Our selection of the best works to familiarise yourself with the history of the deep-rooted tension between the Alawite sect and the majority Sunni population.
Required reading: The Syrian conflict
Bashar Al Assad's crackdown against the Syrian opposition continues, but the Assad regime is on the brink of collapse, according to Mohammed Al Zobi, the Syrian general who defected in May.
It is estimated that more than 20,000 have died since violence began in March last year. Now, Assad is reportedly preparing to strike again against the Free Syrian Army, which has taken control of the north and east of the country. It's a complex and febrile situation, informed by deep-rooted tension between the Alawite sect that makes up the Assad regime elite and the majority Sunni population. As ever, a selection of the best reading can help.
• For an introduction to Syria and the Assad regime, turn first to Patrick Seale's Asad: The Struggle for the Middle East. Here you'll learn about the 1970 Ba'ath party coup that brought Al Assad's father, Hafez, to power. Hafez came from a poor Alawite family: his dictatorship meant the establishment of an Alawite stranglehold over Syria. When he died in 2000, his son inherited autocratic control.
• Read The Struggle for Power in Syria by Nikolas van Dam to see how this apparently mild-mannered ophthalmologist - he trained in London has held Syria's patchwork of religious and tribal loyalties together. Initial hopes that Al Assad would push Syria towards democracy faded years ago. Now, of course, they appear regrettably naive.
• Today, Syria's population faces a campaign of state violence that has shocked the world. See Revolt in Syria: Eye Witness to the Uprising by Stephen Starr to hear the voices of those determined to banish the Assad regime and those determined simply to survive.
• Finally, let one of Syria's most eloquent sons remind you of the country's ancient literary heritage. Adonis, considered the most important living Arab poet, recently published the first English-language survey of his work, Adonis: Selected Poems (Yale University Press, Dh130).