100 books like The Rope

By Kanan Makiya,

Here are 100 books that The Rope fans have personally recommended if you like The Rope. 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 Devil You Don't Know: Going Back to Iraq

Emma Sky Author Of The Unraveling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq

From my list on what the Iraq War was like for Iraqis.

Why am I passionate about this?

I served in Iraq as Governorate Co-ordinator of Kirkuk for the Coalition Provisional Authority, 2003-2004; and as advisor to the Commanding General of US Forces in Iraq from 2007-2010. I retain a deep love of the country and am a regular visitor. I teach about the Middle East and Global Affairs at Yale University. 

Emma's book list on what the Iraq War was like for Iraqis

Emma Sky Why did Emma love this book?

What did the Iraq War look like from the perspective of Iraqis? In most accounts of the Iraq War, Iraqis only feature as terrorists or victims. This book explains how Iraqis felt about the invasion of the country; what relations were like between returning exiles and those who had remained in Iraq all along; and the hopes that Iraqis had for their country. It is really well written and engaging.

By Zuhair al-Jezairy, John West (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Devil You Don't Know as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1979, journalist Zuhair al-Jezairy fled Iraq and certain death after openly criticising Saddam's regime. Twenty-five years later he is back, and cautiously celebrating the toppling of the hated Ba'ath Party.

As editor of a newspaper, he breaks the Oil for Food scandal, disclosing the names of Arab and Westerners who were involved. He then sets up a television company and travels all over Iraq, documenting the country's descent into sectarianism and hopeless violence, soon becoming a target himself.

Al-Jezairy's first-hand accounts of the looting of Baghdad, the destruction of government buildings, and indiscriminate bombings are a searing, personal and…


Book cover of Frankenstein in Baghdad

Andy Owen Author Of Land of the Blind

From my list on books that capture the tragedy and comedy of war.

Why am I passionate about this?

War is perhaps the most extreme human activity. I have seen firsthand some of these extremes in Iraq and Afghanistan. I now write about the philosophy and ethics of war and geopolitics, exploring some of the impacts and enduring truths that war and its conduct tell us about ourselves that might be hidden under the surface of our everyday lives. The books I have chosen here explore, with elegance, sensitivity, and sometimes brutal and unflinching honesty, what the battlefield exposes, showing us that there is both tragedy and comedy at the extremities of human nature, and without one, you cannot really truly appreciate the other.

Andy's book list on books that capture the tragedy and comedy of war

Andy Owen Why did Andy love this book?

I have recommended this novel as it is one of the few to come out of the Iraq war written by an Iraqi writer, telling its story from the point of view of the local Iraqis. 

Hadi, an old junk dealer, dismayed by the hasty burials of incomplete bodies after the daily bombings, puts together a body from the parts he finds. This composite body, he calls “Whatsitsname,” becomes possessed with the soul of a bombing victim and sets about killing those responsible for turning Baghdad into a slaughterhouse.

Blending its style between war fiction, horror, and fantasy, this darkly effective satire of the fatal logic of sectarianism follows Whatsitsname as he expands his scope, claiming: “There are no innocents who are completely innocent, and no criminals who are completely criminal.”

By Ahmed Saadawi,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Frankenstein in Baghdad as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

*Man Booker International Prize finalist*

"Brave and ingenious." -The New York Times

"Gripping, darkly humorous . . . profound." -Phil Klay, bestselling author and National Book Award winner for Redeployment

"Extraordinary . . . A devastating but essential read." -Kevin Powers, bestselling author and National Book Award finalist for The Yellow Birds

From the rubble-strewn streets of U.S.-occupied Baghdad, Hadi-a scavenger and an oddball fixture at a local cafe-collects human body parts and stitches them together to create a corpse. His goal, he claims, is for the government to recognize the parts as people and to give them proper burial.…


Book cover of To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America Into Iraq

Emma Sky Author Of The Unraveling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq

From my list on what the Iraq War was like for Iraqis.

Why am I passionate about this?

I served in Iraq as Governorate Co-ordinator of Kirkuk for the Coalition Provisional Authority, 2003-2004; and as advisor to the Commanding General of US Forces in Iraq from 2007-2010. I retain a deep love of the country and am a regular visitor. I teach about the Middle East and Global Affairs at Yale University. 

Emma's book list on what the Iraq War was like for Iraqis

Emma Sky Why did Emma love this book?

In To Start a War, Robert Draper investigates how it was that the US came to invade Iraq in 2003. A gifted writer, he reveals the paranoia and fear that led to the collecting of ‘intelligence’ that confirmed the biases of senior US officials – but which was often fabricated and false. 

