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The Gates of Damascus by Lieve Joris gives a unique insight into everyday life in Syria. This book is part of Lonely Planet's Journeys series of travel literature.Lady Gertrude Lowthian Bell was travelling the Middle East when most of her contemporaries were crocheting doilies. Syria - the Desert & the Sown is her quirky account of Syria before WWI.Syria - 1945-1986 by Derek Hopwood casts a cursory glance over recent Syrian history and gives a pretty nice summary.If you want to feel guilty about going there, try Syria Unmasked, put together by the Middle East Watch, which gives a damning account of the country's human rights record.Zenobia: Empress of the East by Glenn Barnett is a pretty good primer for a visit to Palmyra.

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