A Middle East bookshelf

This is a work in progress – an attempt to compile a list of 10 books that would give a good general introduction to the Middle East for those who are unfamiliar with it.

Listed below are suggestions sent in by readers. Further suggestions are welcome.

For more about the project, see al-bab's blog.

From Gabriel Miland: 

Eugene Rogan's The Arabs - for its up-to-dateness, its accessible style – but most of all for its insights into Middle Eastern perceptions of the west.

From George Weyman:

How's about Hisham Sharabi's Neopatriarchy? A bit academic, and not fresh off the press - but nevertheless a devastating critique of the structure of power in Arab countries.

From Benjamin Geer:

For a basic introductory history of the region, I like William Cleveland's A History of the Modern Middle East, which often appears on undergraduate syllabuses in Middle East Studies.

For fiction that provides insight into contemporary society in Egypt, I'd recommend Sonallah Ibrahim's novel Zaat; the English translation is published by AUC Press. It portrays social changes during the past few decades through the eyes of a fairly typical middle-class Egyptian family, and also contains an amazing selection of very telling newspaper headlines.

From Elias Muhanna:

Hmmmm.... off the top of my head:

Eugene Rogan's new book "The Arabs" is very readable, and covers the last 500 years. Angry Arab didn't like it much, but I thought it was as good a place as any for a new reader to get their feet wet.

Fisk's "Pity the Nation" is also excellent, on the Lebanese civil war.

I've heard good things about Reza Aslan's "No God but God", which is on Islam, not the Middle East. 

Loved Aaron David Miller's "The Much Too Promised Land"

David Fromkin's "A Peace to End all Peace" is superb, but can be a bit daunting for newbies

Enjoyed your own "What's Really Wrong...", for a different perspective on the real problems facing the region

Loved Gershom Gorenberg's "End of Days" 

For a wonderful introduction to classical Arabic literature, it's hard to top Robert Irwin's "Night, Horses, and the Desert"

I'll send more as I think of them...

From Daryl Barker:

Thesiger ... Arabian Sands

From David Wearing

Perilous Power by Chomsky & Achcar would be my suggestion for an accessible, introductory overview of the modern Middle East. The dialogue format is very engaging, and obviously they both have huge reserves of knowledge and analytical expertise to draw on.

On Israel-Palestine I'd have to say Beyond Chutzpah - the controversies around Finkelstein shouldn't detract from the quality of his work, which is very high indeed. What makes this book vital reading (especially as an introduction) is that it sweeps away the obfuscation that apologists for the Israeli occupation have come to rely upon. Its very readable, densely researched and brilliantly argued. 

Karen Armstrong's Short History of Islam could cover that angle. I kind of feel it sometimes tries to do too much in too little space - empires rise and fall over a couple of paragraphs - but generally it does give a good comprehensive background. 

From Sakhr Al-Makhadhi

'Sabra Zoo' has got to be on there. The debut novel by British-Palestinian Mischa Hiller based on his experiences during the 1982 Israeli invasion. Part coming-of-age novel, part (extremely graphical) historical record.

And 'Beirut: I Love You' isn't bad as another very personal novel about the Lebanese capital, set in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War.

Juan Cole's blog also has a reading list here

Berkey, Jonathan P. The Formation of Islam: Religion and Society in the Near East, 600-1800. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Cleveland, William L. A History of the Modern Middle East. 3rd edn. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2004.

Dodge, Toby. Inventing Iraq: the failure of nation-building and a history denied New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.

Gelvin, James. The modern Middle East: a history. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Gerges, Fawaz. The far enemy: why Jihad went global. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Hourani, Albert. A history of the Arab peoples. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1991. (General history of the Arab world from the time of the Prophet Muhammad to the present.)

Keddie, Nikki. Modern Iran: Roots and Results of revolution. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003. (History of modern Iran, with some early modern and nineteenth-century background, but good treatment of the twentieth century and the Islamic Republic.)

Kennedy, Hugh. The Prophet and the Age of the Caliphates. London: Longman, 1989.

Khalidi, Rashid. Palestinian identity: the construction of modern national consciousness. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.

Khalidi, Rashid. Resurrecting Empire: western footprints and America’s perilous path in the Middle East. Boston: Beacon Press, 2004.

Kennedy, Hugh. When Baghdad Ruled the World. New York: Perseus Books, 2006. (Explores the medieval history of Muslim-ruled Iraq and its civilizational glories. People who doubt its importance should try doing math in Roman numerals with no zero and no algrebra.)

Kepel, Gilles. Jihad: the trail of political Islam. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003.

Marr, Phebe. The modern history of Iraq. 2nd ed. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2004.

McAlister, Melani. Epic encounters: culture, media, and U.S. interests in the Middle East, 1945-2000 Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.

Montgomery Watt. Muhammad Prophet and Statesman. Oxford University Press, rev. 1961. A Galaxy Book.

Mottahedeh, Roy. The mantle of the Prophet: religion and politics in Iran. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985.

Packer, George. The assassins’ gate: America in Iraq 1st ed. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.

Quataert, Donald. The Ottoman Empire, 1700-1922. 2nd ed. Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambrige University Press, 2005.
Best recent social history of the greatest Middle Eastern empire and its early twentieth-century demise.

Rosen, Nir. In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq. New York: Free Press, 2006.

Shadid, Anthony. Night draws near: Iraq’s people in the shadow of America’s war. New York: Henry Holt, 2005.

Shlaim, Avi. The iron wall: Israel and the Arab world New York: W.W. Norton, 2000.

Smith, Charles. Palestine and the Arab-Israeli conflict 5th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004.