By Robert Draper,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"Essential . . . one for the ages . . . a must read for all who care about presidential power." -The Washington Post

"Authoritative . . . The most comprehensive account yet of that smoldering wreck of foreign policy, one that haunts us today." -LA Times

One of BookPage's Best Books of 2020

To Start a War paints a vivid and indelible picture of a decision-making process that was fatally compromised by a combination of post-9/11 fear and paranoia, rank naivete, craven groupthink, and a set of actors with idees fixes who gamed the process relentlessly. Everything was believed;…


Book cover of Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry That Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East

Patricia Goldstone Author Of Aaronsohn's Maps: The Man Who Might Have Created Peace in the Modern Middle East

From my list on changing discussions about the modern Middle East.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been fascinated by the Middle East ever since being taken to see Kismet at the age of 3. I travel there extensively, married into it, and have lived inside the Middle East community in the US for the past thirty years. I’m also a journalist, a playwright, and the author of three non-fiction books, Making the World Safe for Tourism, Aaronsohn’s Maps, and INTERLOCK: Art, Conspiracy, and The Shadow Worlds of Mark Lombardi. Although I wouldn't argue that the issue of women’s rights isn't an urgent one, as a woman who focuses on history and geopolitics, I’m often disturbed at how it's being used to whip up popular emotion and obscure other driving forces. 

Patricia's book list on changing discussions about the modern Middle East

Patricia Goldstone Why did Patricia love this book?

I’m going to be sneaky here and wedge two books in for the price of one. Kim Ghattas’ Black Wave is a beautifully written and reported, intimate history of the destructive ideological rivalry between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran, a rivalry fuelled by the “tilt” policy of the Ronald Reagan administration that pitted the former allies against each other in an effort to keep them both weak (and unlikely to lead OPEC to attack the West again as they did in 1973). Ghattas, a Beiruti journalist who was friends with Jamal Khashoggi, grounds her history of the devastating cultural and geopolitical upheaval that followed in the personal and highly emotional stories of public intellectuals and other progressive thinkers who fought the Dark Age descending on the Middle East.

She finds her creation moment in the 1979 Iranian revolution, which occurred in the same year as the siege of the…

By Kim Ghattas,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Blistering' Sunday Times
'Indispensable' Observer
'Fascinating' The Times
'Brilliant' Peter Frankopan
'Revelatory' Lindsey Hilsum

A timely and unprecedented examination of how the modern Middle East unravelled, and why it started with the pivotal year of 1979. Shortlisted for the Cundhill History Prize 2020

'What happened to us?'

For decades, the question has haunted the Arab and Muslim world, heard across Iran and Syria, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, and in the author's home country of Lebanon. Was it always so? When did the extremism, intolerance and bloodletting of today displace the region's cultural promise and diversity?

In Black Wave, award-winning journalist…


Book cover of The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace

Khalil F. Osman Author Of Sectarianism in Iraq: The Making of State and Nation Since 1920

From my list on sectarianism in the Middle East.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve had a diverse work experience, having taught political science, and worked as a journalist and UN official. My interest in sectarianism in the Arab world grew from my work as a journalist covering Middle Eastern and Iraqi affairs and as a UN official in Iraq. Working in Iraq following the 2003 US-led invasion, I witnessed firsthand how the sectarian violence that gripped Iraq highlighted the failure of social integration in nurturing a national identity. Scholarly work on sectarianism in the region was focused on Lebanon. In addressing this scholarly gap, I combined my academic training in political science, extensive knowledge of Islamic history, and decades-long fieldwork and life experiences in the region.

Khalil's book list on sectarianism in the Middle East

Khalil F. Osman Why did Khalil love this book?

Ali Allawi has served as minister in several cabinets in post-2003 Iraq. His book provides fascinating insider details on the chaotic world of politics that pushed post-Saddam Iraq into an inferno of sectarianism, insurgency, terrorism, and incessant political crises. Allawi’s definitive history of the invasion of Iraq and its immediate aftermath is rich in detail, insightful in its observations, and candid and dispassionate in its analysis. The book leaves the reader with a sense of foreboding about the ability of Iraqi leaders to extricate the country from the vicious cycle of crises it has lurched into since 2003. Above all, this is a narrative of the agonies of a fragmented nation, devoid of a unifying collective identity, mired in political stalemate, burdened by the past, and unsure about its future.

By Ali A. Allawi,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A comprehensive account of the occupation of Iraq and the crises that have followed in its wake, told for the first time by an Iraqi insider

Involved for over thirty years in the politics of Iraq, Ali A. Allawi was a long-time opposition leader against the Baathist regime. In the post-Saddam years he has held important government positions and participated in crucial national decisions and events. In this book, the former Minister of Defense and Finance draws on his unique personal experience, extensive relationships with members of the main political groups and parties in Iraq, and deep understanding of the…


Book cover of Fuel on the Fire: Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq

Simon Pirani Author Of Burning Up: A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption

From my list on the oil industry.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have always been fascinated by how power and money work, and hopeful that we can change the world for the better by subverting both. In the 1990s, when I started travelling to, and writing about, Russia, I became aware of how completely oil and gas completely dominated Russia’s economy, its power structures, and its people’s lives. I learned about how oil, gas, power, and money relate to each other, and for 14 years (2007-2021) wrote about those interconnections as a senior research fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies. 

