themselves. Under the Dragon is an important, perceptive, historical, and heart-breaking portrayal of a golden land that remains shot through with desperation and fear, but also – in even the darkest places -- with beauty and courage.

The Burman

By Sir George Scott,

Book cover of The Burman: His Life and Notions

Should a Sunday-born man marry a lady born on Wednesday? To bring luck is a house to be built on male, female or neuter foundation posts? George Scott served as Frontier Officer for three decades at the end of the nineteenth century, but his enduring legacy is as a collector and sympathetic chronicler of the old ways in a country ‘where people are small and ghosts are big’.


Who am I?

Rory MacLean is one of Britain's most innovative travel writers. His books – which have been translated into a dozen languages — include UK top tens Stalin's Nose and Under the Dragon as well as Pravda Ha Ha and Berlin: Imagine a City, "the most extraordinary work of history I've ever read" according to the Washington Post which named it a "Book of the Year". Over the years he has travelled throughout Burma – apart from when banned by the military government for his writings – coming to know it as a deeply-wounded and fractured golden land of temple bells, be-medalled generals who enrich themselves through drug deals and ever-optimistic men and women who fight on to restore its ‘democratic transition’.


I wrote...

Under the Dragon: Travels in a Betrayed Land

By Rory MacLean,

Book cover of Under the Dragon: Travels in a Betrayed Land

What is my book about?

Thirty-four years ago the Burmese people rose up against their military government. The unarmed demonstrators were cut down, leaving more than 5,000 dead. In Under the Dragon, Rory MacLean meets the victims and perpetrators of that first great national uprising, unravelling a paradox of selfless generosity and sinister greed in a country stitched together by love and fear. He exposes the tragedy of a thousand betrayals, giving voice to those too frightened to speak for themselves. Under the Dragon is an important, perceptive, historical, and heart-breaking portrayal of a golden land that remains shot through with desperation and fear, but also – in even the darkest places -- with beauty and courage.

Golden Earth

By Norman Lewis,

Book cover of Golden Earth: Travels in Burma

Among the 20th century’s finest travel writers, Norman Lewis visited Burma in the early 1950s.  ‘Golden Earth’ is a bittersweet portrait of the then-optimistic, now-lost land – before communist incursions and military dictatorship shattered the dream.


Who am I?

Rory MacLean is one of Britain's most innovative travel writers. His books – which have been translated into a dozen languages — include UK top tens Stalin's Nose and Under the Dragon as well as Pravda Ha Ha and Berlin: Imagine a City, "the most extraordinary work of history I've ever read" according to the Washington Post which named it a "Book of the Year". Over the years he has travelled throughout Burma – apart from when banned by the military government for his writings – coming to know it as a deeply-wounded and fractured golden land of temple bells, be-medalled generals who enrich themselves through drug deals and ever-optimistic men and women who fight on to restore its ‘democratic transition’.


I wrote...

Under the Dragon: Travels in a Betrayed Land

By Rory MacLean,

Book cover of Under the Dragon: Travels in a Betrayed Land

What is my book about?

Thirty-four years ago the Burmese people rose up against their military government. The unarmed demonstrators were cut down, leaving more than 5,000 dead. In Under the Dragon, Rory MacLean meets the victims and perpetrators of that first great national uprising, unravelling a paradox of selfless generosity and sinister greed in a country stitched together by love and fear. He exposes the tragedy of a thousand betrayals, giving voice to those too frightened to speak for themselves. Under the Dragon is an important, perceptive, historical, and heart-breaking portrayal of a golden land that remains shot through with desperation and fear, but also – in even the darkest places -- with beauty and courage.

The Little Men

By K.W. Cooper,

Book cover of The Little Men

Too many books about war aren’t written by those with any experience of it. This, one of my all-time favorites, was written by a young infantry platoon commander fighting the Japanese in Burma in 1945. It tells of the men usually lost to history – what Cooper describes as the ‘little men’ – and who have no voice in the histories written about their exploits. This isn’t a work of great literature, but Cooper’s focus on the small-scale actions of men fighting men with bayonets, bullets, and grenades brings the reality of arrows on a general’s map to focus. 


Who am I?

I've spent the last 30-years studying, reading about, writing, and teaching the story of the war between the Allies and the Japanese in the Far East during WWII. It includes of course the story of the fighting between the main protagonists, but there’s much more that has been neglected by writers and historians, certainly in the West. It includes the story of Burma and its various people; the role of India and its people as it moved rapidly towards independence and the role of China throughout. Every time I look at an aspect of the war, or read another memoir or open a dusty file in the archives, I come across more exciting material.


I wrote...

A War of Empires: Japan, India, Burma & Britain: 1941-45

By Robert Lyman,

Book cover of A War of Empires: Japan, India, Burma & Britain: 1941-45

What is my book about?

