5 Best Books About Cambodia

I have, of course, written a book about Cambodia, and I have an abiding interest in this amazing place. And this is not just a recent interest. I have tried to read most of the new books about Cambodia since my first visit there in 1996, and so have managed to cover quite a lot of literary space in that time. And books about Cambodia fill up a pretty large chunk in my library.

As more and more Australians visit Cambodia, there is a growing interest in Cambodian history and culture. Some years ago I was most privileged to have a prominent Australian publisher ask me to recommend my favourite books on Cambodia, as he was going there soon on a holiday and wanted to learn more.

So I thought I'd share my list with you, in case you were planning your own trip, or simply wanted to know more about one of the world's most beautiful places:

5 Best Books About Cambodia

1. The Gate by Francois Bizot - An absolutely amazing book, you couldn't read a better account of the fall of Phnom Penh and the early days of the Pol Pot era. Bizot is a French academic (a world expert in Cambodian Buddhism) and was trapped in Phnom Penh when Pol Pot entered - his survival is a miracle. I can't overstate what an incredible book this is. Whenever I recommend it to anyone they always come back to me soon after thanking me for introducing it to them.


2. Phnom Penh: A Cultural History by Milton Osborne - Osborne is an Australian and one of the world's leading experts on Cambodia. Osborne has known Cambodia sine the 1960s and has a profound understanding of a country he has seen in many different sets of conditions. A beautiful writer with a vast set of references and connections he can make from his experience - I think you will really love this book, and it will help you understand the city of Phnom Penh so well.

Cambodian Buddhism: History and Practice by Ian Harris - It's quite readable and utterly fascinating. Points out how unique Cambodian Theravada Buddhism is, and how different from the Thai forms most Westerners would be familiar with. As someone who knows a little bit about Buddhism, I found much of this book completely revelatory, and it confounded the assumptions I had made about Buddhist teaching and history in Cambodia. A specialist area, I know, but when you consider that the majority of Cambodians are Buddhist, I think this is a very valuable book to read. 

4. In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner - This justly praised novel of the Pol Pot years is a tremendous read, and one that would be of great interest to anyone who plans on visiting Cambodia, or who has been and wants to know more.  Ratner is herself a survivor of these years, and now lives in America. 

5. Angkor: Cities and Temples by Claude Jacques and Michael Freeman - I have owned this book for years, and it is still my go-to book for all matters Angkorean. Exquisitely illustrated, this is the book you deserve if you have any interest at all in the antique civilisations of Cambodia. Huge, beautiful and completely engrossing.

Plus two extras:

- The Gods Drink Whiskey by Stephen T. Asma - Not just about Cambodia, this travel book is still filled with excellent information about Cambodia, and is a great read to boot.


First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung - There are any number of books about the despair of the Pol Pot times. I have read dozens of them, but this is by far the best. And don't be put off by the hype - I have been championing this book ever since it came out. Angelina Jolie focused on it for very good reason

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Andy Brouwer said…
Look forward to hearing more about your book on Cambodia. Please keep me in the loop.
Andy Brouwer
Walter Mason said…
Oh Andy - how lovely to hear from you! Congratulations on your lovely book.
Unknown said…
Fantastic reading list. So excited to read your new work, Walter!
Anonymous said…
Thanks for posting this list. Planning a trip to Cambodia and googled 'best books on Cambodia' and got your list. Have ordered most! Cheers. Francesca
khmerbird said…
I made another list about fiction books that might give imaginations to the readers before they visit Cambodia for the first time.

If someone is interested in reading more books about Cambodia, check out my article: http://www.khmerbird.com/book/books-about-cambodia.html

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