Syria: A Recent History

Syria A Recent History Book John McHugo


Syria’s descent into civil war has already claimed an estimated 200,000 lives while more than nine million people have fled their homes. This is now the greatest humanitarian and political crisis of the twenty-first century.

In this timely account, John McHugo charts the history of Syria from the First World War to the present and considers why Syria’s foundations as a nation have proved so fragile. He examines the country’s thwarted attempts at independence under French rule before turning to more recent events: sectarian tensions, the pressures of international conflicts, two generations of rule by the Assads and the rise of ISIS.

As the conflict in Syria rages on, McHugo provides a rare and authoritative guide to a complex nation that demands our attention.

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In the USA and Canada, it is published by The New Press under the title Syria: A History of the Last Hundred Years:






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Read the reviews of Syria: A Recent History:

‘Enlightening’ —Robert Fisk, The Independent

‘Tells us with inspirational force how the Syrians have found the ability to speak out’ —Times Literary Supplement

‘[Provides] a real insight into the political fragility that underpins much of what caused the current civil war … Remarkably prescient … At the very start of this enlightening read, McHugo makes the point that to the English-speaking world, Syria is a far off country which relatively few people have made a serious effort to understand. In writing this insightful and timely book, he has gone some considerable way to rectifying this neglect’ —The Sunday Herald

‘An elegantly written popular history … A work of great ambition, with a coherent chronological narrative … Should be recommended reading for undergraduates, policy-makers and interested members of the public who wish to learn how Syria’s different communities are shaping the current civil war and are likely to be shaped by it. [It asserts] innovative rubrics for processing the myriad horrific details which reach us daily from Syria’s battlefields’ —International Affairs

‘well-written and easy to read…the book’s approachable style and balance of political, diplomatic, military and social history make it a valuable introductory history of Syria, as well as a concise explanation of today’s civil war’ — Middle East Policy

‘Anyone with any interest in Middle Eastern history and politics must read Syria. There was a need for an accessible guide to the past century of history, which this admirably provides’ —Geographical Magazine

‘…explains the sectarian faultlines that led to the present war. McHugo does not prophesise or offer simplistic solutions’ —The Tablet

‘[A] very timely modern history of Syria … McHugo provides the reader with a high level of sound analysis … The book is written both with academic scrutiny and with the empathy of an individual who cares greatly for his area of study’ —Journal of Peace Research

‘A must-read for those who seek an informed opinion about Syria’s civil war, far removed from propaganda and bias’ —Jordan Times

‘Scholarly but accessible and of much interest to those with an eye on geopolitical matters’ —Kirkus

‘Fascinating and timely, admirably written with original vision’ —Nikolaos van Dam, author of The Struggle for Power in Syria: Politics and Society under Asad and the Ba’th Party 

‘A most welcome addition to the growing body of literature on Syria … The author expertly weaves the repercussions of a century of regional and international interference in Syrian affairs into his narrative of cause and effect regarding the tumultuous events of recent years’ —David W. Lesch, author of Syria: The Fall of the House of Assad

‘An engagingly written primer that is essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand the roots of that country s ongoing agony … [McHugo’s] last chapter, in which he dissects sectarianism in Syria and the possible outcomes of the civil war, should be required reading for all who mistakenly believe that tribalism and primordial hatreds are the key drivers of Middle Eastern politics’ —James L. Gelvin, author of The Arab Uprisings: What Everyone Needs to Know

‘McHugo uncovers uncanny parallels between the pacification strategies of the French in the 1920s and the Bashar al-Assad regime today, exposing the continuous role of violence in the region’s (flawed) state formation’ —Raymond Hinnebusch, Centre for Syrian Studies, University of St Andrews

‘A fluent introduction to Syria’s recent past, this book provides the backstory to the country’s collapse into brutal civil conflict’ —Andrew Arsan, St John’s College, University of Cambridge


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