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Assad or We Burn the Country: How One Family's Lust for Power Destroyed Syria

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  250 ratings  ·  60 reviews
From a Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist specializing in the Middle East, this groundbreaking account of the Syrian Civil War reveals the never-before-published true story of a 21st-century humanitarian disaster.

In spring 2011, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad turned to his friend and army commander, Manaf Tlass, for advice about how to respond to Arab Spring-inspired
Kindle Edition, 485 pages
Published May 28th 2019 by Little, Brown and Company
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Mikey B.
Page 90 Bashar Assad

“There’s no other way to govern our society except with the shoe over the people’s head.”

This is an outstanding account of Syria, the Assad family, and its interactions with Middle Eastern countries and world powers starting in the 1960’s.

I knew little of Syria and the author enlightened me on its history and particularly the nefarious Assad family. Bashar’s father, Hafez took power in Syria in 1971. He was a ruthless dictator with a secret police (Mukhabarat). He was of the
Steven Z.
Dec 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In the last few years a number of important books dealing with the Syrian tragedy have appeared. They all reflect the gruesome nature of how Bashar al-Assad and his family have clung to power as they have slowly destroyed their country by killing over 500,000 people and creating millions of refugees. Many of these books are journalistic accounts of Assad’s murderous policies or personal memoirs as their authors scream on the written page for the world to listen and act. Sam Dagher, a reporter ...more
Patricia Romero
Finally a real account of what is going on in Syria! And from a Pulitzer Prize nominated journalist who specializes in the Middle East. A never before heard, boots on the ground look at the Syrian Civil War that is killing the country.

In 2011, President Bashar al-Assad, decided to address the Arab Spring type protests in Syria with crushing violence on his own people. There would be no uprising here. Instead there would be a long war that so far has killed almost 500,000 and as citizens flee,
Oct 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not an up-to-date analytical study of the history of the civil war (which is what I was looking for), but an “insider’s view” of the Regime, based on well placed sources. Dagher makes a strong case for then horrible character of this Regime, and especially that of Bashar al-Assad, Asma, and his henchmen. He also explains somewhat how Putin, Erdogan, KSA, and other players fit into the picture. Informative. And a quick read, despite its relative length.
Peggy K.
Jun 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The country that brought us the 21st century’s worst humanitarian disaster — and the family responsible for it — come under the microscope in Sam Dagher’s masterpiece of journalistic reporting, Assad or We Burn the Country. Dagher, a Pulitzer-Prize nominated journalist with more than 15 years’ experience reporting on Middle East affairs for such publications as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, chronicles in detail Syria’s descent into chaos under Bashar al-Assad. A chunker of a ...more
Muhammad Ahmad
I’ll be writing later about this book in detail. For now suffice it to say that this is the most richly detailed, panoramic, and insightful account of the rise of the Assads and the course of the revolution. Encyclopaedic, yet immensely readable. The sheer range of Dagher's sources is impressive. It includes regime brass, Assad's coterie, dissidents, civil society figures, revolutionaries, intelligentsia.... A far richer and dimensional account than you'll find in the thin polemics of western ...more
Aug 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not going to lie, I picked up this book based on the title alone, as this was the best title I've seen in a while, and was not disappointed.
This is a very concise and interesting history of the Assad regime in Syria as well as a detailed recounting of the mostly concluded Syrian civil war.
Dagher had access to various players in the events described in the book, including very high-ranking Syrian officials, which makes this a very compelling look into the inside workings of a besieged
Jul 22, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Brutal history of the Assad regime in Syria. Insider accounts depicting the tragic implosion that destroyed a country and became an incubator that spawned the evil organization known as ISIS. The authors political bias is clearly evident and somewhat erodes his credibility. His one-sided narrative is mostly just a litany of crimes committed by this despotic regime that lacked objectivity. All the chapters on this horrible story are yet to be written, but Dagher does sets the stage for the final ...more
Scott Shertzer
Dec 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In elementary school around 5th grade, I had to write a report on a country. This would have been around the early 1980's. I don't remember much from that report, but I'm sure what I just read about the history of the Assad family was not in that report on Syria.
This book is disturbing, eye-opening, frustrating, and sickening all in one shot. Most importantly, it should be an awakening to those who need to speak up and represent those in dictatorships and can't speak themselves.
I decided to
Gilgamesch Himmelspiegelung
This is one of the few books that exhibits the Syrian war the way I would say, most Syrian experience it. While ISIS & Terrorism had caught most of the world's attention, factual information infers that Assad is the main reason for all the tragedies and the devastation. Sam Dagher laid out the facts and the details of how the Assads leveraged everything they could to stay in power and presented intentionally themselves to the world as the modern alternative for terrorism. The book included ...more
Jun 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: syria
The phrase “History is stranger than fiction” has never been more true than with the recent history of Syria. I have tried to keep up with the news coming out Syria, but Dagher’s work opened my eyes in a way that I have found nowhere else. I received this book from a Goodreads giveaway, but I would have gladly spent the money to buy it from the store.
Dagher’s strength lies not just in the vast number of interviews he conducted but in his ability to tie modern events to their historical roots.
Dec 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
What an ASTONISHING book. Jeremy read this a month or so ago, sharing bits with me along the way, and then I practically live-texted it all back to him as I read it over the past week. Every page brought with it a name or a place or an event that we know, or lived in, or lived through. In that sense, it was almost...dishy? That's not quite the right word but it did feel scandalous at times to finally know the details of how a lot of shady stuff went down, and who was involved. Remember how when ...more
Marsha Altman
Dec 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
If you really want to understand what's going on in Syria, this is probably the best book to read. It's a history of the Assad family's takeover of Syria with Hafez al-Assad in 1971, then his crushing of the rebellion in Homs in the 1980's, and Bashar's rise to power after the sudden death of his older brother. The second half of the book is devoted to the war that started as peaceful protests in 2011 and is still ongoing. To sum it up: the Assads have outsmarted everyone else, successfully ...more
Tammam Aloudat
I must have read most of the books that came up since 2010 on the Arab Spring and the Syrian revolution and following war. Some are very good, and many cover important aspects of the situation. Those, in my mind, are divided into two major groups: the attempts on historical documentation and the attempts on moral/philosophical justification including personal reflections and memoirs. The first type is in many cases written by Western Journalists and the latter by Syrians involved in the events.

