The best books to understand the Middle East through the lens of a Lebanese journalist and academic

Who am I?

Arriving in the UK to pursue my PhD after a career in Journalism in my native country Lebanon, a few days before September 11, 2001, set me on a journey to put right the way my region and its people are represented in British and international media. The Middle East, the Arab region, Islam, and Muslims became the focal point of coverage for many years that followed. Most of that coverage had been tainted with negative stereotypes that do not speak true to who we are and what we stand for. Achieving fair representation and portrayal of ethnic and religious minorities have become one of my life passions.  


I wrote...

Reporting the Middle East: The Practice of News in the Twenty-First Century

By Zahera Harb,

Book cover of Reporting the Middle East: The Practice of News in the Twenty-First Century

What is my book about?

Through a country-by-country approach, this book provides a detailed analysis of the complexities of reporting from and on the Middle East. Each chapter provides an overview of a country, including the political context, relationships to international politics, and the key elements relating to the place as covered in Anglo-American media. The book explores how the media can be used to serve particular political agendas on both a regional and international level. This book questions how orientalism manifests itself in the coverage and how

The books I picked & why

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Sharon and My Mother-in-Law: Ramallah Diaries

By Suad Amiry,

Book cover of Sharon and My Mother-in-Law: Ramallah Diaries

Why this book?

It is based on personal diaries that captures the lives of Palestinians under Israeli occupation in the West Bank with a pinch of humour. It is funny, but deep and the personal narrative takes the reader on a journey from beginning to end. It gave me an insight into how ordinary Palestinians navigate their relationships and family affairs while having to deal with the consequences of military occupation. The book defies the stereotypes and negative representations of Palestinians. They also do love life. 

Sharon and My Mother-in-Law: Ramallah Diaries

By Suad Amiry,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sharon and My Mother-in-Law as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A blackly funny account of everyday life in Ramallah and refreshingly different from most writing on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Sharon and My Mother-in-Law describes Suad Amiry's life on the West Bank from the early 1980s to the first decade of the new millennium. Vividly evoking her neighbourhood and her moving family history, Amiry creates a fascinating account of her attempts to live a normal life in an insane situation: from the impossibility of acquiring gas masks during the first Gulf War to her dog acquiring a Jerusalem passport when thousands of Palestinians couldn't. During the Israeli invasion of Ramallah in…


100 Myths About the Middle East

By Fred Halliday,

Book cover of 100 Myths About the Middle East

Why this book?

The late Fred Halliday addressed in his book the most circulated myths of the Middle East and its people. It is an easy read and it sets straight many of the daily myths that we have picked up from western popular culture (mainly Hollywood) and Anglo-American media representation including news on the culture and religion of the people of the Middle East. 

100 Myths About the Middle East

By Fred Halliday,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked 100 Myths About the Middle East as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Much ink has been spilled in recent years about the Middle East. At the same time, no other region has been as misunderstood, nor framed in so many cliches and mistakenly held beliefs. In this much-needed and enlightening book, Fred Halliday debunks one hundred of the most commonly misconstrued 'facts' concerning the Middle East - in the political, cultural, social, and historical spheres. In a straightforward and simple way that illuminates the issues without compromising their underlying complexities he gets to the core of each matter. The Israel-Palestine crisis, the Iran-Iraq war, the U.S.-led Gulf invasions, the Afghan-Soviet conflict, and…


What It Means to be Palestinian: Stories of Palestinian Peoplehood

By Dina Matar,

Book cover of What It Means to be Palestinian: Stories of Palestinian Peoplehood

Why this book?

As a journalist I have often reported on the Palestinian refugees in my home country Lebanon. I visited the refugee camps and spoke to its residents, and every time I leave the place with stories of what they have behind when they had to flee the historic land of Palestine in 1948 and later in 1967. The old keys and deeds to their homes that had been passed on from one generation to another, stay witness to their conviction of their right to return. This book is about those people and their narratives. It is about Palestinians’ collective memory of loss, that has been kept alive mostly through the spoken word. This book is a narrative documenting those narratives. It captures the essence of what it means to be Palestinian. 

What It Means to be Palestinian: Stories of Palestinian Peoplehood

By Dina Matar,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked What It Means to be Palestinian as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"What It Means to be Palestinian" is a narrative of narratives, a collection of personal stories, remembered feelings and reconstructed experiences by different Palestinians whose lives were changed and shaped by history. Their stories are told chronologically through particular phases of the Palestinian national struggle, providing a composite autobiography of Palestine as a landscape and as a people. The book begins with the 1936 revolt against British rule in Palestine and ends in 1993, with the Oslo peace agreement that changed the nature and form of the national struggle. It is based on in-depth interviews and conversations with Palestinians, male…


Orientalism

By Edward W. Said,

Book cover of Orientalism

Why this book?

A classic of classics in understanding the west representation of the East. It made me make sense of why in many instances the West's media portrayal of Arabs and Muslims culturally, socially, and politically has been a repetitive list of stereotypical images, as if these societies and its people are static and not capable of change. Many scholars have argued over the years that Orientalism as a thesis has become redundant. I have argued and still do that it is still alive and kicking and has been manifesting itself in the daily news coverage year after year. 

Orientalism

By Edward W. Said,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Orientalism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The seminal work that has redefined our understanding of colonialism and empire, with a preface by the author

'Stimulating, elegant and pugnacious' Observer
'Magisterial' Terry Eagleton

In this highly-acclaimed work, Edward Said surveys the history and nature of Western attitudes towards the East, considering orientalism as a powerful European ideological creation - a way for writers, philosophers and colonial administrators to deal with the 'otherness' of eastern culture, customs and beliefs. He traces this view through the writings of Homer, Nerval and Flaubert, Disraeli and Kipling, whose imaginative depictions have greatly contributed to the West's romantic and exotic picture of…


War Stories

By Jeremy Bowen,

Book cover of War Stories

Why this book?

I have read this book years ago and till today I am still able to remember encounters Bowen had experienced and dealt with as a journalist and had cleverly brought it to life for his readers. He is one of those Middle East correspondents who got to study and know the region closely, not from afar, and hence reported on it accurately and with much-appreciated humanity. It is all reflected in his book. From Baghdad to South Lebanon, Bowen’s storytelling tells future journalists a story of conviction in seeking and standing up for the truth no matter the pressures journalists may face to act differently.

War Stories

By Jeremy Bowen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked War Stories as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Having joined the BBC as a trainee in 1984, Jeremy Bowen first became a foreign correspondent four years later. He had witnessed violence already, both at home and abroad, but it wasn't until he covered his first war -- in El Salvador -- that he felt he had arrived. Armed with the fearlessness of youth he lived for the job, was in love with it, aware of the dangers but assuming the bullets and bombs were meant for others. In 2000, however, after eleven years in some of the world's most dangerous places, the bullets came too close for comfort,…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Middle East, Palestinians, and the East–West dichotomy?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Middle East, Palestinians, and the East–West dichotomy.

The Middle East Explore 136 books about the Middle East
Palestinians Explore 27 books about Palestinians
The East–West Dichotomy Explore 10 books about the East–West dichotomy

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Gaza, and Why We Can't Wait if you like this list.