There is a wealth of reading about Cambodia, although not all of it is easy to find outside Asia. Many of the books below are available as photocopies in markets in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, or as originals in good bookstores in Thailand (Asia Books, Bookazine, Kinokuniya). Publishers can vary according to the country of printing and the edition, so we have not listed publisher details. Many titles focus on the Indochina War years or on the Pol Pot era; it is much harder to find good titles on other themes. A selection of our favourite/ recommended titles is as follows:
Guide books and the temples
- ‘The Rough Guide to Cambodia’, by Rough Guide Publications – This is the pick of the guidebooks on Cambodia, however the current 2002 edition is somewhat out of date in the eating and sightseeing sections. Full of relevant detail, good coverage of history and destinations, and easy-to-read maps.
- ‘Angkor, an Introduction to the Temples’ (Odyssey), by Dawn Rooney – Excellent lead-in to the wonderful temples and to ancient Khmer history. Several brief but illuminating pages on each main temple, with good colour photos.
- ‘National Geographic, May 1982’ – A series of interesting articles on Cambodia which researched the effects of the Khmer Rouge occupation on the temples of Angkor.
- ‘A Dragon Apparent, Travels in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam’, by Norman Lewis – This doyen of British travel writing writes lucidly and with perception of his travels in Indochina, at the end of the colonial era in the late 1950s. A classic.
- ‘Culture Shock Cambodia (A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette)’, by Peter North – The much-awaited Cambodia version in the ‘Culture Shock’ series contains practical information on the defining characteristics of Cambodian social norms and society. Highly recommended for responsible travellers who want more than just a surface understanding of a unique and complex culture.
- ‘The Khmers’, by Solange Thierry – Written by the former curator of the National Museum in Phnom Penh, this is an academic read explaining the roots of the Khmer people, with particular reference to Indian and Chinese influences.
The war years (and the Khmer Rouge period)
- ‘Cambodia, Report from a Stricken Land’, by Henry Kamm – Based on the author’s career experiences as a journalist in Cambodia from the 1970’s, and numerous interviews with Khmer Rouge leaders and Norodom Sihanouk. The book provides a concise account of the steps leading up to the rise to power of the Khmer Rouge, and its four year reign. Harsh words from the author about the inaction of the international community during these times, and about the refugee era created in the aftermath of the 1979 Vietnamese invasion.
- ‘Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia’, by William Shawcross – Brilliant, comprehensive and highly controversial account of the USA’s complicated role in Cambodian political and military affairs in the 1960s and 70s. Heavy reading; best suited to those with a serious interest in international affairs and politics.
- ‘First They Killed My Father’, by Loung Ung – One of the better of a series of moving books about surviving the killing fields war years.
- ‘Stay Alive My Son’ by Pin Yathay – In a similar vein to ‘First They Killed my Father, this is remarkable story of survival, cunning and human spirit in the face of incredible odds and massive personal loss.
- ‘The Gate’, by Francoise Bizot – True story of Francois Bizot, the French ethnologist who was captured and imprisoned by the Khmer Rouge. Eerie recounts of the author’s interrogation sessions with Comrade Duch, the man who would later become the head of notorious Tuol Sleng concentration camp.
- ‘One Step Beyond’ by Chris Moon – Autobiography by young British man who worked in Cambodia in the early 1990s as a de-miner, survived kidnapping by the Khmer Rouge, lost two limbs in a landmine accident in Mozambique, then went on to run the London marathon. Inspirational.
The foreign aid industry
- ‘The Quality of Mercy’ by William Shawcross – Masterful account of international donor efforts to assist distraught Cambodia (and its massive border refugee population) in the post Pol Pot years. Very detailed and heavy, a stark commentary on the competing efforts of large aid organizations for global kudos.
- ‘A Brief History of Cambodia’, by David Chandler – A heavy but highly detailed read for the person with an avid or academic interest in Cambodian history, from its early beginnings to the present. Consider reading the chapter on Jayavarman VII (the ‘temple builder’) in isolation from the rest of the book, for a good overview of arguably the most significant of Angkor’s kings.
- ‘A Short History of Cambodia’, by John Tully – This hot of the press account of Cambodian history is far easier to read than Chandler’s seminal work, yet gives good, concise coverage of matters ancient and recent comprising Khmer history.
- ‘Brother Enemy, The War After the War’ by Nayan Chanda – seminal book detailing the history of Indochina since 1975 (the fall of Saigon) with reference to the historic antipathies between Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand. This is a hard read which perhaps better falls under the heading of ‘Indochina politics’.
- ‘Sihanouk, Prince of Light, Prince of Darkness’, by Milton Osborne – Milton Osborne is one of the best and easiest to read writers on Indochina and Cambodia. Osborne lived in Phnom Penh from the late 1950s and used his societal contacts and other research sources to prepare this frank account of the enigmatic and ultimately self-centric Sihanouk. Osborne has written many books on Cambodia which are well worth reading.
- ‘Gecko Tales’, by Carol Livingston – A fine and humorous read based on the author’s experience covering the United Nation’s supervision of elections in the early 1990s. Some astute comments about the role and effectiveness of the United Nations and its administrative, military, and support personnel.
- ‘River of Time’, by Jon Swain – One of the best introductory reads into the trauma of the Indochina war era. Swain writes of his personal experiences as a journalist and resident in Phnom Penh and Vietnam, and recounts some soul destroying stories from Cambodia’s lost decade, the 1970s. He was one of the last foreigners to evacuate Phnom Penh in 1975, from the grounds of the French embassy.