A Recent History

9780863561603 March 2015 Paperback 304pp 5 Maps

About the Book

Syria’s descent into chaos since 2011 has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, while more than nine million people have fled their homes. In this timely account, John McHugo charts the history of Syria from the First World War to the present and considers why Syria’s foundations as a nation have proved so fragile. He examines the country’s thwarted attempts at independence under French rule before turning to more recent events: two generations of rule by the Assad family, sectarian tensions, the pressures that turned an aborted revolution into a proxy war, and the appearance of ISIS. As the conflict in Syria rages on, McHugo provides a rare and authoritative guide to a complex nation that demands our attention.

About the Author

After studying Arabic and Islamic studies at Oxford University and the American University in Cairo in the early 1970s, John McHugo’s career as an international lawyer took him to a number of Arab countries including Egypt, Oman and Bahrain over a period of more than a quarter of a century. He is an honorary Senior Fellow at the Centre for Syrian Studies at St Andrews, and a board member of the Council for Arab-British Understanding and the British Egyptian Society. He has also written on legal aspects of the Arab-Israeli dispute and advised Tim Farron, when he was leader of the Liberal Democrats, on Palestinian issues. His publications include A Concise History of Sunnis and Shi‘is, A Concise History of the Arabs and Syria: A Recent History.

→ Author Website


Robert Fisk, Independent

‘[Provides] a real insight into the political fragility that underpins much of what caused the current civil war … Remarkably prescient.’
Sunday Herald

‘A most welcome addition to the growing body of literature on Syria’
David W. Lesch, author of Syria: The Fall of the House of Assad

‘An engagingly written primer that is essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand the roots of that country’s ongoing agony’
James L. Gelvin, author of The Arab Uprisings: What Everyone Needs to Know

‘[A] very timely modern history of Syria … McHugo provides the reader with a high level of sound analysis … The book is written both with academic scrutiny and with the empathy of an individual who cares greatly for his area of study’
Journal of Peace Research

‘McHugo uncovers uncanny parallels between the pacification strategies of the French in the 1920s and the Bashar al-Assad regime today, exposing the continuous role of violence in the region’s (flawed) state formation.’
Raymond Hinnebusch, Centre for Syrian Studies, University of St Andrews

‘A fluent introduction to Syria’s recent past, this book provides the backstory to the country’s collapse into brutal civil conflict’
Andrew Arsan, St John’s College, University of Cambridge

‘A fascinating and timely study, admirably written with original vision … a pleasure to read for both experts and a wider audience’
Nikolaos van Dam, author of The Struggle for Power in Syria

'A work of great ambition … Should be recommended reading for undergraduates, policy-makers and interested members of the public who wish to learn how Syria’s different communities are shaping the current civil war and are likely to be shaped by it.’
International Affairs

'Anyone with any interest in Middle Eastern history and politics must read Syria. There was a need for an accessible guide to the past century of history, which this admirably provides.'
Geographical Magazine