The book is the story of how Japanese victory in Burma in 1942 turned to profound defeat in 1944 and 1945 as the Allies convincingly smashed Japanese imperial pretensions in Asia. It emphasizes how victory was largely the result of the transformation of the Indian Army – the largest volunteer army in history – vast numbers volunteering to join the fight against the Japanese at a time of increased nationalist interest across India.

The book demonstrates how vital this hard-fought campaign was in securing Allied victory in the east, defeating Japanese militarism, and ultimately redrawing the map of the region with an independent India, free from the shackles of empire, all but guaranteed.

India's War

By Srinath Raghavan,

Book cover of India's War: The Making of Modern South Asia 1939-1945

This is a ground-breaking book because in telling the extraordinary story of the Indian Army during the Second World War, Professor Raghavan rightly places it firmly at the center of the great victories the Allies achieved over the Japanese in 1945. This book traces the transformation of the Indian Army from a largely domestically focused constabulary of 200,000 in 1939 to a victorious all-arms combat force of well over 2 million men and women in 1945. This army for the first time reflected India as a whole, rather than the pre-war Indian Army which recruited selectively from across India. 


Who am I?

I've spent the last 30-years studying, reading about, writing, and teaching the story of the war between the Allies and the Japanese in the Far East during WWII. It includes of course the story of the fighting between the main protagonists, but there’s much more that has been neglected by writers and historians, certainly in the West. It includes the story of Burma and its various people; the role of India and its people as it moved rapidly towards independence and the role of China throughout. Every time I look at an aspect of the war, or read another memoir or open a dusty file in the archives, I come across more exciting material.


I wrote...

A War of Empires: Japan, India, Burma & Britain: 1941-45

By Robert Lyman,

Book cover of A War of Empires: Japan, India, Burma & Britain: 1941-45

What is my book about?

The book is the story of how Japanese victory in Burma in 1942 turned to profound defeat in 1944 and 1945 as the Allies convincingly smashed Japanese imperial pretensions in Asia. It emphasizes how victory was largely the result of the transformation of the Indian Army – the largest volunteer army in history – vast numbers volunteering to join the fight against the Japanese at a time of increased nationalist interest across India.

The book demonstrates how vital this hard-fought campaign was in securing Allied victory in the east, defeating Japanese militarism, and ultimately redrawing the map of the region with an independent India, free from the shackles of empire, all but guaranteed.

Land of Jade

By Bertil Lintner,

Book cover of Land of Jade: A Journey from India Through Northern Burma to China

Bertil Lintner’s many books on Myanmar were essential background material for me when I lived there doing my own research on the country’s never-ending civil war. Land of Jade is a vivid and insightful study of Myanmar’s conflicts, and my favorite of his works. In 1985, he struck out to walk on foot from India, across northern Myanmar (then Burma), and eventually into southwestern China. The journey was the first (and likely only) time a journalist would undertake such an arduous, dangerous, and unforgettable trek.

His hosts along the way were a bewildering array of rebel groups at war against Myanmar’s despotic authoritarian regime. Accompanying Lintner on the journey was his pregnant wife Hseng Noung, whose photographs of Myanmar’s rugged northern terrain further enhance this incredible travelogue. 


Who am I?

As an author, humanitarian, and diplomat, I’ve seen firsthand how the everyday brutality of civil wars and ethnic conflicts is often overlooked in favor of statistics: 100,000 displaced; 500 arrested; 7 villages torched. In places like Myanmar, Ethiopia, Congo, Nigeria, and Bangladesh, I have tried to use human-centered reporting to bring a magnifying glass to the effect of these tragedies on everyday people. By focusing on the stories that most of the world would rather turn away from, I think we have a better chance to understand, and ultimately prevent, these violent political and social upheavals. 


I wrote...

Until the World Shatters: Truth, Lies, and the Looting of Myanmar

By Daniel Combs,

Book cover of Until the World Shatters: Truth, Lies, and the Looting of Myanmar

What is my book about?

Bum Tsit has a problem. In Myanmar’s far north, he is caught between the insurgent army his family supports and the business and military leaders his career depends on. Soon, he must choose a side. Phoe Wa lives in a very different Myanmar. He is a young migrant who has come to Yangon to pursue his dream of being a photojournalist. At a time when the government is jailing reporters and nationalist voices are on the rise, he believes that he has a responsibility to educate the public about his country’s problems. 

Until the World Shatters interweaves Phoe Wa and Bum Tsit’s stories to present a definitive portrait of Myanmar’s politics and people, taking readers deeper into its world of secret-keepers and truth-tellers than ever before. 

You've Changed

By Pyae Moe Thet War,

Book cover of You've Changed: Fake Accents, Feminism, and Other Comedies from Myanmar

I love the boldness of putting “comedy” right there in the subtitle, and Pyae Moe Thet War absolutely delivers. This memoir-in-essays, about being a millennial woman in Myanmar, has one of the strongest voices I’ve encountered in recent essay collections. She writes back against the expectation that racialized and minoritized writers perform their trauma for the reader, or must be restricted to certain topics and tones. You’ve Changed sets a precedent I know other writers will feel empowered to follow.


