The best books for understanding the Middle East

The Books I Picked & Why

The Last Shah: America, Iran, and the Fall of the Pahlavi Dynasty

By Ray Takeyh

The Last Shah: America, Iran, and the Fall of the Pahlavi Dynasty

Why this book?

Over the years, there has been a lot of mythmaking about the United States and Iran––often influenced more by politics and ideology than an objective reading of history.  Ray Takeyh’s beautifully written volume takes on the U.S.-Iran relationship with all of its complexities and offers a cogent corrective to the received wisdom about events that have shaped the Middle East in the last four decades.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

America's Kingdom: Mythmaking on the Saudi Oil Frontier

By Robert Vitalis

America's Kingdom: Mythmaking on the Saudi Oil Frontier

Why this book?

Vitalis' meticulously researched volume is about Saudi Arabia and the United States. In lucid prose, he makes the controversial case that American oil prospectors in the 20th century recreated the patterns of domination that dominated the exploitation of resources in the American West in Saudi Arabia. The argument smashes long-held truths and myths about the origins of the U.S.-Saudi relationship.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Origins: A Memoir

By Amin Maalouf

Origins: A Memoir

Why this book?

I read Maalouf's book many years ago and it remains one of the best books I have ever read about identity. It helps that he is a gifted writer and that Maalouf's story is so compelling.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

The Siege of Mecca: The Forgotten Uprising in Islam's Holiest Shrine and the Birth of Al Qaeda

By Yaroslav Trofimov

The Siege of Mecca: The Forgotten Uprising in Islam's Holiest Shrine and the Birth of Al Qaeda

Why this book?

The siege of Mecca in 1979 was one of the most consequential events in recent Saudi history. This book reads like a thriller, which makes sense because anyone familiar with Trofimov's work at the Wall Street Journal knows that he is a gifted storyteller and insightful analyst. The book provides context to the worldview that gave rise to al Qaeda.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

War in the Land of Egypt

By Yusuf al-Qa'id

War in the Land of Egypt

Why this book?

This brief volume was first published 35 years ago but stands up over time. It is an allegory about Egypt during the early years of Anwar al-Sadat's rule, but speaks to the larger issues of corruption, the arrogance of power, and the fraying of societal bonds under authoritarian leaders. 


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Closely Related Book Lists

Random Book Lists