100 books like Letters from Egypt

By Lucie Duff Gordon,

Here are 100 books that Letters from Egypt fans have personally recommended if you like Letters from Egypt. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Woman Who Fell from the Sky: An American Woman's Adventures in the Oldest City on Earth

Andrea Rugh Author Of Simple Gestures: A Cultural Journey into the Middle East

From my list on Middle Eastern culture written by outsiders.

Who am I?

My quest after culture began as a child reading National Geographic and wondering about exotic peoples. Later with a PhD in anthropology and living decades in the Middle East, I had a chance to immerse myself in the lives of people going about their normal activities. Eventually their thinking became almost as familiar as my own. The anthropologist Edward Hall says culture is elusive, “and what it hides it hides most effectively from its own practitioners.” He suggests that detached outsiders sometimes see cultures more clearly than local observers who have difficulty viewing themselves dispassionately. As outsider-writers, they validate insights much like anthropologists do, through comparisons of cultural values across time and space. 

Andrea's book list on Middle Eastern culture written by outsiders

Andrea Rugh Why did Andrea love this book?

Steil accepts a short-term assignment in 2006 to teach a journalism class to the local staff of a Yemeni newspaper in the capital, Sanaa. Intrigued by the experience of teaching and befriending men and women of totally different values and beliefs, she extends her stay for a year. She recounts the difficulties of teaching journalism and living in a country where the values she once saw as normal, are constantly being challenged. As often happens with sensitive outsiders, she also sees some advantages of Yemen’s conservative culture that make her question aspects of her own thinking. 

By Jennifer Steil,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Woman Who Fell from the Sky as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"I had no idea how to find my way around this medieval city. It was getting dark. I was tired. I didn’t speak Arabic. I was a little frightened. But hadn’t I battled scorpions in the wilds of Costa Rica and prevailed? Hadn’t I survived fainting in a San José brothel?  Hadn’t I once arrived in Ireland with only $10 in my pocket and made it last two weeks? Surely I could handle a walk through an unfamiliar town. So I took a breath, tightened the black scarf around my hair, and headed out to take my first solitary steps…


Book cover of At the Drop of a Veil

Andrea Rugh Author Of Simple Gestures: A Cultural Journey into the Middle East

From my list on Middle Eastern culture written by outsiders.

Who am I?

My quest after culture began as a child reading National Geographic and wondering about exotic peoples. Later with a PhD in anthropology and living decades in the Middle East, I had a chance to immerse myself in the lives of people going about their normal activities. Eventually their thinking became almost as familiar as my own. The anthropologist Edward Hall says culture is elusive, “and what it hides it hides most effectively from its own practitioners.” He suggests that detached outsiders sometimes see cultures more clearly than local observers who have difficulty viewing themselves dispassionately. As outsider-writers, they validate insights much like anthropologists do, through comparisons of cultural values across time and space. 

Andrea's book list on Middle Eastern culture written by outsiders

Andrea Rugh Why did Andrea love this book?

In 1945 Alireza married a member of a prominent Saudi family and went to live with him in his extended family. She recounts her experience living mainly in the company of the women of the family. Over 12 years and the birth of four children, she grows close to her Arabian family and learns to live according to their customs. The reader becomes immersed in Saudi culture in a way not easily available to an outsider and feels the same sadness as Marianne when ultimately her husband divorces her and she has to leave the family she has grown to love. 

By Marianne Alireza,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked At the Drop of a Veil as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Autobiography: A harem is a female group composed of a married woman's mother-in-law, sisters-in-law, children, and servants. Californian Alireza arrived in Arabia in 1945 with her husband Ali. Shew grew to lover her expanded family and the harem. After 8 years, she was summarily divorced by Ali and escaped with the children to Switzerland, then home to America.


Book cover of Guests of the Sheik: An Ethnography of an Iraqi Village

Teresa Fava Thomas Author Of American Arabists in the Cold War Middle East, 1946–75: From Orientalism to Professionalism

From my list on Americans living and working in the Middle East.

Who am I?

Teresa Fava Thomas, Ph.D. is a professor of history at Fitchburg State University and author of American Arabists in the Cold War Middle East, 1946-75: From Orientalism to Professionalism for Anthem Press. I became interested in people who became area experts for the US State Department and how their study of hard languages like Arabic shaped their interactions with people in the region.

Teresa's book list on Americans living and working in the Middle East

Teresa Fava Thomas Why did Teresa love this book?

