Lincoln famously told Harriet Beecher Stowe that her
book "Uncle Tomís Cabin" started the Civil
War. In the 1990s, two books helped inform the policies
of President Bill Clinton in the Balkans. Robert D.
Kaplanís "Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through
History" portrayed centuries of irreconcilable
ethnic enmity and gave the impression of a morass that
would swallow up any country that intervened. But later
Clinton read Noel Malcolmís "Bosnia: A Short
History," which portrayed the conflict in that
country as the product of the Machiavellian political
calculations of Slobodan Milosevic. A more active U.S.
role soon followed.
what is one to read about Syria, the latest place to
provoke debate about whether the U.S. should send
missiles or troops to a distant land?
plethora of books have been written on the Syrian
revolution and the Assad regime in the last year. But at
World Literature Today, Nikolaos van Dam recommends a
memoir by Hanna Mina, one of the few modern Syrian
novelists whose works are available in English
the 2004 book "Fragments of Memory," Mina
describes "the hardly imaginable poverty in which
he and his family had to live: under a fig tree, on a
dusty roadside, constantly exposed to the sun and
extreme hunger. Mina provides a dramatic, in-depth,
insiderís view of the miserable,
early-twentieth-century life of rural people," Van
Syria observers also recommend Van Damís own book,
"The Struggle for Power in Syria: Politics and
Society Under Asad and the Baíth Party,"
published by I.B. Tauris, which recounts how the Assad
dynasty (there are various spellings of the name in
English) came to rule Syria.
Syrian President Bashar Assad inherited leadership of
the regime created by his father, the late Hafez Assad.
The elder Assad is the subject of another book on Syria,
by Patrick Seale, "Asad: The Struggle for the
Middle East." Published in 1989 by the University
of California Press, Sealeís book is a more
sympathetic portrait of the elder Assad, the Los Angeles
Times wrote in a review.
of Oklahoma professor Joshua M. Landis, a commentator on
Syria, calls Sealeís book "the best and most
readable overall book on modern Syrian history."
Landis places Sealeís book on top of his list of books
on Syria, along with Van Damís book and Hanna Batatuís
"Syriaís Peasantry, the Descendants of Its Lesser
Rural Notables, and Their Politics."