Burma Book Recommendations

There are plenty of great books about Myanmar (formerly Burma) – here’s a few that I’ve enjoyed and inspired my recent visit

This is a very subjective selection of books about Burma that I’ve read and enjoyed. It’s definitely not an exhaustive or definitive collection by any means and much of it is personal travelogue rather than bona fide history. Because most of these books are personal accounts, however, they give a real feel for the country, and if some of them don’t tackle the trials of recent Burmese poltics directly, they show indirectly how the current military regime impacts on every aspect of daily life. There’s a lot more to Myanmar and its people than the current misery of their political situation, and several of these books celebrate the unique aspects of Burmese culture and history, especially Bagan, the Burmese answer to Angkor Wat.

I’d personally like to read a historical account of the last 100 years in Burma, since the British left through to now. If anyone has recommendations for a good Burma history book – or any good Burma books – do leave a comment.


Land Of A Thousand Eyes


Land Of A Thousand Eyes
Peter Olszewski’s witty, insightful account of a year spent living in Myanmar working with local journalists which focuses on everyday life amongst the Burmese. Read my full length review of Land Of A Thousand Eyes
[Buy from Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk]


From The Land Of Green Ghosts


From The Land Of Green Ghosts
A story so improbable it can only be true – here’s the summary on Amazon: “Pascal Khoo Thwe, born in 1967, debuts with a remarkable portrait of his childhood in Phekhon, “the only Catholic town in Burma,” among the Padaung people, a subtribe of the Karenni “known for what outsiders call our `giraffe women’ because of their necks being elongated by rings.”

Modernity seeps into Phekhon slowly-only in 1977 did the locals learn, along with news of Elvis’s death, that Americans had landed on the moon. The Catholic and animist fables that the author and his 10 siblings live by would be the emblems of a fairy tale life were it not for the violence and economic crises of the dictatorship of General U Ne Win. Khoo Thwe enters Mandalay University during the years when thousands of student activists were killed or imprisoned by the government.

A charismatic student organizer, he is forced in 1988 to flee with fellow students to the jungles on the border of Thailand, where a stay with a Karenni rebel group makes him realize they too were “more interested in claiming leadership than in actually giving lead.”

But while a student, the author, working as a waiter, met John Casey, a Cambridge don who organized a miraculous rescue of the young man. Khoo Thwe’s story ends with his studying English literature at Caius College, Cambridge. It is a heartbreaking tale-he is not able to return to Burma and only meets his family at the Thai border for a few hours years later-told with lyricism, affection and insight”

I’d say that Khoo Thwe’s story itself is not only remarkable, but his writing itself is spectacular – lyrical, potent, unsentimental and very funny in places too. Through English being his second language, Pascal Khoo Thwe seems to have unlocked the power of English prose better than most native English writers can manage.
[Buy from Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk]


Restless Souls


Restless Souls
Phil Thornton’s bleak, brilliant account of the longest civil war in history that still rages on between the Myanmar government and the Karen tribe, who have been displaced into the jungle on the Thai-Burma border through state brutality. Thornton is an Australian journalist based in Thailand who kept seeing Burmese refugees coming across the border and decided to investigate why: this book is the result of 5 years of interviews and research into a forgotten war. Read my full length review of Restless Souls
[Not available on Amazon]


Secret Histories Emma Larkin Finding George Orwell In Burma


Secret Histories
The book that kickstarted my interest in Burma, Secret Histories (published as Finding George Orwell in Burma in the USA) is Emma Larkin’s attempt to revisit each of the places the writer George Orwell lived in during the five years he served with the British Army in Burma. Larkin describes how Myanmar has become the living embodiment of another of Orwell’s books – the totalitarian, hyper surveillance nightmare of 1984. Part travelogue, part history, part literary biography, Secret Histories does a brilliant job of weaving together Larkin’s own experience of Burma with that of Orwell’s and gives genuine insight into the lives of the ever hopeful Burmese who are waiting for their nightmare to end. Read my full length review of Secret Histories
[Buy from Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk]


George Orwell Burmese Days


Burmese Days
George Orwell’s first novel, which draws heavily on his five years spent in Burma when it was still a British colony. It’s a brilliant, vicious portrait of the arrogance of the British Empire at its peak, and conveys much of Orwell’s real life disillusionment with colonialism. Indeed, it’s said that witnessing so much cruelty and stupidity by the British in Burma was what drove him to become a writer.
[Buy from Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk]


Ancient Pagan


Ancient Pagan
This is an absolutely beautiful book, with breathtaking photos and very well written text that combines astute knowledge of Bagan’s ancient temples (Bagan was known as Pagan originally) with a practical breakdown of each temple’s highlights, along with lots of useful photos and location maps too. It’s an essential guide if you want to understand more about the temples
[Buy from Amazon.com | Not available on Amazon.co.uk]


Lonely Planet Myanmar


Lonely Planet Myanmar
Not much competition in the guidebook field against Lonely Planet as Rough Guide refuse to publish one – but LP Myanmar is one of LP’s better produced guides, compact, well-written and accurate. The Bagan and Yangon maps were particularly good, although they could definitely do with more photos of the Bagan temples to help work out which ones you want to go and see. The book begins with a 20 page discussion of the pros and cons of whether you should visit Myanmar at all in the face of international sanctions – naturally, the LP’s conclusion is yes, but it’s a very balanced take on political issues at work and a good summary of the situation.
[Buy from Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk]



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