My top 10 most insightful books to read on Cambodia

Recommended Reading: Cambodia

Cambodia has to be one of the most moving places I have ever been to. Their tragic recent past still haunts the population today in the form of landmine victims, psychological trauma, lost family members and mistrust.  However they struggle on with life – because after all, it could not be worse than what it was. These compelling stories give you an insight into how life was…and is today. Click on the picture of the book for more information and reviews.

Cambodia Now: Life In the Wake of War (2005) by Karen J. Coates
Up-to-date examination of life in Cambodia. Along with print sources, research is drawn from hundreds of interviews with Cambodians, including farmers, royalty, beggars, teachers, monks, orphanage heads, politicians, and non-native experts on Cambodia. This work focuses on Khmer people of all walks of life and examining through their eyes key facets of Cambodian society, including the ancient Angkor legacy, relations with neighboring countries (particularly the strained ones with the Vietnamese), emerging democracy, psychology, violence, health, family, poverty, the environment, and the nation’s future.

Facing Death in Cambodia (2005, Columbia University Press) by Peter Maguire
An excellent examination of the Khmer Rouge Regime and its aftermath to the present day. Right up to date and highly recommended.

First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers (2001, Harper Collins) by Loung Ung
When Broken Glass Floats: Growing up under the Khmer Rouge (2001, W. W. Norton and Company) by Chanrithy Him

The Stones Cry Out: A Cambodian Childhood, 1975-1980 (1999, Indiana University Press) by Molyda Szymusiak
3 similar books from women who were girls living in Phnom Penh during the Khmer Rouge takeover. All are gripping can’t-put-down accounts and must-reads for those of you who know little about the Khmer Rouge and Cambodia.

When the War Was over: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge Revolution (1998, Public Affairs) by Elizabeth Becker. Up to date, readable and by far the best overview of Cambodia’s history and politics covering the last 50 years that I’ve read.

One Crowded Hour (1987, Collins Publishing) by Tim Bowden
Biography of Australian combat cameraman Neil Davis’ dramatic life in Southeast Asia from 1964-1985, covering the Vietnam and Cambodian conflicts.

Red Lights and Green Lizards, A Cambodian Adventure (1999, Wayfarer) by Liz Anderson.                                                                                                     Well-written book by a middle aged English woman who was posted to Cambodia as a volunteer aid worker in the late 1990’s. Insightful, often funny and a good overview of the difficulties aid programs face.

The Lost Executioner (reprint 2007, Walker & Company) by Nic Dunlop
Journalist Nic Dunlop writes an excellent account of his impressions of Cambodia during the 1990’s while on the trail of Comrade Duch, the commander of the Khmer Rouge detention centre S21. Dunlop discovers Duch living in a village in 1999. Duch is subsequently arrested and will eventually face trial.

The Gate (2003, Knopf) by Francois Bizot
In 1971, François Bizot was captured by the fledgling Khmer Rouge he became the only Westerner to escape a Khmer Rouge Prison. Bizot’s experience to that point would itself have merited report. But upon his return to Cambodia four years later, as the sole individual fluent in both French and Khmer, Bizot found himself playing the intermediary in a surreal standoff as the Khmer Rouge took Phnom Penh and he re-counts how he helped the remaining Westerners– and any Cambodians he could–to escape the doomed capital.

A Cambodian prison portrait: One year in the Khmer Rouge’s S21 (1998, White Lotus) by Van Nath. A young mans experience of being taken to the notorious Toul Sleng detention center, escaping almost certain death when his artistic ability was discovered, and his experiences of being Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot’s portrait painter.

Ancient Angkor (2006, River Books, new edition) by Claude Jacques, Michael Freeman
A lovingly prepared compilation of superb color photographs, maps, history and scholarly explanations of the major world monument that is Angkor Wat.

The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, 1975-79 (2002, Yale University Press) by Ben Kiernan; and Cambodia: 1975-1982 (2000, Silkworm Books) by Michael Vickery
Two exhaustive and scholarly analyses of the Khmer Rouge regime that have been criticized from those on the right for being sympathetic towards communism but in fact, both are objective, detailed and well researched.

Happy reading! If you are feeling inspired to visit Cambodia, why not join us on a trip there!

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