Recently on a whim I picked up a CD of Cambodian 60's rock, and reading some short biographical sketches on the singers I was struck by the vaguely deplorable fact that I knew next to nothing about Cambodia's history. John Tully's nicely readable book here was the perfect solution. It's just what it says it is, a short history, following the sweep of this fascinating country's historical development with just enough detail to be informative and memorable. From Cambodia's prehistory through the ancient Angkorean civilization, French colonialism, independence and the dramatic ups and downs of the late 20th century (monarchy, republic, and a variety of dictatorships) up until the 1993 elections and the residual social problems of the early 2000's--Tully guides the reader through the whole story in a way that makes this massive download of fact stick in the mind vividly.
Tully's prose is wonderfully straightforward even as it's enjoyably conversational in a friendly manner, evincing both the historian's cool objectivity and warm enthusiasm. His narrative is carefully balanced, even-handed, and fair in a refreshing manner; when there are unresolved debates among historians concerning points of Cambodian history, he lays out the arguments from both sides equally, and his judgments of historically significant personages often balance the good and bad judiciously in shades of gray, avoiding the strong temptation of rhetorical excess. Last but not least, he demonstrates that the good old art of academic scholars writing accessibly but reliably for curious non-specialists is not a lost one, after all.
This book is also ideal for Cambodia-bound tourists. I myself read this book while traveling within the U.S. but found the book's uncomplicated style, reasonably large print, and frequent section breaks ideal for diversionary reading while waiting in airports, riding in airplanes, or kicking back on the patio of a beach house. It's user-friendly without being dumbed-down, and in general makes for a fine introduction. And yes, all those confusing historical references make sense now, and I can listen to the tracks on Cambodian Rocks Volume 1 with a new level of appreciation.