The following are books on Cambodia that I’ve read and would recommend. When possible, I recommend starting with native accounts (no matter the political bias or translation issues) before reading outside accounts. I think this helps foster a deeper understanding of the culture before reading accounts with outside bias (these are also worth reading, but preferably after one has formed their own understanding of the cultural context).
- Crossing Three Wildernesses by U Sam Oeur. This firsthand account of the Khmer Rogue years is the one that I most highly recommend. U Sam Oeur was a highly educated adult who feigned illiteracy for four years under the Khmer Rouge. His account captures details and nuances that other authors, many of whom were children at the time, miss. His descriptions of Khmer spirituality are extremely helpful in understanding the intertwining of faith and culture in Cambodia today.
- The Warrior Heritage: A Psychological Perspective of Cambodian Trauma by Senaglim Bit. I consider this to be the single most underrated book on Cambodia that I’ve read. Written by a Cambodian psychologist, this provides the most insightful analysis of Khmer culture and it’s interplay with the Khmer Rouge that I’ve read. Sadly, it’s out of print and hard to find. It’s not well written but it is still well worth the read. The social psychological lessons it offers have implications on societal trauma, identity, and peacemaking that are applicable far beyond the Cambodian context.
- My War with the CIA and War and Hope: The Case for Cambodia by Norodom Sihanouk. Two of the most important primary sources available though neither have been in print in some time. They provide very different – almost opposing – narratives and should be read together to provide the appropriate context.
- Step by Step: Meditations on Wisdom and Compassion by Maha Ghosananda. This is a collection of prayers, stories, and meditations written by one of the few monks who survived the Khmer Rogue. While not as well known as Thich Nhat Hanh or Sulak Sivaraksa, Maha Ghosananda has been called “Cambodia’s Gandhi” and played an instrumental role in peacemaking and rebuilding the Sangha in Cambodia in the years following the overthrow of the Khmer Rogue.
After reading primary sources, I’d recommend the following outsider’s perspectives.
- Cambodia After the Khmer Rouge: Inside the Politics of Nation Building by Evan R. Gottesman. This book starts off where many books on Cambodia end, with the overthrow of the Khmer Rogue in 1979. It provides a detailed narrative of how the national infrastructure, political parties, and hidden power structures formed. It is a dry but extremely useful read.
- Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon, and the Destruction of Cambodia and The Quality of Mercy: Cambodia, Holocaust and Modern Conscience by William Shawcross. Powerful contemporary books (1979 & 1984) that call out the US and international communities’ roles in the Khmer Rouge’s rise to power. Sideshow still gets a lot of attention but The Quality of Mercy deserves to be read.
- A History of Cambodia by David Chandler.
This is my reading list for Myanmar but, so far, the only book I’ve read is From the Land of Green Ghosts which I read during my first term in Cambodia. I’ll be updating this as I get through these books. I’d recommend the same methodology here – read native accounts first….
- From the Land of Green Ghosts by Pascal Khoo Thwe.
- A History of Myanmar since Ancient Times: Traditions and Transformations 2nd ed. Edition by Michael Aung-Thwin and Maitrii Aung-Thwin.
- The River of Lost Footsteps: A Personal History of Burma by Thant Myint-U.
- Smile as they Bow by Nu Nu Yi. Interested in this because it’s the first contemporary Burmese novel published in English by a major publisher.
…and then international accounts.
- Burma/Myanmar: What Everyone Needs to Know by David Steinberg.
This is my reading list of books that are useful for living and working in an International context. I’ve read some of these and am planning to read others.
- Leading Multicultural Teams by Evelyn and Richard Hibbert.
- Misunderstood: The Impact of Growing Up Overseas in the 21st Century by Tanya Crossman.
- Common Shock: Witnessing Violence Every Day-How We Are Harmed, How We Can Heal by Kathy Weingarten. I read this during my ’06-09 term of service in Cambodia and it was extremely helpful to understand how the underlying trauma in the culture around me affected my own mental health.