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Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War

4.31  ·  Rating details ·  625 ratings  ·  84 reviews
In 2011, many Syrians took to the streets of Damascus to demand the overthrow of the government of Bashar al-Assad. Today, much of Syria has become a warzone and many worry that the country is on the brink of collapse.
Burning Country explores the complicated reality of life in present-day Syria with unprecedented detail and sophistication, drawing on new first-hand testi
Paperback, 262 pages
Published February 15th 2016 by Pluto Press
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Jan 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics, favorites, syria
Think Syria is complicated? This is the book for you.

I cannot describe how much I love this book. Having read much on Syria, books and otherwise, this is by FAR the greatest account on the Syrian conflict I have come across for a number of reasons.

1) First and foremost, it brings the conflict back to those who are suffering most: the Syrian people. We are told accounts of real civilians who have worked tirelessly on the ground to support their cause, including those who were/are engaged in civic
Sleepless Dreamer
I became overwhelmingly sad when reading this book.

In careful and detailed writing, Yassin-Kassab and Al-Shami describe the Syrian revolution. The focus is 2011-2016. By detailing various themes, they share a glimpse of how Syria fell apart, just like that. Each chapter shares a piece of Syrian history.

The authors focus on the people, on individuals who fought (and died) for the dream of changing Syria for better. The powerhouse of this book is the stories and experiences. Full of personal test
Imran  Ahmed
Jul 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: students of Middle East history / Levant; those interested in current affairs.
Think your life is complicated? Try figuring out the Syrian war. Only then can one really know what complicated means.

Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War, coauthored by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami, tries to lucidly dissect the state of the nation as at 2016. Sure, it's hard for academic works to keep pace with the fast changing ground realities of the country. However, Burning Country does provide a summary of events which led to Syria becoming a playground for opposing fo
Aug 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: best-of-2016
This is less a book about political events than an account of how the Syrian revolution has transformed the country both politically and culturally. It offers a seldom-reported firsthand perspective on how and why Syrians sought to free themselves from the Assad dictatorship, as well as the effects of the global counterrevolution that has met their efforts.

The authors takes an anti-imperialist perspective of events, convincingly describing the Assad government as a local satrap for regional and
Alex Linschoten
Dec 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: syria
I haven’t been following events in Syria that closely. ‘Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War’ (by Robin Yassin-Kassab, Leila Al-Shami) is only one among several books that have been written in the midst of the ongoing conflict, but I’d heard consistently good things about it since its release at the beginning of 2016. It doesn’t disappoint. I started it yesterday, lulled by the conclusion of a large project and a thousand pictures of Christmas dinner preparations on twitter. I woke up ...more
Feb 07, 2018 rated it did not like it
I have several complaints about this book. One is that it contains a lot of unsourced material. I'll provide a couple of examples. In Chapter 5 there is a description of the Syrian government's behavior below (pg. 106):
"The regime pursued a scorched earth strategy. It was all very deliberate and self-declared. The shabeeha scrawled it on the walls: ‘Either Assad or We’ll Burn the Country’. In the countryside they killed livestock and burned crops." This passage is found between a footnoted inter
Matt Brady
Feb 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2016
Excellent overview of the Syrian revolution, tracing it's origins from a largely peaceful, entirely spontaneous cross-cultural uprising into it's militarization and then islamicisation (is that even a word), and arguing that the latter was actually openly encouraged by assad's regime in a clever move to secularise the conflict and prevent the rebels from receiving wholehearted foreign support. It's bleak and depressing, but also serves as a pretty important tribute to the many courageous Syrian ...more
Apr 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An activist's account of the revolution and of Assad's savage repression in Syria. A very disturbing look from within. In sum: Assad is a monster. ...more
75th book for 2018.

A very interesting history of the Syrian revolution, written from a progressive/left point of view.

This is similar to what George Orwell might have written, if he had been born Spanish and bothered to write a detailed history of an ongoing Spanish Civil War, as opposed to the quasi-gonzo-journalism of Homage to Catalonia.

