The best books on Iraqi history

Why am I passionate about this?

As a teenager in 1991, I watched a coalition of Western powers bombard Iraq into submission. Twelve years later, “regime change” was the agenda. Iraq descended into sectarianism, civil war, and Islamist insurgency. Western depictions had reduced Iraq to an authoritarian state with a megalomaniac leader and no history of its own. These events and the accompanying vilification of Iraq and its people convinced me to study the country’s history. I try to bring nuance and depth to a story so often told superficially. I think history is about giving life to the voices and perspectives of the past. The result, I hope, is an authentic and unbiased portrayal of Iraqi history.


I wrote...

Pride and Power: A Modern History of Iraq

By Johan Franzen,

Book cover of Pride and Power: A Modern History of Iraq

What is my book about?

Pride and Power is not a textbook on Iraqi history. It is much more than that. It is a book that tells the story of modern Iraq through painstaking research of Iraqi, Arab, and Western sources. It mixes a chronological and thematic approach, elegantly weaving in conceptual approaches to thinking about Iraqi history with a profoundly contextual narrative. It is a book that can be read by anyone who wants to understand Iraq’s modern trajectory since its foundation as a state after World War I. It demonstrates how generations of Iraqis have sought to accommodate and resist Western forces determined to shape their country’s path. In the intersection of regional and global power struggles, caught in imperialist intrigue and Cold War rivalry, Iraq navigated a way forward.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of A History of Iraq

Johan Franzen Why did I love this book?

If you want a quick overview of Iraqi history with easily digestible political science takes on the country’s problems, this is your book. Tripp’s study of Iraq has been read by countless undergraduate studentsmyself included—grappling with trying to understand the course of events that led the United States to declare war on Iraq twice. The book provides lucid arguments in an easily accessible writing style. As a first introduction to Iraqi history, this book is hard to beat.

By Charles Tripp,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A History of Iraq as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

To understand Iraq, Charles Tripp's history is the book to read. Since its first appearance in 2000, it has become a classic in the field of Middle East studies, read and admired by students, soldiers, policymakers and journalists. The book is now updated to include the recent American invasion, the fall and capture of Saddam Hussein and the subsequent descent into civil strife. What is clear is that much that has happened since 2003 was foreshadowed in the account found in this book. Tripp's thesis is that the history of Iraq throughout the twentieth-century has made it what it is…


Book cover of Iraq, 1900 to 1950: A Political, Social and Economic History

Johan Franzen Why did I love this book?

Though published long ago, this book does what it says on the tin: it provides a straightforward narrative of Iraq’s political, social, and economic history in the first half of the twentieth century. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Longrigg was an administrator during the British mandate in Iraq and later joined the Iraq Petroleum Company. He was not an unbiased, detached academic analyst, but if you can look past some of his outdated views, you will find an astute observer of Iraqi affairs as they appeared to the British at the time. 

By Stephen Hemsley Longrigg,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Iraq, 1900 to 1950 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Book cover of Independent Iraq: A Study in Iraqi Politics from 1932 to 1958

Johan Franzen Why did I love this book?

Majid Khadduri is one of very few Iraqi academics to write about Iraq in English. Born in Mosul to a Jewish family, he had a long and successful career as an educator both in Iraq and the United States. He wrote several books on Iraq’s political history, this book being the best and least biased. It provides a clear and lucid narrative from a reasonably detached perspective of Iraq’s political history from the end of the British mandate in 1932 until the 14 July Revolution in 1958, which overthrew the monarchy. 

Book cover of Britain in Iraq: Contriving King and Country

Johan Franzen Why did I love this book?

The late Peter Sluglett devoted his life to studying Iraq and had a deep knowledge of the country’s history. This book was re-issued in 2007 but was originally published in the mid-1970s. It is based on Sluglett’s doctoral research on the British League of Nations mandate in Iraq. Perhaps this tells to some extent as the book is data-heavy and does not have the most free-flowing narrative style. Nevertheless, it is unsurpassed in terms of insights and analyses of the British period indirectly governing Iraq between 1920 and 1932. If you want to understand British attempts to shape a country to suit its imperial interests, this is the book for you.

By Peter Sluglett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Britain in Iraq as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

After the end of World War I, international pressures prevented the Allies from implementing direct colonial rule over the former Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire. Instead, the Allies created a system of mandates for the governance of the Middle East. France was assigned Lebanon and Syria, and Britain was assigned Iraq, Palestine, and Transjordan. First published in 1976, Britain in Iraq has long been recognized as the definitive history of the mandate period, providing a meticulous and engaging account of Britain's political involvement in Iraq as well as rare insights into the motives behind the founding of the Iraqi…


Book cover of Road through Kurdistan: The Narrative of an Engineer in Iraq

Johan Franzen Why did I love this book?

This book, which was published in 1937, is perhaps a strange choice for a list of this kind. However, Road through Kurdistan provides fascinating insights into many aspects of Iraqi social and political history in the 1930s. The author, Archibald Milne Hamilton, was a civil engineer from New Zealand who was commissioned to build a strategically important road through Southern Kurdistan, stretching from Erbil, through Rowanduz, and ending at the Iranian border. The road was constructed between 1928 and 1932 and subsequently became known as the Hamilton Road. The book is interesting from an engineering perspective, as the road was a major feat, but also because of its numerous anecdotes about all the people Hamilton encountered over the years. It is a rare account by a non-British outsider who offers a unique perspective on many contemporary social and political issues. 

By Archibald Milne Hamilton,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Road through Kurdistan as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1928, A.M. Hamilton travelled to Iraqi Kurdistan, having been commissioned to build a road that would stretch from Northern Iraq, through the mountains and gorges of Kurdistan and on to the Iranian border. Now called the Hamilton Road, this was, even by today's standards, a considerable feat of engineering and remains one of the most strategically important roads in the region. In this colourful and engaging account, Hamilton describes the four years he spent overcoming immense obstacles - disease, ferocious brigands, warring tribes and bureaucratic officials - to carve a path through some of the most beautiful but inhospitable…


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Book cover of A Last Survivor of the Orphan Trains: A Memoir

Victoria Golden Author Of A Last Survivor of the Orphan Trains: A Memoir

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