Books on Myanmar: What to Read Before Visiting Myanmar

May 28, 2018Books, Myanmar

If you’re looking to read up on Myanmar before your trip, here’s a list of 13 books on Myanmar that I read before and during my trip. I’ve ranked them in order from my favorite (#1)  to my least favorite (#13) books. If you have only time for two books on Myanmar, then read The Glass Palace and The River of Lost Footsteps. Both of them I feel really get to the heart of the country. If you’re not planning o visit this amazing country (but you really should), most of these books are really great reads anyway!

If you’re interested in how to travel around Myanmar, check out my 4-week itinerary here and the 2-week itinerary here.

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1. The Glass Palace – By Amitav Ghosh

Of all the books on Myanmar, The Glass Palace is my ultimate favorite. If you’re more into fiction, read this one first. It’s a historical novel that follows an Indian-Burmese family from when the British invaded Burma and overthrew their king to the post-WWII period. If you really want to understand why Burma is the way it is today, then read The Glass Palace. The Rohingya were not the first group of people driven out of Myanmar.

2. The River of Lost Footsteps by Thant Myint-U

It was really hard choosing which of the 13 books on Myanmar to be #1. The River of Lost Footsteps lost out by a hair. It was so close that I should really call this my #1.5 favorite book on Myanmar. But if you’re really more into non-fiction, start with The River of Lost Footsteps. The author tells the story of his family by telling the history of his own Burma.  The author is the grandson of U-Thant, the Secretary-General of the United Nations in the 1960s. The author really understands Burma.

3. Myanmar: The Temples of Bagan

I put Myanmar: The Temples of Bagan in the #3 position on my best books on Myanmar list because it was so valuable for me while traveling around Bagan. You can skip it if you’re not traveling there or if you’re not that into temple hopping. Get the Kindle version so you can carry it with you while walking through the dimly-lit temples.

Check out my post here on how to make the most of your time temple hopping around Bagan.

4. Burmese: An Introduction to the Spoken Language Book 1 – by John Okell

I love learning languages and so every time I visit a new country I try to learn the language of that country. But learning languages on your own with a book and audio isn’t usually very successful. However, Burmese: An Introduction to the Spoken Language Book 1 was pretty good. They had a lot of interactive exercises to help you remember new words, expressions, and pronunciation. You can also download the audio from online.

5. The Trouser People: Burma in the Shadows of the Empire – by Andrew Marshall

#5 on my best books in Myanmar list is The Trouser People. I really loved this book. It felt like the author really understood Myanmar. Marshall retraces Victorian adventurer, Sir George Scott’s travels through Myanmar’s remote tribal areas. I learned tons about the different minority groups like the Shan, Akha, Wa, etc.

6. Burma’s Spring – by Rosalind Russell

Surprisingly, Burma’s Spring was another one of my favorite books on Myanmar. Despite being only a journalist and probably not fluent in the language, the author has lots of valuable insights into the country. There’s an interesting chapter on Buddhist extremism that might help you understand better the Burmese attitude toward the Rohingya. Russell was also there during the Saffron Revolution and chronicles her time there.

7. Burmese Days – by George Orwell

If you want to read about what it was like in Burma under the British were, then Burmese Days is a very good book on Myanmar. It’s good from a historical point of view.

8. Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia – by Thant Myint-U

I loved Thant Myint-U’s first book on Myanmar listed at #1. Where China Meets India was just as informative, but I thought it lacked a clear focus. It has the country, India, in its title but it’s barely mentioned in the book. In addition, this was the last book I had read on Myanmar, so much of what was in it was not new.

9. Finding George Orwell in Burma – by Emma Larkin

Finding George Orwell in Burma gets such high ratings on Amazon. I don’t get it. I wasn’t really all that impressed. It’s ok, but there are better books on Myanmar out there. And the Kindle version is US$14.99! Crazy. It definitely wasn’t one of my favorite books on Myanmar. However, many people seem to like it. To each his or her own.

10. Burma: Rivers of Flavor – by Naomi Duguid

Burma: Rivers of Flavor is a pretty good cookbook. I’ve had some success cooking from it. If you want a book on Myanmar food, then this is a good start.

11. Miss Burma – by Charmaine Craig

I have mixed feelings about Miss Burma. On the one hand, I learned a lot about Myanmar and the Karen ethnic group. On the other hand, it wasn’t well written, so it was hard to get through it at times. There aren’t that many fiction books on Myanmar, so you sometimes need to take what you can get.

12. The Art of Hearing Heartbeats – by Jan-Philipp Sendeker

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats was just too sappy for me, but it has lots of good reviews on Amazon. It’s about an American woman whose Burmese father disappears. She traces his life story back to Burma where she uncovers a story of heartbreak and lost love. It’s ok. I can’t really go higher than #12 on my best books on Myanmar list.

13. The Piano Tuner – by Daniel Mason

The Piano Tuner was the one book on Myanmar that I didn’t finish. It’s just not well-written. It takes place during the British colonial empire in Burma and is about a British piano tuner who is sent by the British government to a remote part of Burma to tune a piano.

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These are the books on Myanmar / Burma that I read. There are other books out there, especially recently there have been a slough of books on the Rohingya, which I haven’t read. What do you think of my list? Have you read any of these? Do you have any other recommendations?

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