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Syria Burning: A Short History of a Catastrophe

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  282 ratings  ·  55 reviews
What are the origins of the Syrian crisis, and why did no one do anything to stop it?

Since the upsurge of the Arab Spring in 2011, the Syrian civil war has claimed in excess of 200,000 lives, with an estimated 8 million Syrians, more than a third of the country’s population, forced to flee their homes. Militant Sunni groups, such as ISIS, have taken control of large swathe
Paperback, 192 pages
Published March 22nd 2016 by Verso (first published June 10th 2015)
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David M
Jul 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Practically everyone has gotten Syria wrong - horribly, catastrophically wrong. This short volume should be required reading for the whole human species. The author is remarkably compassionate and even-handed (especially when you consider he was held hostage by Hezbollah in the eighties), but in the end there's really no getting around just how miserably the world has failed Syria. Not a sin of omission, as someone like Samantha Power might have you believe, but a thousand different sins of comm ...more
Muhammad Ahmad
There is some historical context in the book that readers might find useful, but there is very little about the present crisis that is either accurate, insightful or unbiased. Glass is at pains to conceal the imbalance of forces in Syria and tries to create a false parity by mentioning regime crimes in passing while focusing most of his attention on the opposition's shortcomings. He makes the task easier for himself by lumping the opposition together with ISIS (a monstrous outfit that terrorizes ...more
Sometimes I am troubled by the thought that Left-leaning presses regard occasionally regard the discipline of editing as an ideologically conservative pitfall and one conducive to reifying existing power structures.
Perhaps people are just people and being lazy isn't a political statement? Whatever the contributing factors, this is a poorly made book about a complex conflict which has exacted a horrific cost on its people, the region and the world at large.

The thesis asserted by Glass is that S
Kate Hawkins
Jan 24, 2017 rated it it was ok
This is a pretty hard book to review, because on the one hand it contains a lot of important history but on the other side it barely does what it's supposed to do. When the Syrian Civil War broke out in 2011 most people expected it to topple the government within the year, if the previous protests of the Arab Spring were to be believed another Middle Eastern country would convert to a democratic process. Now the country is six years removed from the beginning of the uprising and after a number o ...more
Hussein Hafez
Apr 13, 2016 rated it it was ok
An interesting but clearly biased account of the events in Syria. the author draws some sort of equivalence between the rebels, Isis and the regime where no such equivalence exists...
an example of his bias is the fact that he interviews many people representing different facets of Syrian society but not once does he interviews a Sunni Syrian.
Apr 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
Getting to the fucking bottom of this now. I tend to trust VERSO so checked their catalogue first. As the title reads, it's a short history of a catastrophe. Way too short for my liking but with many references to other, more in-depth, books on this fucked up war which I will gladly follow up upon. There are a few paras on Syrian class politics and Assad's neoliberal reforms post-2000 to better understand the uprising but, again, way too short to make any real sense of it.
Otherwise, nothing ne
Montzalee Wittmann
Feb 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Syria Burning: A Short History of a Catastrophe is a very readable and understandable novel. Most of us in the U.S. don't really know all the details that led up to all the war and refugees. The reporting are inadequate, news is bundled swiftly and moves on. This book takes the reader back to the history behind the society, religion, past conflicts, leaders, and the other historic content to get a feel for why all this came about. The author is very good at explaining these things in a real and ...more
Oct 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
For someone who has been closely following the development of Syria's unfortunate and traumatic battle between the political agenda, sects, and religious ideologies, this book is a treat with the author's post-2011 experience in traveling war-beaten cities of Aleppo and Damascus. Charles Glass shows how the current rebellion is both similar and different from the rebellion of the Syrians against British and French occupation during the First World War about a century ago. We get to see how, in t ...more
Susan Walker
This is a well written book about the war in Syria. The author has traveled in Syria and doe a lot of reporting from the middle east.
Mar 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is good, very good. A book that doesn't get bogged down in how unpleasant war is and how it makes people do unpleasant things to one another (we know all that already) instead Glass goes for the jugular hacking away the words of moral outrage and phony sympathy. It will always be the case that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it and the history which is presented here is fascinating. No doubt there will be those who object to this approach but Glass forms a clear lin ...more
Dec 04, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
As is written in a forward to this book by Patrick Cockburn:
"Few events in recent history have been subjected to so much inadequate and partial reporting ... It is difficult to write sensibly and with balance about a struggle in which all sides, including much of the media, is so partisan".
The prominence of this book is that it looks to this tragedy from a perspective that is not covered by the vast but monotone and partisan coverage of this tragedy by mainstream media.
James Yee
Apr 27, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A quick read to get a decent background on the ongoing crisis in Syria and the historic origins. Good insight on the impact of WW1 and the fall of the Ottoman Empire in that region. The only downside is this author has some serious biases which I disagree with - he is very anti-Israeli. So a good read, but decide for yourself what you think is right.
Sidney Luckett
Sep 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent overview. Easy to read. Vivid personal anecdotes
Jul 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
I thought this was a really helpful primer of all the various interests at play in Syria. It's not meant to be comprehensive but rather serves as a jumping off point for further reading. ...more
Sep 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Exactly what it proclaimed to be, giving an insight into the spark that generated the fire.
The only down side was the ‘lay-out’ which made me find some of the arguments and reasoning a bit difficult to follow. I do now feel though that I have a small understanding that can be built on and further explored.
Aug 24, 2016 rated it it was ok
This was alright. I mean let's start with writing history is always difficult. It's hard to be fair and equal while building interest, and you are limited by the resources available.

That said, let's start with a couple cons. The book's timeline often jumps back and forth. Especially with historical non-fiction. Glass does not do it well enough. I was often a bit lost on the time period he was discussing and it took extra effort to try to get a clear timeline on the history.