Yassin-Kassab makes a strong case for the essentially democratic, revolutionary and secular nature of the early revolution, which filled with hope for a bet
Anand Gopal
Sep 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The best book on the Syrian revolution.
Feb 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A perfectly composed encapsulation of the Syrian narrative – nothing comes close to reading the personal thoughts and words of the Syrian revolutionaries themselves. Anecdotes have been seriously undermined, and this book revives this issue. Split into ten chapters, the book explains and analyses all aspects of the revolution – what I liked most was the clear chronology. It took you through from the beginning right through to the present, and it was truly fascinating to see how the revolution ev ...more
Brian Bean
Oct 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"Videos of tens of thousands of people demonstrating against tyranny gave way to the images of deserted streets in derelict towns. Of tanks driving up main streets and planes bombing villages. The cynics who didn’t bat an eyelid for the thousands of innocents who were shot like dogs now nod their heads knowingly and speak of a revolution ‘hijacked’. They can go to hell. This revolution was not about an ideology or a religion, and it wasn’t about grand political scheming, it was about normal peop ...more
Feb 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is such a necessary book. Highly recommended to anyone who is interested in reading about Syria. It's an easy to read, well written and succinct account of the Syrian regime, the revolution and the current situation. In badiouian terms it's a heartbreaking plea to maintain fidelity to the event of the syrian revolution and for western leftists to understand the situation based on grassroots voices rather than through 'anti-imperialist' dogma. Really good. ...more
Joey Ayoub
Feb 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I started reading it this morning and I'm halfway through. I had already read the first edition so I was familiar with Robin and Leila's great and important work, but they've truly managed to turn an already-important book into one which must join the increasing numbers of books written by Syrians about Syria to counter the toxic environment that has engulfed the Right and the Left into competing conspiracy wormholes. I hope this book finds its way to classrooms. ...more
Westward Woess
Jul 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a really hard-hitting and thorough book. The authors attempt to elucidate an extremely complex situation, sketching out the Syrian Revolution from the ground up. It is hard to summarize it, as there is so much information and it takes time to read and absorb. Regardless, I absolutely recommend this book. It pulls no punches when it comes to Assad and it completely humanizes the Syrians across the board. I don’t know you, but I think you should read this book.
Daniel Simmons
Apr 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Hands-down the single best thing I have read about the Syrian revolution. The authors eschew, in their own words, "the usual grand narratives to attend to voices from the ground", and in so doing they shed light on and bring reason to an enormously complex and upsettingly misunderstood conflict. Superb. ...more
Sep 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
If you are searching for something like a 'people's history of the Syrian revolution', you don't have to look any further, this is it. ...more
Bronwen Griffiths
Jun 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent book for anyone who wants to understand the terrible crisis that is Syria. The authors quote from Syrians on the ground, and shows how the revolution was brutally repressed by the regime, resulting in the disintegration of the country. It is not an impartial book but I fail to see how it could be, and for me it is all the better for this. It also made me think more deeply about my own society. As the book was written in 2015 there is however little discussion on the implicat ...more
Nov 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A seriously comprehensive/thorough study of the Syrian revolution, given the fairly short length. It covers everything really well: Syrian history (including the crucial colonizal era), cultural resistance, the Kurdish "side" of the conflict, the role of the myriad international actors, and so on, while remaining critical of "mainstream" narratives throughout. In other words, you'll learn what these mainstream narratives are but also what contradictory "facts on the ground" are important to look ...more
Oct 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I stopped & started this book over 2 years because it has such a wealth of information and very glad I finally finished it. The book armed me with so many facts to counter Islamophobic rhetoric about Syrians.
Mar 26, 2017 rated it did not like it
What a load of rubbish. Looking at al-Qaeda through rose coloured glasses! You should state which Syrian people are represented. A tiny slice of the pie that suits your agenda, obviously!
Apr 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: political-stuff
Outstanding book. I'm always hesitant of using the term 'must-read', but the Syrian revolution is so important to the world's politics today that I think everyone really should read this. ...more
Ashley Roberts
Jul 09, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This was a great introduction to the revolution/war in Syria over the past decade. It is relatively short and presented in an easily digestible manner, cutting unnecessary details and spotlighting the essential players in the conflict. Really enjoyed reading this
Jonathan Brown
Jul 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Tough to know exactly what to make of this timely 2016 book by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami. After a brief overview of Syrian history focusing mainly on post-Ottoman developments, the authors focus in great detail on the rule of Bashaar al-Assad, who cultivated his image as a reformer initially but whose "regime's tolerance was short-lived."

The book ably traces, at times in mind-obliterating detail, the beginnings and progress of the Syrian Revolution, with whose cause they strongly s
Mark Ballinger
Dec 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Mark by: Megan Price in Times Sunday Review
Shelves: history
"A people who dared to demand freedom received annihilation instead."

This was a tough read. First, literally. It's dense with places, events, and people, like reading back-to-back-to-back news reports. But, more so, it's full of the agony people are facing in Syria. This is amplified by continuing to read the news, which now seems to show the last gasp of a free Syrian resistance that will descend into "we're okay with Assad as long as he's fighting ISIS."

One big point here is the way we make as
Jul 25, 2017 rated it liked it
for radicals who were excited by events in rojava but have little understanding of the context in syria this book seems like a really good place to start. al-shami and kassab tell individual stories of lived revolt and brutal counter revolution in beautiful, tragic, nuanced ways, and situate them well in the larger warring parties. i generally get confused and bored by texts dealing with history, unable to keep track of names, dates, and groups, but this book was an engaging read that i was able ...more
Yonis Gure
Jun 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: middle-east
Burning Country is a vivid, first-hand account of Syria's revolution and counter-revolution, told explicitly from an activist perspective. This book is a necessary corrective to all of the "Assad is the lesser evil" and "all opposition to Assad are gulf backed jihadists" narratives that have so perverted popular discussion on Syria, particular among the Left.

Not having lived during the Yugoslav crisis in the 90s, from what I gather that was a real litmus test among Leftists. Some (valiantly)
Jan 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
In the aftermath of the assassination of the Iranian military General in Iraq (2020) and while the hashtag #WorldWarIII was trending, a friend told me that WWIII has already started in Syria and it's been going on for nine years. A few chapters into this book, you would see how this is; some eleven countries and their proxies have chosen a convenient battleground, where they can wrestle as much as they want, without taking the war to their homes.

This book is complicated, and so is the situation
Antoinette  Fuoto
Sep 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I realized recently that I had a very poor understanding of the Syrian Revolution. Not quite "What is Aleppo?", but not terribly far from that standard of ignorance, either. This book provides what feels like a very thorough and nuanced view of the many, many conflicting interests at stake and the Syrian people stuck in the middle of it all. All of the news coverage I've seen has been from a Western perspective, so I especially appreciated the many excerpts from Syrian activists on the ground an ...more
Mar 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book vividly explains how a peaceful uprising turned into a regional proxy war and the worst refugees crisis since WWII. It clearly illustrates the internal as well as the external forces that shaped Syria today. Essential read for those who need to really understand the Syrian Crisis as well as the failure of regional and international players in assessing the danger of abandoning a coherent action plan to stop it.
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Robin Yassin-Kassab was born in London in 1969. He has taught English around the Arab world as well as in Turkey, and has been a journalist in Pakistan. His first novel, The Road From Damascus, was published in 2008.

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