James Yee
Sep 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This book provides a very interesting account of the maneuverings of the Assad family to maintain their grip on power. It also helps explain the sectarian battle lines that have formed with the prodding of Iran. It does a good job of explaining the complex and changing alliances of convenience that are at play. And while it's clear the author places most of the blame of the Syrian crisis on Bashar, there's much blame to go around including the relative inaction of the Obama administration even ...more
Donna Wetzel
May 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
Thank you Goodreads for my copy of Assad or We Burn The Country by Sam Dagher. This book will surely become known as the definitive book on the Syrian country under Bashar Assad. This book was well written, very well researched with facts written in chronological order beginning with Assad as a young man and his father's reign of terror. It ends at present day with the Trump presidency's reactions to events in Syria. I feel much more informed about the Syrian conflict thanks to Dagher's ...more
Gayla Bassham
I was struck by how much Assad reminded me of the Romanovs (although I do think he's most likely smarter than Nicholas II), thus proving that the lust for absolute power did not pass with the end of empires, and that it isn't restricted to one particular part of the world.
Feb 16, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's long and in-depth - but it's an important way to understand Assad's contempt for the rule of law, and all the steps he has taken to get to the point he is currently at.
Aug 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"I don't like presidents who are turned into Gods and eternal leaders. I want a president who is a government functionary serving a limited term and whose powers are kept in check."

An essential read for anyone trying to understand what happened and is still happening in Syria. A chilling chronicle of the past half a century during which Syria was held hostage by one family rule. The book helps understand underpinnings and historical pretexts leading to a peaceful civil uprising, which the regime
A very detailed and lengthy history of the Assad regime in Syria. First the father Hafez, and now the son Bashar. Their combined rule has resulted in decades of oppression for the Syrian people. It’s dispiriting to see what atrocities people are capable of just so that they can maintain power. And the world’s leaders have been pretty much powerless or unwilling to stop it. The book was quite informative but unfortunately quite dull.
Chris Jaffe
This is a very good and extremely thorough overlook of the situation in Syria. Dagher for a while was one of the only (the only?) western journalist stationed in there, so he knows the situation. He has some good sources, from protesters to former government aids.

