Queen Rania of Jordan once claimed that to “achieve lasting peace in the Middle East” it takes “guts, not guns.” Yet the majority of news stories that emerge from the Middle East contain more of the former than the latter. Violence continues to beget violence, creating, as Shimon Peres once claimed, “a matter of generations and not of cultures.” How did the region get to this point? As most political commentators will tell you, the history of the region is all-important to understanding the Middle East, both to its inhabitants and those around the globe. Here are 10 books to get you caught up.
1. A History of the Modern Middle East (Fifth Edition) by William L. Cleveland And Martin Bunton
The lodestar of many college student’s introduction to the subject, Cleveland’s and Bunton’s book, now in its fifth edition, begins prior to the creation of Islam and intimately covers the major historical events and trends up to the twenty-first century. Interspersed with important primary documents, this a great place to start.
2. Orientalism by Edward Said
Said’s book is a great starting point for those interested in understanding the mindsets of much of the Middle East. Said’s central thrust is that thinking of the Middle and the Far East as the “Oriental” is a construction still tied to imperialism. Thus, we must begin our study of the Middle East in a manner that takes Said’s assertion into point.
3. A Peace To End All Peace: The Fall Of The Ottoman Empire And The Creation Of The Modern Middle East by David Fromkin
One of the most important events to understand the political and social struggles is the end of World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace is an important book that helps place the series of events into context and aids in understanding how the imperial collapse shaped the modern Middle East.
4. From Beirut To Jerusalem by Thomas Friedman
Friedman draws on his ten years of experience as a journalist in Lebanon and Israel to write this intriguing book on the politics of these two nations. A well-written account, Friedman allows the reader a better understanding of the politics and current affairs of this complicated region.
5. The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family In The American Century by Steven Coll
Bin Laden was a man shrouded in mystery and his infamy has spawned thousands of news stories, books, and television programs. Coll’s work places the man squarely into his family and their role in the Middle East.
6. Inside The Brotherhood by Hazem Kandil
A book whose subject is more recent in nature, Kandil’s account documents the rise to power and eventual decline of the Muslim Brotherhood. For those interested in Egypt, this is a must read.
7. Understanding Iran: Everything You Need To Know, From Persia To The Islamic Republic, From Cyrus To Khamenei by William R. Polk
Iran is a nation much in the news recently–and for good reason. The signing of the nuclear deal wouldn’t have been as big of a deal if Iran wasn’t quickly becoming a dominant power in the region. Polk’s book details how they got there.
8. The Great War For Civilization: The Conquest Of The Middle East by Robert Fisk
A superb history of the Middle East over the past fifty years, Fisk’s book covers everything that has occurred in the Islamic World from the Iranian Revolution to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003.
9. The Lemon Tree: An Arab, A Jew, And The Heart Of The Middle East by Sandy Tolan
Tolan’s The Lemon Tree is a phenomenally written book based around the unlikely friendship of an Arab and a Jew, set against the backdrop of the continual conflict in the Middle East. Interspersed into the two’s lives are the political stances, historical continuities, and social conditions that led them to the current situation.
10. Power, Faith, And Fantasy: America In the Middle East–1776 To The Present by Michael Oren
Michael Oren’s is the last book on this list, being the only one to concentrate solely on the changing American role in the Middle East. Starting from the beginning of the United States up to the 2003 Iraq invasion, this book is a phenomenal introduction to those interested in America’s role.
Which novels surrounding the Middle East interest you the most?
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