The Syrian Rebellion - Fouad Ajami Not quite what I was hoping for, in that it's mostly focused on the current (well, as of a year ago) conflict rather than the background. Very much a first draft of history. Still, the early chapters help give an overview of who-against-who and the basic beats of 20th century Syrian history and geopolitics.

Kind of weirdly, to my mind, Ajami often dips into a sort of melodramatic speaking-to-posterity tone (complete with poetically mixed up tenses - "history moved with velocity nowadays. This dynastic inheritance in Syria was not destined to survive the second generation.*") like he's narrating a goddamned play. This wore out its welcome pretty fast.

Anyway, further reading definitely required.

*Who said Ibn Khaldun and didn't get any?