Dagher gives plenty of background on the rise of the Assad family and the days of Old Man Assad. It's about 100 pages in before Assad becomes head of state. It's an interesting look as Bashar al-Assad. Many times I've heard how he was
Yonis Gure
Jul 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Of all the recent books on Syria that I've read over the past 2 years, this is by far the best and most informative. Through interviews conducted with former and current Assad regime members, powerful Alawite businessmen associated with the Assad family, Regime militiamen, and Syrian activists over the course of 4-5 years, Dagher provides a first-hand account of both the Assad family's rise to power, the Syrian uprising and Bashar's subsequent counter-revolution.

Some of the details in this book
Jun 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Syria has been in the news a lot lately, and while everyone seems to know a little bit about the war there and the news is full of simplistic soundbites and easy solutions, I haven't got the long story until now. In this very well-researched book, Dagher begins the story at rise of the Assad family to dictatorship during the Nixon administration and continuing until the present day chaos in Syria. Bashar al Assad's story is Shakespearean. He was the shy, brainy and overlooked second son of a ...more
Apr 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I win this From Goodreads. My favorite books to read are history and political history. This book is written by a Pulitzer Prize nominee who has reported on the Middle East for many years. I did not know very much about Syria before I read this book. It is one of those countries that came out of colonial rule and then had Assads father Hafez rule the country first and he was a brutal man. Then Basher wanted to follow this brutal ruling of the people to live up to what his father did. This ...more
Alhakam Shaar
Sep 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Finished reading (listening on Audible in fact) Sam Dagher's brilliant book Assad or We Burn the Country. I thought I would only enjoy the first parts where he brings a sharp perspective on the rule of Assads the father and son leading up to the eruption of the Syrian revolution. I had to pause at the chapter starting with "... Hurriyyeh, Hurriyyeh, Hurriyyeh" (9). I dreaded the thought of going again through the depressing story of the broken dreams and people. Plus, these accounts are more ...more
Ubah Khasimuddin
Nov 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Powerful book about the situation in Syria, gives a great history/lead up to the current state - with heavily detailed accounts of the inner workings of Assad government (if one can call it that).
If you are someone like me, who knew very little about the country, this is a good book to read to understand the civil war, how it came about, how it evolved, how the world failed the fighting Syrians.

I enjoyed the tiny details in the book as well, such as how Asma Al-Assad dropped her boyfriend when
Jan 01, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The Book contains lots of fables , it has fabricated the long enmity , hatred and war between Islamists and Syrians even before Assad became president in 1970 , he has omitted the facts about the riots of 1964 between Islamist rebels and the government and how the same Muslim Brothehrood Islamists have tried to kill President Nasser of Egypt during late 50's . he has also omitted the 1976 riots when Assad changed the constitution to allow Syrian Christians in the future to be presidents as well ...more
Jul 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The title of this book is a slogan that was painted on walls and buildings after regime loyalists destroyed cities, looted and then burned homes and apartments, and fired upon and killed their own people. They pledged their lives and souls to one of the most brutal dictators. Bashar al-Assad was never meant to inherit his father's savage regime; it was to be passed on to his charismatic older brother. But brother Bassel died in a car accident, and Bashar returned to Damascus (from London, where ...more
Marco Corti
Jan 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It’s a very detailed and comprehensive book that describe how complicate and far from over is Syria’s situation and suffering. So complicated that every party, every side and every country involved in bringing “peace” to Syria is to blame for the situation the country is in.
Sam Dagher bring the reader not only into the palaces and rooms where everything started, where dictators, presidents, generals, ambassadors and UN officials have decided the fate of Syria, but also into the streets of
Kassy Harris
Aug 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This was an overwhelmingly harsh read. The events throughout the Assads's rule in Syria is astounding and terrible. Dagher is obviously extremely educated on the subject matter and delves deeply into the events that have taken place in the Middle East over the past 50 or so years. There was so much to this book that I was unaware of. The intricacies of the proxy-wars and outright horrors committed against Syria's citizens was difficult to stomach and at times I had to put the book down and take ...more
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