The protests that erupted in Daraa in March 2011 catapulted the Syrian Arab Republic into the global spotlight, but the policies of the al-Assad regime have captured the world’s attention for decades. Both Bashar al-Assad and his father Hafez have autocratically presided over a state antagonistic toward its neighbors and at times brutally repressive of its citizens.
Itamar Rabinovich’s The View from Damascus aims to explain modern Syria with careful attention toward its rich and nuanced history. The text is a collection of essays written by Rabinovich over the course of his career covering the state’s colonial origins, the dynamics of its rule by a minority sect, and its foreign relations over nearly eight decades. With its incorporation of a wide variety of sources including colonial-era newspapers, party manifestos, and Israeli academics, the book’s greatest strength is its highly detailed coverage of certain issues in Syria’s colonial past. Rabinovich’s research illuminates often underappreciated points of Syrian history. For example, it delves deeply into the French priorities in the making of modern Syria and the dynamic roles of Christians and Druze.