10 Must-Read Books about Cambodian History

The first step to understand this beautiful country is by starting to learn more about Khmer history, culture, and arts. From the glorious Angkor era to the year zero or genocide, these selected English-language books about the history of Cambodia will help you grasp a sense of the people, culture, and politics through the chronicled timeline.

Here’s a list of selected books to get an in-depth understanding of beauty and darkness of Cambodian past.

A List of 10 Must-Read Books about the History of Cambodia

1. First They Killed My Father

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Top of the list is the Loung Ung’s First They Killed My Father. The Cambodian-born American author wrote this non-fiction book that was later adopted as a film, directed by filmmaker Angelina Jolie. This personal story of the author touches the heart and soul of most readers, while also guides us through what it’s like to survive the Khmer Rouge period as a little.

2. A History of Cambodia

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David P. Chandler is one of the most regarded historians of Cambodia. This well-researched book examines the death of Pol Pot, the fall of the Khmer Rouge, and the Vietnamese invasion of 1979. However, it’s his remarkable analysis of the country and its politics that resonates with most of Cambodia’s scholars and researchers.

3. When The War Was Over: Cambodia And The Khmer Rouge Revolution

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Veteran journalist Elizabeth Becker covered Cambodia and Southeast Asia for the Washington Post back in the 1970s. This book about a modern history of Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge gives you an insight into the country during the internal conflicts as witnessed by a foreign correspondent.

4. A Short History of Cambodia: From Empire to Survival (A Short History of Asia series)

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This is one of the most readable history books about the strange tragedy of Cambodia. Through this book, by John Tully, you’ll get the balance of ancient and modern history. The author’s coverage of the post-World War II is helpful. It helps most people to understand the importance of Southeast Asia in the Cold War apart from the U.S. War in Vietnam. John Tully’s observations and impressions are compelling.

5. Cambodia’s Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land

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When this Joel Brinkley’s book was first released, it’s often criticized for factual errors. However, if you’re fascinated by the modern history of Cambodia, you cannot really skip this book with an interesting, catchy title.

6. Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare

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Philip Short the author offers readers through the lens of French. Well written and researched into a horrible period of Cambodia’s history, the book Pol Pol: Anatomy of a Nightmare is a good read with historical background. You’d gain insight of Saloth Sar, his childhood, youth years and his final way to total power.

7. Haing Ngor: A Cambodian Odyssey

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The Cambodian author Haing Ngor (also know as Dith Pran in the ‘Killing Fields’ movie tells the world about struggling story of surviving the Khmer Rouge. Haing Ngor’s personal story is human survival (from the genocide) and triumph. Haing Ngor was murdered in LA in 1996.

  • by Haing Ngor (Author), Roger Warner (Author)
  • Hardcover – February 2, 1988

8. The Khmer Kings and the History of Cambodia: BOOK I – 1st Century to 1595: Funan, Chenla, Angkor and Longvek Periods

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This is one of several books about Cambodian kings. Before this book, The Khmer Kings and History of Cambodia, the author’s work has appeared online: “The Last Khmer God-King” (Phnom Penh Post, October 2012); “Yuon: What’s in a Xenonym” (Phnom Penh Post, February 2010); Preah Khan Reach and the Genealogy of Khmer Kings (2008).

  • by Kenneth T. So (Author)
  • Paperback – November 1, 2017

9. The Khmer Rouge: The Notorious History and Legacy of the Communist Regime that Ruled Cambodia in the 1970s

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  • Charles River Editors (Author)
  • Kindle edition – October 1, 2018

10. Soul Survivors – Stories of Women and Children in Cambodia

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The most fascinating read in this book is the personal stories of a dozen of Cambodian survivors who told how they survived and thrived after the Khmer Rouge regime.

  • Bhavia C. Wagner (Author), Valentina DuBasky (Photographer)
  • Paperback – July 20, 2008

Good to Know

The modern history of Cambodia will continue to capture the attention of the world. This list offers a variety of views authors of these books who have spent years in Cambodia. In addition to some selected books about history of Cambodia, this list also features books on Cambodian genocide, Khmer Rouge, and the tragedy of Cambodian history.


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