The best books on American (mis)adventure in the Middle East

Randall Fowler Author Of More Than a Doctrine: The Eisenhower Era in the Middle East
By Randall Fowler

The Books I Picked & Why

American Missionaries and the Middle East: Foundational Encounters

By Mehmet Ali Dogan, Heather J. Sharkey

American Missionaries and the Middle East: Foundational Encounters

Why this book?

This edited volume features some of the world’s leading scholars on the experiences of American missionaries in lands ruled by the Ottoman Empire during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Covering the efforts of Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Mormons, and more, this book illuminates the messy interplay of religion, science, politics, and nationalism in the interactions between these missionaries and the native inhabitants they encountered. It dispels common myths that shroud this topic and shines a light on understudied issues such as the challenges of textual translation in cross-cultural contexts, the role of gender in evangelism, and competing visions of social change at work in education.


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America's Great Game: The CIA's Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East

By Hugh Wilford

America's Great Game: The CIA's Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East

Why this book?

A deeply interesting dive into the world of espionage and the early days of the CIA, this accessible book by Hugh Wilford provides an excellent entry point into the exciting movements, people, and ideologies that crosscut the Middle East in the years after World War II. Focusing especially on personalities like Kim Roosevelt and Miles Copeland, this book shows why many Arabs even today suspect the CIA may be behind far more than it lets on. For American audiences, this book will provide an intriguing journey into a world that is unfamiliar to most and fascinating to all, illuminating the role U.S. spy agencies played in creating the modern Middle East.


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The Oil Kings: How the U.S., Iran, and Saudi Arabia Changed the Balance of Power in the Middle East

By Andrew Scott Cooper

The Oil Kings: How the U.S., Iran, and Saudi Arabia Changed the Balance of Power in the Middle East

Why this book?

A highly readable tome, Cooper’s account of how the oil politics of the 1970s revolutionized U.S. foreign policy and the Persian Gulf is a must-read for anyone who wants to know more about the political landscape of the Middle East. Cooper traces the personal interactions among the Shah of Iran, Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, Gerald Ford, and the House of Saud in the midst of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, the consequent oil embargo, the formation of OPEC, and the early stirrings of revolution in Iran. Perhaps most helpful, this book dispels many misperceptions about Iran under the Shah while also showing how the United States played an integral role in weakening his regime prior to the 1979 revolution.


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Perceptions of Palestine: Their Influence on U.S. Middle East Policy

By Kathleen Christison

Perceptions of Palestine: Their Influence on U.S. Middle East Policy

Why this book?

The Arab-Israeli conflict can be bewildering for many Americans to wrap their head around. While there are a number of excellent books on the topic, I find Perceptions of Palestine to be a helpful, engaging diagnosis of the issue from a U.S. diplomatic perspective. Christison, a former CIA officer, provides an exhaustively researched and well-informed answer to the question of why the United States tends to favor Israel over the Palestinians in the realms of public opinion and policymaking. This account is both sensitive to the struggles of the Palestinian people while also recognizing the real-world limitations of American policymakers. No matter one’s position on this issue, Christion’s book provides a welcome analysis of the tensions at play in conflicts over Israel-Palestine.


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In the Name of Terrorism: Presidents on Political Violence in the Post-World War II Era

By Carol K. Winkler

In the Name of Terrorism: Presidents on Political Violence in the Post-World War II Era

Why this book?

While not a book about the Middle East per se, Winkler’s In the Name of Terrorism traces the rise of terrorism as a concern in U.S. politics and charts the narratives, frames, metaphors, and rhetoric used by presidents to make sense of terrorism to the American people. Focusing specifically on the evolution of “terrorism” as a concept in the leadup to the 9/11 attacks, this book provides vital background for those who wish to understand, as George W. Bush put it, why “they” hate “us.” A wide-ranging volume that effectively bridges the Cold War and the War on Terror, readers will better appreciate the importance of the president’s language choices after finishing this captivating book.


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