Fernea describes a lost culture in a small Iraqi village, El Nahra, in 1956, where her husband Robert was conducting ethnographic research. She met with women in the village, learned the language and culture then wrote her own study of 1950s women. The book presents insights into the life of rural Iraqi women at a time of poverty and hardship.

By Elizabeth Warnock Fernea,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Guests of the Sheik as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A delightful account of one woman's two-year stay in a tiny rural village in Iraq, where she assumed the dress and sheltered life of a harem woman. 

"A most enjoyable book abouut [Muslim women]—simple, dignified, human, colorful, sad and humble as the life they lead." —Muhsin Mahdi, Jewett Professor of Arabic Literature, Harvard Unversity.

A wonderful, well-written, and vastly informative ethnographic study that offers a unique insight into a part of the Midddle Eastern life seldom seen by the West.


Book cover of In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams

Andrea Rugh Author Of Simple Gestures: A Cultural Journey into the Middle East

From my list on Middle Eastern culture written by outsiders.

Who am I?

My quest after culture began as a child reading National Geographic and wondering about exotic peoples. Later with a PhD in anthropology and living decades in the Middle East, I had a chance to immerse myself in the lives of people going about their normal activities. Eventually their thinking became almost as familiar as my own. The anthropologist Edward Hall says culture is elusive, “and what it hides it hides most effectively from its own practitioners.” He suggests that detached outsiders sometimes see cultures more clearly than local observers who have difficulty viewing themselves dispassionately. As outsider-writers, they validate insights much like anthropologists do, through comparisons of cultural values across time and space. 

Andrea's book list on Middle Eastern culture written by outsiders

Andrea Rugh Why did Andrea love this book?

In the 2000s, Tahir Shah travels around Morocco collecting traditional wisdom stories and relying on the hospitality of local people for shelter and food. Shah is an outsider in a different way from the rest of the outsider authors here. Although growing up in the West, he nonetheless absorbs the Afghan culture of his family. From his Afghan father especially he learns the importance of storytelling as a way of passing on cultural values. The Moroccans know he is a foreigner but see him as an Anglo-Afghan more sympathetic than the normal Westerner. As a result, they reveal facets of their lives not normally shared with outsiders. The book shows how those seeking to understand culture must be open to finding it in all sorts of places.

By Tahir Shah,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In Arabian Nights as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Shortly after the 2005 London bombings, Tahir Shah was thrown into a Pakistani prison on suspicion of spying for Al-Qaeda. What sustained him during his terrifying, weeks-long ordeal were the stories his father told him as a child in Morocco.
Inspired by this, on his return to his adopted homeland he embarked on an adventure worthy of the mythical Arabian Nights, going in search of the stories and storytellers that have nourished this most alluring of countries for centuries. Wandering through the medinas of Fez and Marrakech, criss-crossing the Saharan sands and tasting the hospitality of ordinary Moroccans, he collected…


Book cover of The Golden One

Sherry Roberts Author Of Down Dog Diary

From my list on quirky, fascinating detectives from around the world.

Who am I?

Some people read mysteries to figure out who did it. Not me. I read mysteries (several a week) because they are full of contradictions, lies and truths, and humans making hard and sometimes stupid decisions. I lean toward mysteries that are literary in writing quality with quirky, complicated characters; a good sense of humor; and diverse settings. In my cozy Minnesota mystery series featuring Maya Skye, I am interested in the contradiction of a yoga teacher who is dedicated to seeking inner peace and yet drawn to mayhem. As Maya says, “We may try to follow the path, but life isn’t all Minnesota nice.” 

Sherry's book list on quirky, fascinating detectives from around the world

Sherry Roberts Why did Sherry love this book?

Who doesn’t love a couple who bicker one moment and save each other’s lives the next? That defines married archeologists Amelia Peabody and Radcliffe Emerson, who fight off graverobbers and murderers while excavating the great tombs of Egypt in 1917. Amelia, who tells this story with wit and panache, is my kind of gal—she fights off villains with her ever-present sturdy umbrella. Dashing Radcliffe is devoted to her and exasperated by her antics. As the series has grown, so has the family. I adore the introduction of their son, Ramses, who is as brilliant, daring, and foolhardy as his parents.  

By Elizabeth Peters,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Golden One as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


At the start of this fourteenth adventure for Amelia, which continues the wartime theme begun in Lord of the Silent, it is New Year's Eve, 1917.

Risking winter storms and German torpedoes, the Emersons are heading for Egypt once again: Amelia, Emerson, their son Ramses and his wife Nefret. Emerson is counting on a long season of excavation without distractions but this proves to be a forlorn hope. Yet again they unearth a dead body in a looted tomb - not a mummified one though, this one is only too fresh, and it leads the clan on a search for…


Book cover of War in the Land of Egypt

Steven A. Cook Author Of The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square

From my list on understanding the Middle East.

