I've never written a real book review before, and I see no reason to start now, but I do want to pass on a wonderful book recommendation for anyone looking for something to read: The Home That Was Our Country, by Alia Malek.
Alia Malek is the daughter of Syrian immigrants to the US. In 2011, as the Arab Spring began, she moved to Damascus to reclaim and restore her beloved grandmother's apartment. Her book combines her own personal experiences and family history with considerable historical and political background on Syria. This made it an easy, enjoyable read. I don't want to criticize books on history or politics that lack personal stories, exactly, but those sometimes require concentration that I just don't have with everything else going on in my life. I was able to mostly read this book on buses and trains, and it made my time in transit seem to go much faster!
Of course, one of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much is that I spent a year in Syria. I loved reading about some of the places I'd been and the cultural practices that I'd observed. But I think anyone who has been following the current situation in Syria would find this book valuable. It demonstrates very charming aspects of Syria, without glossing over the terrible things that have happened there (Alia Malek even provides details about how her own extended family was affected by the human rights abuses there long before 2011). She also provides a insights about both contributing factors to the current situation and trajectories the country may be on. Best of all, Malek tells stories of Syrians who have tried, often at great risk to themselves, to improve the situation in their country. For a variety of reasons, such stories are not often covered in the mainstream news, but I think it's very important that people know about them.