Who am I?

As a writer and editor, I spend a lot of time thinking about what prose—especially first-person nonfiction, which is mostly what I edit—does, and how it sets out to accomplish its project. Across forms, I tend to think humor is largely underused! No matter how serious the subject, there’s always a place for it to sharpen the critique. My book engages with topics like systemic discrimination and inequity, but throughout, I always stay attuned to the comic absurdity of my subject—both as a way to give more pleasure to the reader, and as a way to cut to the heart of what I want to express.


I wrote...

Some of My Best Friends: Essays on Lip Service

By Tajja Isen,

Book cover of Some of My Best Friends: Essays on Lip Service

What is my book about?

Some of My Best Friends is a darkly comic essay collection that braids personal narrative and cultural criticism, exploring the absurdity of living in a world that has grown fluent in the language of social justice but doesn’t always follow through.

The book’s nine essays explore the sometimes troubling and often awkward nature of that discord. Some of My Best Friends takes on subjects that include the cartoon industry’s pivot away from colorblind casting, the pursuit of diverse representation in the literary world, the law’s refusal to see inequality, and the cozy fictions of nationalism. Throughout, Tajja Isen deftly examines the quick, cosmetic fixes society makes to address systemic problems and reveals the unexpected ways they can misfire.

Burmese Days

By George Orwell,

Book cover of Burmese Days

George Orwell is best known for his futuristic political visions, searing political satire, and his expose of the deprivation of the English and French labouring classes in the interwar decades. My favourite of his books is Burmese Days, set in 1920s British colonial Burma (now Myanmar) and based on his own time there as an imperial police officer. Its detailed descriptions of the social lives and daily pastimes of Britons in a remote colonial outpost reveal the ways that gender structured colonial race relations. The book’s protagonist, himself critical of other white colonisers, meets his inglorious end because he utterly fails to understand or empathise with his Burmese concubine. His obsession with a young Englishwoman made him blind to his own injustices.


Who am I?

I’ve been teaching university courses on gender and colonialism for about thirty years. I find students engage with the stories of the daily lived reality of women and men in the past. The books on my list are ones I have assigned at universities in two different countries. It’s so powerful to read someone’s own story from centuries ago, in their own words, like that of Mary Prince. While I love to recommend fiction to history students, I’ve always been fussy about only assigning novels set in a time period and context that the author knew first-hand. It makes these stories—like Heart of Darkness, Burmese Days, and Coonardoo—truly historical evidence. 


I wrote...

Gender and Empire

By Angela Woollacott,

Book cover of Gender and Empire

What is my book about?

Through key episodes across a broad range of British Empire history, Angela Woollacott examines how gender ideologies and practices made the daily lives of women and men, structuring imperial politics and culture. 

Fiction and other vivid primary sources present the actual voices of historical subjects. The book covers topics and debates in imperial and colonial history, from slavery and indentured labour, to militarism, warfare, and domestic service. Colonial subjects and imperial officials moved around the world. Yet hierarchical conceptions of gender and race shaped British colonialism from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries, with very real consequences. Woollacott draws on decades of scholarship, providing fresh insights and interpretation. Authoritative and approachable, this is essential reading for students of world history, imperial history, and gender relations.

The Glass Palace

By Amitav Ghosh,

Book cover of The Glass Palace

This epic historical fiction novel took me to Burma in 1885 and continues to 1990. The first line sets the standard for this gripping read, “In the marketplace of Mandalay, only the 11-year-old Indian boy Rajkumar recognizes the booming sounds beyond the curve of the river as the English cannon fire.” Rajkumar witnesses Britain’s invasion and capture of Burma’s capital. He sees the looters ransack the Glass Palace. Rajkumar catches sight of Dolly, a 10-year-old nursemaid. He recalls this sighting through the years as he makes his fortune in the teak trade. In this novel, the author brings to life the tumultuous political history of Burma and Malaya. Although I read the novel almost 20 years ago, I still recall vivid and powerful scenes.  


Who am I?

I’m fascinated with our familial, political, and cultural legacies, particularly events that displaced or forced immigration upon its people. Being Irish, we are dispersed to the four corners of the earth and often, I think about the millions of Irish immigrants who fled our shores to start again in a different country with a different culture and my imagination comes alive at the sights and changes they saw and how they had to adapt. I’ve written four historical fiction novels. One is based solely in Ireland, the others are based between Ireland and Jamaica, New York, and the American West. All of my novels are multigenerational.


I wrote...

The Tide Between Us

By Olive Collins,

Book cover of The Tide Between Us

What is my book about?

1821: A cargo of Irish children is deported to the cane fields of Jamaica. 1991: Their story is uncovered. Bestselling author Olive Collins “brings history to life in this mesmerizing epic spanning 5 generations and 170 years,” The Post.

Or, view all 23 books about Myanmar

New book lists related to Myanmar

All book lists related to Myanmar

Bookshelves related to Myanmar