The House of Wisdom: Books in Our Library

Syria's Secret Library


The Battle for Home: The Memoir of a Syrian Architect

Marwa al-Sabouni
ISBN 9780500343173 (2015)

The eyewitness account of a young architect based in war-torn Homs. Revealing the country’s bitter conflict through the lens of architecture, she shares her personal experience of how the environment directly affects the community that inhabits it, how the stage for civil war has long been set in her country, and how architecture might play a role in reversing the damage.

Damascus Taste of A City

Rafik Schami & Marie Fadel
ISBN 9781906598839 (2002 Germany)

Rafik Schami, author of The Dark Side of Love, lived in Damascus for 25 years before being forced into exile in Europe, where he has become a celebrated novelist. This book is a paean to the city he loves more than any other, the city he pines for. Able only to conjure distant memories of his home town, Schami’s sister, Marie Fadel, wandered the city on his behalf, relishing the curiosities, the sounds, the personalities, the tastes and the smells and relaying them to Schami over the telephone. He wrote them down, reveling in the diverse mark left on Damascene cuisine by its multifarious history.

Dissident Syria

Miriam Cooke
ISBN 9780822340355 (2007)

This looks at the years of Hafez al-Assad, who ruled Syria with an iron fist, his regime controlling every aspect of Syrian life. Assad sometimes appropriated the work of artists and writers, turning works of protest into official agitprop. Miriam’s new book Dancing in Damascus: Creativity, Resilience and the Syrian Regime will be available on 2 December 2016.

Folk Tales of Syria

Compiled by Samir Tahhan
ISBN 9780292706309 (2004)

Syrian poet Samir Tahhan collected folktales from old men sitting outside their houses in Aleppo drinking tea. Translated and with an introduction by Andrea Rugh.

Hamlet’s Arab Journey: Shakespeare’s Prince and Nasser’s Ghost

Margaret Litvin
ISBN 9780691137803 (2011)

For the last five decades, Arab intellectuals have seen themselves in Shakespeare’s Hamlet: their times ‘out of joint’, their political hopes frustrated by a corrupt older generation. This book traces the use of Hamlet in Arabic theatre and political rhetoric, and asks how Shakespeare’s play … grew to be the most obsessively quoted literary work in Arab politics today… the essential Arab political text, cited by Arab liberals, nationalists, and Islamists alike.

The Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie: Intimacy and Design

Malu Halasa and Rana Salem
ISBN 9780811864589 (2008)

Included to surprise you. Virtually unknown in the West, Syrian lingerie is racy attire that is widely popular throughout the Middle East. In word and image, this book introduces an astonishing treasure trove of textile wonderment. Several collections of photographs present the lingerie and its milieu while in-depth text contextualise the lingerie’s role in the larger culture. These elements combine  to present … an unusual perspective on joy and sex in the Arab world.

The Street Philosopher and the Holy Fool: A Syrian Journey

Marius Kociejowski
ISBN 9781780600727 (reprinted by Eland 2016)

In the company of a witty, irreverent Canadian poet with a gift for listening, this book allows us to eavesdrop on the lives of pre-civil war-Syrians — their beliefs, obsessions and everyday concerns. He ignores the politics of the Middle East and concentrates instead on his friendships. Here are the dreams, fears and aspirations of the old Levant and its fascinating flux of faiths. The Street Philosopher and the Holy Fool bears precious testament to tolerant co-existence which characterised Syria until so recently.

Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline

Edited by Malu Halasa, Zaher Omareen & Nawara Mahfoud
ISBN 9780863567872 (2014)

“An extraordinary collection revealing a dynamic and exciting culture in painful transition … you need to read this book.”
Brian Eno


In Praise of Hatred

Khaled Khalifa
ISBN 9780552776134 (2008)

Khalid’s famous novel set in 1980s Syria. The young narrator is living a secluded life behind the veil in the vast and perfumed house of her grandparents in Aleppo. Her three aunts, Maryam the pious one; Safaa, the liberal; and the free-spirited Marwa, bring her up with the aid of their ever-devoted blind servant. Its elegant use of traditional, layered storytelling is a powerful echo of the modern-day tragedy that is now taking place in the Middle East.

The Dark Side of Love

Rafik Schami
ISBN 9781906697242 (2004 Germany)

The Dark Side of Love illuminates almost every side of love as well as fear, longing, cruelty and lust … A book like this requires a less limiting title. I would suggest something as expansive, as comprehensive, as War and Peace.”
The Guardian


Fazi Azzam
ISBN 9781906697341  (2011)

“Places have moods, this novel reminds us. Sometimes Sarmada, a mountain village rising from the Hauran plain of southern Syria, is all ‘oblivion, dust and tedium’; at other times it’s a shimmering delight, each rock, tree, spring, cliff and cave owning rich histories. Sarmada is also “a Scheherazade”, a generator of tales. The major theme — frustrated and unleashed libido — slides only once towards porn mode. This is a very Syrian novel, illustrating sectarian co-existence and providing glimpses of the country’s mystical and literary wonders.”
The Independent

The Silence and The Roar

Nihad Sirees
ISBN 9781908968296 (2004/2013)
Translated by Max Weiss

“A Syrian author writes an award-winning novella in self-imposed exile, exploring in coruscating detail what his country has become at the hands of a controlling dictator. If The Silence and the Roar sounds timely, then it is – except Nihad Sirees wrote it in 2004. It’s taken nine years and, sadly, even more devastating news headlines for this translation from Arabic to reach English audiences. It should be required reading.”
The Guardian


