Must-Read Books about Cambodia in 2020

Are you falling in love with Cambodia? What’s a better way to delve deep into a country as fascinating as this once a glorious and war-torn country? From Angkor era to the Khmer Rouge, there are countless books about this beautiful nation. Are you going to visit Angkor Wat or are you interested in history and archaeology? If you’re planning to travel to Cambodia to visit Angkor Wat, you may have read news, reviews, and travel guides on the web. You may have been amazed and fascinated by this wonder of the world.

Best Buddha Statues to Have at Home

In this essence, these recommended books about Cambodia and Khmer will help you to learn more about:

  • Cambodia as a nation with glorious and dark past (the Cambodian genocide), and its future
  • the culture, language, and Khmer people of resiliency, and cooking
  • the Cambodian politics in old and modern times

A List of Must-Read Books about Cambodia (2020)

Recommended 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. If you’re passionate about Cambodian history, here’s a list of selected books to get an in-depth understanding of beauty and darkness of Cambodian past.

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

11. Why Vietnam Invaded Cambodia: Political Culture and the Causes of War

This book is the first comprehensive, scholarly analysis of the causes of the Vietnamese invasion. At its core are two separate but related histories covering the years 1930 to 1978.

12. To Destroy You Is No Loss: The Odyssey of a Cambodian Family Updated Edition

Must-Read Books about Angkor Wat History

Are you planning to spend a great time in Siem Reap? What’s a better way to delve deep into the ancient time of Angkor? Built in the 12th century, the grand, complex architecture is an expression of Khmer civilization and one of the planet’s largest religious monuments.

Many centuries later, Angkor Wat temple and its rich history still and will continue to amaze the travelers, tourists, historians, and researchers from all over the world. This is a list of recommended books about Angkor Wat you should read before visiting Cambodia. Get one of the books from our list of 10 best Angkor Wat History books. You should read some of these Angkor Wat history and guide books.Angkor Wat History Books

1. Angkor Wat: The History and Legacy of the World’s Largest Hindu Temple

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Did not realize that the Angkor Wat Temple complex was Hindu? This book centers around the architecture of the temples that were influenced by Hindu and Buddhist religion.

What elaborated about the architecture and building may be hard to follow. But the featured photographs make this book very worthwhile.

  • Published: December 19, 2017
  • Charles River Editors (Author)

2. Angkor: Cambodia’s Wondrous Khmer Temples

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If you’re interested in detailed monument-by-monument itineraries and maps to the temple sites, this is one of the few books you should read.

In some way, this book is like the bible for any visit to the temples, including the best restaurant tips. This book is the must-have guide to Angkor Wat!

  • by Dawn Rooney (Author), Magnus Bartlett (Photographer), Peter Danford (Photographer)
  • Fifth edition (July 29, 2005)

3. Angkor Wat: Time, Space, and Kingship

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This is one of the most insightful, scholarly, unorthodox, and well written books about ancient Angkor for most people.

The 360 pages detailed the principles of 12th-century Khmer temple architecture. Therefore, it’s not highly recommended for the travelers and backpackers because it is dauntingly technical.

  • Published: 2000
  • by Eleanor Mannikka

4. Khmer Mythology: Secrets of Angkor

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This books explains the mixed Hindu and Khmer myths that lie behind the carved reliefs at Angkor Wat. The Khmer Mythology: Secrets of Angkor is one of a few excellent books on Khmer mythology.

The book discusses the rulers, Buddhist and Hindu interplay, and outstanding description of individual ruins. You’d find it quite helpful if you are traveling to Siem Reap and want to read up on what you will be seeing.

  • Published: May 1, 1998
  • Vittorio Roveda (Author)

5. Sacred Angkor: The Carved Reliefs of Angkor Wat

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For those who are fascinated by the magnificent carvings of the long galleries, the corner pavilions, pediments, lintels, this is another excellent book on this particular subject.

  • Published: 2007
  • Vittorio Roveda (Author)

6. A Dragon Apparent: Travels in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam

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This is one of the must-read books for those who enjoys travel writing or anyone interested in anthropology or in the recent history of South-East Asia.

Overall, this book is both informative and entertaining for most readers.

  • Published: December 19, 2003
  • Norman Lewis (Author)

7. Ancient Angkor (River Books Guides)

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The book provides an excellent overview of the Angkor temples. If you’re heading to Cambodia and visiting the ancient Angkor, you should get this book with you.

It’s as if you’ve got a historian and a photographer as your personal guide while visiting the wonder temple of the world.

  • Published: January 16, 2009
  • by Michael Freeman (photographer) and Claude Jacques (historian)

8. A Woman of Angkor

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A Woman of Angkor book? What’s in a book title? Well, this book is wonderful work of historical fiction by John Burgess, an American author and journalist.

If you’re looking for the best way to learn about Khmer culture, then you should get this book.

  • Published: January 21, 2013
  • by John Burgess

9. Temple of a Thousand Faces

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The author wrote that “a story set nearly a thousand years ago, an empire is lost, a royal love is tested, and heroism is reborn.”