Who am I?

Steven A. Cook is the Eni Enrico Mattei senior fellow for the Middle East and Africa studies and director of the International Affairs Fellowship for Tenured International Relations Scholars at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). He is a columnist at Foreign Policy magazine and an expert on Arab and Turkish politics as well as U.S. Middle East policy. 

Steven's book list on understanding the Middle East

Steven A. Cook Why did Steven love 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. 

By Yusuf al-Qa'id,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Egypt on the eve of the 1973 October war. A young man has been drafted into the army. His father, the village elder, persuades a poor night-watchman to send his own son as a stand-in. But the impersonation plan goes horribly wrong, with tragicomic results. Qa'id's tale of the fiasco — steeped in irony and black humor — parodies outrageous corruption and ludicrous bureaucracy. A skillfully crafted mosaic of life in modern Egypt.


Book cover of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer

Ronnie Close Author Of Cairo's Ultras: Resistance and Revolution in Egypt’s Football Culture

From my list on Egyptian politics and the 2011 Revolution.

Who am I?

I'm a writer and filmmaker based in Cairo for over a decade. I was inspired to move to Egypt when I visited during the 2011 Revolution and fell in love with the vibrance of the city. Since then Cairo has changed and I have lived through an extraordinary history with some difficult times but always with a sense of curiosity for stories. My book, Cairo’s Ultras, began as a documentary film project in 2012 and I have found many other interesting topics during my time in this enigmatic and fascinating place. I will publish a second book next year, called Decolonising Images, that looks at the photographic heritage and visual culture of Egypt.

Ronnie's book list on Egyptian politics and the 2011 Revolution

Ronnie Close Why did Ronnie love this book?

I found this book very informative when I started researching my book on the Ultras fans in Egypt. It is an in-depth look at the football history in the Middle East and North African region. 

The author, James Dorsey, has real-life experiences of Cairo and other places in the region when he worked as a journalist for decades before turning to his attention to soccer. This book grew out of a blog of the same name with a wide readership and this is the most significant book on the football politics available. The section on Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood comes from an expert’s eye as he picks up the details and explains the situation to the reader. The book is a journey around the troubled landscape of the Middle East to discover the mix of history, cultures, and politics of the Arab world through soccer.

By James M. Dorsey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

James M. Dorsey introduces the reader to the world of Middle Eastern and North African football - an arena where struggles for political control, protest and resistance, self-respect and gender rights are played out. Politics was the midwife of soccer in the region, with many clubs being formed as pro- or anti-colonial platforms and engines of national identity and social justice. This book uncovers the seldom-told story of a game that evokes deep-seated passions. Football fans are shown to be a major political force and one of the largest civic groups in Egypt after the Muslim Brotherhood: their demands for…


Book cover of The City Always Wins

Ronnie Close Author Of Cairo's Ultras: Resistance and Revolution in Egypt’s Football Culture

From my list on Egyptian politics and the 2011 Revolution.

Who am I?

I'm a writer and filmmaker based in Cairo for over a decade. I was inspired to move to Egypt when I visited during the 2011 Revolution and fell in love with the vibrance of the city. Since then Cairo has changed and I have lived through an extraordinary history with some difficult times but always with a sense of curiosity for stories. My book, Cairo’s Ultras, began as a documentary film project in 2012 and I have found many other interesting topics during my time in this enigmatic and fascinating place. I will publish a second book next year, called Decolonising Images, that looks at the photographic heritage and visual culture of Egypt.

Ronnie's book list on Egyptian politics and the 2011 Revolution

Ronnie Close Why did Ronnie love this book?

This book is a novel written by an Egyptian activist, Omar Hamilton, who lived through the 2011 period. The fiction approach gives the author greater freedom to explore the inner lives of the Tahrir Square activists who he knew well and the momentous events in Cairo. The non-factual approach of a novel offers something missing even in the best journalism because the author brings to life the motivations and personalities involved in the leftist movements which overthrew the Mubarak regime. His first-hand experience of the time fuels the narrative as these revolutionaries faced the failure of the uprising in the long term. The book explores these harsh realities of politics through well-developed characters and expressionistic writing that brings to life this time in Egypt.

