A Middle East bookshelf

This list is intended to provide a well-rounded introduction to the Middle East for those who are unfamiliar with it. The list of 10 is meant to cover the region generally. Further suggestions are welcome.

Ten books introducing the Middle East


1. History of the Arabs, by Philip Hitti (1937)

Alternative suggestions:

A History of the Arab Peoples
by Albert Hourani (1991)

A History of the Modern Middle East
by William Cleveland (2004)

The Modern Middle East: a History
by James Gelvin (2005)

The Arabs
by Eugene Rogan (2009)

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2. The Yacoubian Building by Alaa al Aswany (2002)

3. The Consequences of Love by Suleiman Addonia (2008)

Alternative suggestions:

Cairo Trilogy (1956-57) 

Children of the Alley (also known as Children of Gebelawi)

Cities of Salt trilogy (1984) by Abdelrahman Munif 

Night & Horses & the Desert Robert Irwin (ed) – classical anthology

Under the Naked Sky (2004) Denys Johnson-Davies (ed/trans) – anothology of modern short stories

Zaat (1992) by Sonallah Ibrahim

Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits (2005) by Laila Lalami

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4. The Far Enemy: Why Jihad Went Global by Fawaz Gerges (2005). 

5. Progressive Muslims: on Justice, Gender and Pluralism (2003), edited by Omid Safi.

Alternative suggestions:

A History of Islamic Spain by W Montgomery Watt (1965)

The Crusades Through Arab Eyes by Amin Maalouf (1989)

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6. Over-stating the Arab State by Nazih Ayubi (1995)

7. Imagined Masculinities edited by Mai Ghoussoub and Emma Sinclair-Webb (2000) 

Alternative suggestions:

Neopatriarchy by Hisham Sharabi (1988) 

The Arab World: Society, Culture and State by Halim Barakat (1993) 


8. The Iron Wall by Avi Shlaim (2000) 


9. The New Book of Middle Eastern Food (1985) by Claudia Roden

Alternative suggestion:

Middle Eastern Cookbook by Maria Khalife (2007) 


10. Understanding the Arab Culture by Jehad al-Omari (2008)

Books about specific Arab countries


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Yemen: Dancing on the Heads of Snakes by Victoria Clark (2010). Reviews: The Guardian; The Economist.

Yemen: Land and People by Sarah Searight (2003)

A History of Modern Yemen by Paul Dresch (2001)

Yemeni society:

Peripheral Visions: Publics, Power, and Performance in Yemen by Lisa Wedeen (2008)

A Tribal Order: Politics and Law in the Mountains of Yemen by Shelagh Weir (2007)

Yemen Chronicle: An Anthropology of War and Mediation by Steven Caton (2006)

Civil Society in Yemen by Sheila Carapico (1998)

Tribes, Government, and History in Yemen by Paul Dresch (1994)

Travel writing:

Eating the Flowers of Paradise by Kevin Rushby (2003)

Yemen: Travels in Dictionary Land, by Tim Mackintosh-Smith (1999), published in the US under the title Yemen: The Unknown Arabia

Motoring with Mohammed by Eric Hansen (1992)

A Winter in Arabia by Freya Stark (1940)

The Southern Gates of Arabia by Freya Stark (1934)


The Despairing Developer by Timothy Morris (1991)

(Lists for other countries in preparation)