Additionally, he offer
Mar 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
"The Syria was is a free-for-all in which everyone pursues his own interests to the detriment of the Syrians themselves."

Charles Glass writes a helpful breakdown on the complicated intricacies of the war in Syria from 2011-2016. It is discouraging to highlight the aspect of "proxy wars" and the vested interests nations such as the United States, France, Russia, Iran, Britain, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar have taken in accidentally and intentionally aiding this seemingly endless war. This boo
Anne Martin
Mar 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley-arc
How sad and hopeless this book is! and probably how true... It says loud things we don't want to believe. That so far, Assad, is the only hope for minorities to survive. That the western world believed for much too long that non respect of human rights was linked to capitalism and money -to discover finally that murder and violence are the same, no matter which side of the political checker they come from. Yes, ISIL did not matter as long as the problems they created and the people they killed w ...more
Feb 05, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Syria Burning is exactly what it says it is, A brief History. It's actually more of an overview of recent events with some history thrown in to round out the subject. I am not an expert on Syria or the Middle East. I know enough to understand that the issues are quite convoluted and stem from misguided or inept policies of outside parties. As a brief overview Syria Burning works well. For someone who is looking for a very basic understanding I could recommend this as a starting point. For any ty ...more
This is the first book I read on the crisis in Syria, and for that reason found it very accessible because he starts from the scratch and takes the reader along. The current revolution/ rebellion (depending on the side you are on) is placed within the context of previous such events in Syria's history, that leaves the reader with the sense of how less we have actually learnt from history. His basic argument seems to be that foreign involvement has made the conflict worse, because foreign allies ...more
Julian Dunn
Sep 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A brief but fantastic clear-eyed account of the events that led to the ongoing civil war in Syria. Charles Glass (a journalist that has certainly earned his stripes for his decades of reporting in the region) makes a compelling argument that the meddling of foreign powers -- Arab, Russian, and Western -- has caused the morphing of a local rebellion against an oppressive government into an intractable, full-scale proxy war in which no winner is likely to emerge, possibly for years.

To do this, Gla
Jul 02, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history, politics, arab
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Simon Howard
Jul 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I read this in a day. It's an astonishing account of what is happening in Syria set in some kind of historical and political context. As the foreword says, "The war in Syria has long needed a good book to explain what and why it is happening. Few events in recent history have been subjected to so much inadequate reporting." This book fills that hole.

I'm sure that the relative brevity means that some of the political nuance is lost, but for a newcomer to the wider picture (like me), it was well p
Jan 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am torn in this review, I think the book needed to be longer and more of a slow contextualized explanation. However I was willing to read it because it was short and concise... I know a lot more now about Syria, its history, and its diversity. I wish there was a recommended reading list at the end of this because wow it is a ridiculously complex history, rich with contradiction. But I will say this, it made me want to know more. I want to understand how colonial powers shaped Syrias history. I ...more
Apr 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: political
Syria Burning is a short discussion about how Syria has evolved into and out of the 2011 'revolution'; which has turned bad like a number of other Middle Eastern revolutions, due to a huge array of powerful external interests, and a level of disunity between participants. It is a good introduction to the various interests of the parties that are involved in the conflict. This includes why such parties have gotten involved and the general trajectory of their involvement. The situation is much cle ...more
Philip Girvan
Glass's book opens with a helpful chronology of the Civil War, up to December 2014, before juxtaposing a summary of the conflict with a wider political, historical, and demographic context. The book highlights the West's incompetence as well as the Syrian opposition's conflicting objectives (or complete lack thereof) and perhaps is not as critical of the Assad regime as it could be. It is a useful primer and a nice companion piece to The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution b ...more
Jul 25, 2016 rated it really liked it

At less than 200 pages, the main thing this book did for me was leave me with the feeling that I know less than I did before I read it. It's well written, there's a good general historical overview and a good general synopsis of the current issues. It's tragic and made even more so by the self-interested interference by other nations (specifically, the US, Russia, France, Britain, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey). I agree with his conclusion that a unified strategy would be more effective, but I a
Nov 26, 2016 rated it liked it
I think this book has some important points to make, mainly the ones that push back against the exaltation of the rebels that "Burning Country" performs. But on the whole it struck me as sort of a whitewashing of the Assad regime; the argument is along the lines of "yes there are bad things about Assad, but he's still an anti-imperialist hero and the results of a successful revolution would be way worse than Assad in this respect". To make this argument, Glass conflates the FSA with al-Nusra and ...more
Jan 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As someone who only understood the conflict in Syria through Western reporting it was extremely informative to read this first hand viewpoint. The author has opinions and states them clearly, but does not appear to have an agenda beyond making the reader understand how complicated the situation is. I believe it does a good job of describing the factions and loyalties on each of the sides of the conflict. In that way, the book is more objective than I expected. I rated it 5 stars for how informat ...more
mis fit
Mar 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Like most other reviewers have said, this is a good jumping off point regarding the origins of conflict in Syria (seems a bit of an understatement to call it "conflict," I admit). The history of colonialism in the region is key and the author does a great job introducing that history, while also keeping it clear and easy to understand. The book leaves off in 2016 maybe? It could be expanded to make it more up to date. Overall, much more reading is needed to get a fuller understanding that takes ...more
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Charles Glass is an author, journalist and broadcaster, who specializes in the Middle East. He made headlines when taken hostage for 62 days in Lebanon by Shi’a militants in 1987, while writing a book during his time as ABC’s News chief Middle East correspondent. He writes regularly for the New York Review of Books, Harper’s, the London Review of Books and The Spectator. He is the author of Syria ...more

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