By Omar Robert Hamilton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The City Always Wins as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Omar Robert Hamilton brings vividly to life the failed revolution of 2011 on the streets of Cairo, in all its youthful bravery and naive utopianism.' - JM Coetzee

'The City Always Wins is a stirring, clear, humane and immensely savvy novel about political innocence and fearlessness. Its fictive portrayals of the Egyptian 'revolution' of 2011 are nothing less than ground-breaking.' - Richard Ford

'I finished this novel with fascination and admiration. It gives a picture of the inside of a popular movement that we all saw from the outside, in countless news broadcasts and foreign-correspondent reports, a picture so vivid…


Book cover of Cairo: City of Sand

Ronnie Close Author Of Cairo's Ultras: Resistance and Revolution in Egypt’s Football Culture

From my list on Egyptian politics and the 2011 Revolution.

Who am I?

I'm a writer and filmmaker based in Cairo for over a decade. I was inspired to move to Egypt when I visited during the 2011 Revolution and fell in love with the vibrance of the city. Since then Cairo has changed and I have lived through an extraordinary history with some difficult times but always with a sense of curiosity for stories. My book, Cairo’s Ultras, began as a documentary film project in 2012 and I have found many other interesting topics during my time in this enigmatic and fascinating place. I will publish a second book next year, called Decolonising Images, that looks at the photographic heritage and visual culture of Egypt.

Ronnie's book list on Egyptian politics and the 2011 Revolution

Ronnie Close Why did Ronnie love this book?

The book gives the reader a deep layered understanding of Egypt before the 2011 uprising to look at the state of the nation and into the heart of Cairo, an ancient city but now a metropolis of over 20 million. Written with a novelist's flare this is an intimate portrait of the lives of Cairenes that explores hidden aspects of this mysterious city. The author builds an intriguing story on the religious beliefs, family values, negotiating tactics, driving habits, and attitudes towards foreigners. This is a reflection on a wonderous city, a place of sadness and of hope, which uses the metaphor of Saharan desert sand blowing in to shape the sand castle politics of the Mubarak era that would come crashing down in the 2011 Revolution.

By Maria Golia,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Cairo is a 1,400-year-old metropolis whose streets are inscribed with sagas, a place where the pressures of life test people's equanimity to the very limit. Virtually surrounded by desert, sixteen million Cairenes cling to the Nile and each other, proximities that colour and shape lives. Packed with incident and anecdote "Cairo: City of Sand" describes the city's given circumstances and people's attitudes of response. Apart from a brisk historical overview, this book focuses on the present moment of one of the world's most illustrious and irreducible cities. Cairo steps inside the interactions between Cairenes, examining the roles of family, tradition…


Book cover of Palace Walk

Peter Blauner Author Of Picture in the Sand

From my list on making history feel like it just happened.

Who am I?

I'm a novelist, born and raised in New York City. To train myself to write realistic fiction, I started working in journalism first. I worked for New York magazine for a decade, writing about crime, politics, and other forms of anti-social behavior. Later, I wrote for television shows like Law & Order and Blue Bloods. But writing novels is what it's all about for me. I have nine of them so far. The audience is obviously quite small compared to the number of people who watch TV shows. But that doesn't matter. Nothing else allows you to communicate so directly from the studio in your mind to the theater in someone's else mind.

Peter's book list on making history feel like it just happened

Peter Blauner Why did Peter love this book?

When I first decided to write a historical novel that takes place in Egypt, I stopped by my local falafel joint in Brooklyn and asked the owner for pointers. He said, “Read Mahfouz, that’s all you need.” These are three interconnected stories that span the period from World War I to World War II. Without getting too deeply into the plot, I’d say they do what all the best historical novels do; they give you a sense of life’s movement, with the specifics that allow you to enter another time and place.

I met Mahfouz on my first trip to Egypt in 2005, shortly before he died, and asked him something about the country’s late leader Gamal Abdel Nasser. Mahfouz said he didn’t know the immediate answer himself, but “when I see Nasser, I’ll ask him.”

By Naguib Mahfouz,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

THE ACCLAIMED INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER BY THE NOBEL PRIZE WINNING AUTHOR.

'A masterpiece' - The Times
'The Arab Tolstoy' - Simon Sebag Montefiore
'Shamelessly entertaining' - Guardian
'Luminous' - New York Times

A sweeping and evocative portrait of both a family and a country struggling to move toward independence in a society that has resisted change for centuries. Set against the backdrop of Britain's occupation of Egypt immediately after World War I, Palace Walk introduces us to the Al Jawad family.

Ahmad, a middle-class shopkeeper runs his household strictly according to the Qur'an while at night he explores the pleasures of…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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