The Impossible Revolution

Making Sense of the Syrian Tragedy

July 2017 9781849048668 312pp


Yassin al-Haj Saleh is a leftist dissident who spent sixteen years as a political prisoner and now lives in exile. He describes with precision and fervour the events that led to Syria’s 2011 uprising, the metamorphosis of the popular revolution into a regional war, and the ‘three monsters’ Saleh sees ‘treading on Syria’s corpse’: the Assad regime and its allies, ISIS and other jihadists, and Russia and the US. Where conventional wisdom has it that Assad’s army is now battling religious fanatics for control of the country, Saleh argues that the emancipatory, democratic mass movement that ignited the revolution still exists, though it is beset on all sides.

The Impossible Revolution is a powerful, compelling critique of Syria’s catastrophic war, which has profoundly reshaped the lives of millions of Syrians.


‘Saleh’s personal tragedy reveals him as an authentic voice trying to understand how the genuine, progressive revolt he supported went so horribly wrong.’ — New York Review of Books

‘Yassin al-Haj Saleh [is] arguably Syria’s most important living intellectual . . .[a] luminous volume of essays.’ — Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, The New York Review of Books

‘Reading The Impossible Revolution, a Western audience has the opportunity to eavesdrop on the conversation that has been going on between Syrians since the beginning of the conflict … If Saleh had been read by Westerners at the time of his writing, for example, ISIS would not have come as such a surprise.’ — Times Literary Supplement

‘“Where is cool-headed, clear thinking to be found, in a world of al-Sada, jinn, and ghosts?” … One might say it is to be found in the pages of [Saleh’s] book, where he examines the origins of the violence, delves into the ideology of the Ba’ath Party that has ruled the country since 1963, methodically dissects the phases of the revolution, and charts the lurch into sectarianism … [in] carefully modulated prose’ — The New York Review of Books

‘A nuanced look at the Syrian struggle from one of Syria’s foremost leftist thinkers.’ — PEN America

‘In its lucidity, erudition, range and percipience, the book is worthy of a Gramsci. In its method, rigour and predictions, it is an intellectual achievement of extraordinary significance . . . Yassin al-Haj Saleh, one of Syria’s most celebrated intellectuals . . . writes with remarkable dispassion and objectivity . . . Saleh’s work will stand as an imperishable reminder of the circumstances through which this impossible revolution endured.’ —The New Arab

‘A subjective but insightful account of how totalitarianism has destroyed civil society and wrecked Syria.’ — Bloomberg

‘Penetrating analysis . . . indispensable.’ — Race and Class

‘A searing and heartfelt critique of a crisis which is no longer just Syria’s, but the world’s. Born in Raqqa and imprisoned under the Assads for sixteen years, Yassin al-Haj Saleh is now recognised as ‘the conscience of the Syrian Revolution.’ No other voice has such clarity or integrity.’ — Diana Darke, author of My House in Damascus: An Inside View of the Syrian Crisis

‘Saleh is one of Syria’s most important contemporary political theorists and public intellectuals. Since the start of the Syrian uprising, Saleh’s influence and his role as an incisive critic of extremism, dictatorship, and the effects of mass violence on Syrian society have offered powerful and compelling responses to the traumas that define the contemporary Syrian experience.’ — Steven Heydemann, Professor of Middle East Studies at Smith College and the author of Authoritarianism in Syria: Institutions and Social Conflict, 1946-1970

‘Saleh takes us on a personal journey through the ecstasy and the heartbreak of Syria’s revolution and the many struggles the country has faced since. Syria’s revolution began as an organic peaceful movement seeking simple and reasonable goals, but as Saleh explains, it soon spawned conflicting, violent and dangerous complexities that sadly now dominate public discourse and on-the-ground dynamics. There is no better voice to tell this book’s many important stories and Saleh’s words are likely to live on for years to come.’ — Charles Lister, author of The Syrian Jihad: Al-Qaeda, The Islamic State and the Evolution of an Insurgency

‘The appearance of Yassin al-Haj Saleh’s work in English has been long awaited. It’s vitally important to listen to Syrian voices on the events which are happening in their country. Yassin is one of Syria’s most engaging revolutionary thinkers, and he provides valuable context to a democratic revolution and vicious counter-revolution which has often been wilfully misunderstood by commentators in the West. Expert analysis and powerful personal testimony are interwoven in this book which is indispensable for anyone wishing to further their understanding of the Syrian tragedy.’ — Leila Al Shami, co-author of Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War


Yassin al-Haj Saleh is widely regarded as Syria’s foremost thinker and the intellectual guru of the Syrian uprising. Born in Raqqa, he spent sixteen years as a political prisoner in Syria (1980-1996) and has been living in exile in Turkey since 2013, still struggling for Syria and Samira, his abducted wife. He has written and edited five books in Arabic, but this is his first in English.

Request an academic inspection copy Request a press review copy
Inspection Copy Request
Review Copy Request
Join our mailing list

Subscribers receive exclusive discounts and early access to new books from Hurst.