The best books on the Middle East during the First World War

The Books I Picked & Why

When the War Came Home: The Ottomans' Great War and the Devastation of an Empire

By Yiğit Akın

When the War Came Home: The Ottomans' Great War and the Devastation of an Empire

Why this book?

The book is a well-written account on the Ottoman home front detailing the Ottoman experience of the Great War from a perspective of social history. It deals not only with the difficulties of the Ottoman conscription and the provisions, but also provides deep insight into the lives of women, Armenian deportees, and refugees. The book tells us that besides the political and military defeats it was the home front that mattered when it came to the legitimacy of the empire; after all the suffering that the population had to endure, people were alienated from the state and began to question the very idea of the empire itself.


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The Charity of War: Famine, Humanitarian Aid, and World War I in the Middle East

By Melanie S. Tanielian

The Charity of War: Famine, Humanitarian Aid, and World War I in the Middle East

Why this book?

During the war, Beirut and Mount Lebanon were heavily impacted by a famine because of several factors, including the Allied blockade of the Mediterranean, bad harvests, heat waves, shortage of workers, and a destructive locust invasion. As a result, even though the area did not witness any battles on its territory, hundreds of thousands of people died due to famine and disease. Fiction or real, the horrors reached to a degree that “mothers eating their children” stories carved in the collective memory of the war. Drawing on the reality of famine, the book deals with how war relief and welfare activities acted as forces that opened a new political space for civilian provisioning, eventually leading to the emergence of a new political space in the post-war period.


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Land of Aching Hearts: The Middle East in the Great War

By Leila Tarazi Fawaz

Land of Aching Hearts: The Middle East in the Great War

Why this book?

Understanding the First World War is fundamental to understanding today’s Middle East. The book offers us an impressive account of the Greater Syria at war, the region that encompasses Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, and Southern Turkey. Viewing the war from a social history perspective, we read various experiences of the fishermen, peasants, deserters, migrants, entrepreneurs, profiteers, and foreign soldiers from the colonial army of Britain against the backdrop of a “changing Middle East.”


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The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East

By Eugene Rogan

The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East

Why this book?

Until recently, most histories written on the First World War in the Middle East only considered the “European” perspective. However, as the book rightly emphasizes, it was the entry of the Ottoman Empire into the war that turned a “European” conflict into a world war. At the end of four years, an old empire of over six centuries was dissolved into many states. The book not only details the political and military history of the Middle East at war, but also presents the human side of the story. The book discusses the wartime Middle East from the view of different actors including those of the British, Anzac, Ottoman, Arab, and Armenian. While presenting a comprehensive account of the events, Rogan also documents the experiences of soldiers.


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War and State Formation in Syria: Cemal Pasha's Governorate During World War I, 1914-1917

By M. Talha Çiçek

War and State Formation in Syria: Cemal Pasha's Governorate During World War I, 1914-1917

Why this book?

Based on a wide array of archival sources, the book discusses the Ottoman governance of Greater Syria during the First World War. During the war, the Ottoman government-appointed Cemal Pasa, one of the chief names of the ruling Committee of Union and Progress, as the commander of the Fourth Army and the military governor of Ottoman Arab provinces to lead a campaign against in the British-held Suez Canal. However, in addition to the military aim of this appointment, there was also a political and social one that can briefly be summarized as further centralization of the state through the “iron fist” of the governor. The book presents us the power struggle in the region between the Ottoman government, Arab leaders, Zionists, and the Central Powers (the allies of the Ottoman Empire during the war) who attempted to increase their influence in the region after the British and French were declared enemies.


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