A Woman in The Crossfire: Diaries of the Civilian Revolution

Samar Yazbek
ISBN 9781908323125 (2012)
Translated by Max Weiss

“Yazbek has the novelist’s eye for telling detail … hers is the urgent task of showing the world what is happening. Thanks to her, we can read about the appalling things that go on in secret , underground places.”
The Guardian

Burning Country

Robin Yassin-Kassab
ISBN 9780745336220 (2016)

“Poised to become the definitive book not only on the Syrian conflict but on the country as a whole … as the conflict still rages, this must-read book helps us to understand what happened, why it happened and how it should end.”
Hassan Hassan, author and Associate Fellow, Chatham House

The Crossing: My Journey to the shattered heart of Syria

Samar Yazbek
ISBN 9781846044885 (2015)

Journalist Samar Yazbek was forced into exile by Assad’s regime.   From the first peaceful protests for democracy to the arrival of ISIS, she bears witness to those struggling to survive, to the humanity that can flower amidst annihilation, and why so many are now so desperate to flee.

“I much admire Samar for her literary skill and for her bravery.”
Carol Ann Duffy

The Morning They Came For Us

Janine di Giovanni
ISBN 9781408851081 (2016)

An unflinching account of a nation on the brink of disintegration… drawn to the stories of ordinary people … it charts an apocalyptic but at times tender story of life in a jihadist war — and an unforgettable testament to human resilience in the face of devastating, unimaginable horror.

Syrian Notebooks: Inside the Homs Uprising

Jonathan Littell
ISBN 9781781688243 (2012 France)

Littell’s notebooks were originally the raw material for the articles he wrote upon his return for the French daily Le Monde.

“An extraordinarily powerful novel that leads the stunned reader on a journey through some of the darkest recesses of European history … profoundly important.”


Aleppo: The Rise and Fall of Syria’s Great Merchant City

Philip Mansel
ISBN 9781784534615 (2016)

Aleppo lies in ruins. Its streets are plunged into darkness, most of its population has fled. But this was once a vibrant city where Muslims, Christians and Jews lived and traded together in peace. Few places are as ancient and diverse as Aleppo … successively ruled by Assyrian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Arab, Ottoman and French empires … It owed its wealth to the Silk Road, at a crossroads where merchants from Venice, Isfahan and Agra gathered in the largest souk in the Middle East. Throughout the region it was famous for its food and music … In the first history of Aleppo in English, Dr Philip Mansel vividly describes its decline from a pinnacle of cultural and economic power, a poignant testament to a city shattered by Syria’s civil war.

Ancient Syria: A Three Thousand Year History

Trevor Bryce
ISBN 9780199646678 (2014)

A three-thousand-year tale of ancient Syria, from Bronze Age to Roman era — and beyond. This is the essential back story to one of the world’s most trouble-prone, volatile, but also most culturally and politically important regions

Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy

Edited by Peter Adamson & Richard C Taylor
ISBN 9780521520690 (2005)

The Desert and The Sown: Travels in Palestine & Syria

Gertrude Bell
ISBN Various (First Published 1907)

Come…with me along some strip of herbage strown
That just divides the desert from the sown
Where name of slave and sultan scarce is known…
The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East

Gerard Russell
ISBN: 9781471114717 (2014)

Despite its reputation for religious intolerance, the Middle East has long sheltered many distinctive and strange faiths: one regards the Greek philosophers as incarnations of God, another reveres Lucifer in the form of a peacock. These religions represent the last vestiges of the magnificent civilizations in ancient history….Fomer diplomat Gerard Russell ventures where these mysterious religions still cling to survival.

The Monuments of Syria (1992 & 2010)

Ross Burns
ISBN 9781845119478

Ross Burns is an archaeologist and historian who has lived in and visited Syria frequently for over 25 years.  “… something which has long been needed and it will be used for many years to come but those visiting the ancient and medieval sites of Syria.”
Oxford Journal

My House in Damascus: An inside view of the Syrian Revolution

Diana Darke
ISBN 9781908323996 (2014)

“…written with the pace of a novel and the colour of the best travel writing… it is an eclectic but learned encyclopedia of Syrian history, of the Arabs, and their language and traditions, of Islamic art and architecture and more…”

Syria: Through Writers Eyes (2006)

Written and Edited by Marius Kociejowski
ISBN 9780907871842

For centuries visitors have responded to Syria with fascination. In these pages you will eavesdrop on William Dalrymple musing on Byzantine hermits, hear Robin Fedden on crusader castles, follow T. E. Lawrence through Aleppo and read the thoughts of Edward Gibbon, Hester Stanhope and Gertrude Bell amongst the ruins in Palmyra.


The Syrian Jihad: Al-Qaeda, The Islamic State and the Evolution of an Insurgency

Charles R Lister
ISBN 9781849045902 (2015)

“There can be few people better qualified than Charles Lister to describe and explain the evolution of extremist groups in Syria and the complexities of the insurgency. He does so with great skill and authority. The Syrian Jihad is an invaluable aid to understanding what will surely be a defining conflict of our age.”
Richard Barrett


An Evil Cradling

Brian Keenan (1992)

“There may have been more important books than Brian Keenen’s An Evil Cradling, but its thoughtfulness and delicacy of feeling are unforgettable. Four years of savage captivity in Lebanon have been transmuted into understanding, not bitterness: a remarkable achievement.”
John Simpson

The ISIS Hostage

Puk Damsgard
ISBN 9781786490568 (2016)

Published originally in Denmark with the title Can You See the Moon Daniel, this is Daniel Rye’s story of his time held hostage.