The 544 pages gives most readers a wonderful historical fiction. A good metaphor is reading this book is like really living in Ancient Cambodia.

  • February 5, 2013
  • John Shors (Author)

10. The Map of Lost Memories: A Novel

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This fiction is the author’s “quest to make the greatest archaeological discovery of the century soon becomes a quest for her family’s secrets.”

This novel about Angkor has these three elements in one: adventure, romance, and history.

  • June 18, 2013
  • Kim Fay (Author)

11. The Angkor Guidebook: Your Essential Companion to the Temples

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First time to visit Angkor Wat temple? If you’re prepping for a trip to see the real Angkor, you should consider getting this book. It’s an insider’s guide to the history of the ancient Angkor.

  • 3rd edition (2016)
  • Andrew Booth (Author)

12. Focusing on the Angkor Temples: The Guidebook

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In addition to texts, you’ll find the illustrations and detailed maps useful to guide you through the temples of Angkor. The book focuses on more than 80 ancient temples in Siem Reap.

  • 2017
  • Michel Petrotchenko (Author)

13. Angkor the Magnificent – Wonder City of Ancient Cambodia

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Incredibly, Helen Churchill Candee is a survivor of the Titanic. In 1922, she traveled to Cambodia and explored the mysterious jungle capital of the ancient Khmers before writing the book.

  • Paperback – October 1, 2010
  • by Helen Churchill Candee (Author), Kent Davis (Editor), Randy Bryan Bigham (Afterword)

Books about Cambodian Politics

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  • Seeking Justice in Cambodia

A communications specialist, Sue Coffey spent most of her time talking with prominent Cambodian human rights who are at the forefront. A rare and latest book of its kind. Check out the book author’s website.

The book author is a foreign correspondent covering Cambodia for an English newspaper in Phnom Penh for several years.

Travel Guide Books

Books about Learning Khmer Language

If you want to learn basic Khmer language (beginners), these are the selected books you you should check out.

Books about Khmer Food Cooking

If you love cooking and want to start your first Khmer dish, these recommended books are the best to start.

Fictions About Cambodia

Books about Phnom Penh

Kindling the love of reading among Khmer children in Cambodia

Aside from catching up with latest, major news stories of the day, I read my favorite tech news websites, long form stories on Medium, and some books. As a father of two kids, I always keep looking for interesting children’s books for them. At 7 years old, my son starts reading short stories in Khmer language. As most parents, we want to instill the love of reading among the young children. The National Reading Day in Cambodia happens once a year. It’s an opportunity to bring my kids to enjoy the book fair at the National Library in Phnom Penh. How to have more interesting, educational materials for the kids to read and learn day in day out?

Fortunately, I’ve got some friends in the Cambodian tech community. One of them introduced me to Khmer KorKa Kids app, which through artwork and audio, helps children learn basic Khmer alphabets, consonants, and vowels. Lately, another well-connected friend has put in the loop of an interesting initiative and rich resources of children’s books available online. On Let’s Read website, it’s easy to download some Khmer language books for my kids to read. What I really like about the online resource is the availability of both EPub (for Kindle e-reader) and PDF files for tablet for great quality, colorful illustrations.

During my spare time, I’d go the website and download some Khmer language books (ePub files) to transfer to a Kindle e-reader. This would allow my kid to have some ebooks to read during the weekend. A few things I like (and my kid may also like) about some of the books I’ve read:

  • Illustrations that come along with the text (usually short).
  • Conversational stories that feature tips and advice. For instance, in a book titled “ងូតទឹកភ្លៀង” or Rain shower, while a boy (Soley) and and a girl (Sreylam) enjoy the rain, Sreylam told Soley to be cautious after a thunderstorm not to touch any metal objects.
  • The illustrations in the books are beautifully colorful. However, I still prefer to load them on a black and white e-reader as its screen is more comfortable to read. No glare.

The future is digital. These days, kids may have much more screen time than ever before. For most parents, it’s essential to be in the know of these useful online educational resources and apps.

When I started blogging in 2004, I had to go an Internet cafe (on my way home after a full day work). Spending half a dollar for an hour on an old computer desktop, I could go online to read and write. Back then, mobile Internet like 3G was a new term and not widely accessible.

When I look back and see the contrast between then and now, I appreciate the convenience that I’ve got today. At home, I’ve got a fast Fiber internet connection. Away from home, I’m always online through my smartphone. Like most people, I use my mobile Internet for instant messaging, tweeting, and reading. What can we read when we’ve got the mobile Internet for grant everyday, every minute?

Good to Know

This list offers a variety of views authors of these books who have spent years in Cambodia. The modern history of Cambodia will continue to capture the attention of the world. 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. The recommended books will help you learn more about the history the Cambodian ancient temples across Siem Reap and other parts of Cambodia. I hope these books about the history of Angkor Wat will help you to gain more knowledge about the beautiful past of ancient Cambodia.


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