Simon's book list on the oil industry

Simon Pirani Why did Simon love this book?

The frightful violence of the US-UK invasion of Iraq in 2003 was followed by a long, complicated war of stealth by the international oil companies. They sought access to Iraq’s oil reserves, the world’s third-largest, from which they had been ousted by nationalisation in the 1970s. Most western journalists simply could not be bothered to follow the complex interactions between the companies, the oil ministry, and civil society. That made reading this forensic investigation by Greg Muttitt, a committed campaigner for oil industry transparency, all the more satisfying.  

By Greg Muttitt,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fuel on the Fire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The departure of the last U.S. troops from Iraq at the end of 2011 left a broken country and a host of unanswered questions. What was the war really about? Why and how did the occupation drag on for nearly nine years, while most Iraqis, Britons, and Americans desperately wanted it to end? And why did the troops have to leave?

Now, in a gripping account of the war that dominated U.S. foreign policy over the last decade, investigative journalist Greg Muttitt takes us behind the scenes to answer some of these questions and reveals the heretofore-untold story of the…


Book cover of The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq

John A. Nagl Author Of Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam

From my list on the exorbitant cost of America’s War in Iraq.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a retired Army officer who served in a tank unit in Operation Desert Storm. After that war, I became convinced that the future of warfare looked more like America’s experience in Vietnam than like the war in which I had just fought. I taught at West Point and then served in another tank unit early in the war in Iraq before being sent to the Pentagon where I helped Generals David Petraeus and Jim Mattis write the Army and Marine Corps doctrine for counterinsurgency campaigns. I am now studying and teaching about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a professor at the U.S. Army War College.  

John's book list on the exorbitant cost of America’s War in Iraq

John A. Nagl Why did John love this book?

Packer examines why the United States invaded Iraq without a just cause and without a plan for what to do once it succeeded in toppling Saddam Hussein. He explains the critical first few months of the war that set the course for everything that followed in a searing examination of America’s extraordinary hubris in the “War on Terror.” What sets Packer’s work apart is his ability to explain events in the White House and Pentagon and tie them to their bitter denouement on the streets of Baghdad. He tells the story of a big war of choice gone badly wrong before the first shots were fired. 

By George Packer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Named One of the 10 Best Books of the Year by The New York Times Book Review

Named one of the Best Books of the Year by The Washington Post Book World, The Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, The San Francisco Chronicle Book Review, Los Angeles Times Book Review, USA Today, Time, and New York magazine.

Winner of the Overseas Press Club’s Cornelius Ryan Award for Best Nonfiction Book on International Affairs

Winner of the New York Public Library Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism

The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq recounts how the United States set about changing…


Book cover of Compulsion in Religion: Saddam Hussein, Islam, and the Roots of Insurgencies in Iraq

Vassily Klimentov Author Of A Slow Reckoning: The USSR, the Afghan Communists, and Islam

From my list on the modern Middle East and Afghanistan.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a historian of the Cold War and early post-Cold War period, focusing on Soviet/ Russian foreign policy in Afghanistan and in the Middle East in the 1970s and the 1980s. These are exciting topics on which an increasing number of new documents are released each year. I have a research project and lecture about these issues at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. But academia is my second career. Before my Ph.D., I worked as an aid worker, including for two years in the Middle East. I was in the region during the height of the Syrian crisis, notably running humanitarian multi-sector needs assessments.

Vassily's book list on the modern Middle East and Afghanistan

Vassily Klimentov Why did Vassily love this book?

I liked Samuel Helfont’s book for the solidity of his research on the instrumentalization of Islam by the Saddam Hussein regime.

I personally feel that the 1980s is a key period in understanding how some of the problems that emerged during the late Cold War are still relevant today. This is certainly true for the Middle East, a region that is prone to conflicts and where the United States has been involved militarily over the past forty years.

Beyond that, I enjoyed Helfont’s writing which is strikingly dynamic.

By Samuel Helfont,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Samuel Helfont draws on extensive research with Ba'thist archives to investigate the roots of the religious insurgencies that erupted in Iraq following the American-led invasion in 2003. In looking at Saddam Hussein's policies in the 1990s, many have interpreted his support for state-sponsored religion as evidence of a dramatic shift away from Arab nationalism toward political Islam. While Islam did play a greater role in the regime's symbols and Saddam's statements in the 1990s than it had in earlier decades, the regime's internal documents challenge this theory.

The "Faith Campaign" Saddam launched during this period was the culmination of a…


Book cover of A Thousand Sighs, a Thousand Revolts: Journeys in Kurdistan

Alesa Lightbourne Author Of The Kurdish Bike

From my list on the Kurds and their world.

Why am I passionate about this?

Like the main character in my book, I went to Kurdish Iraq as a well-meaning (but admittedly naive) teacher, and fell in love with the Kurdish people and their culture. To be more specific, it was village women I really bonded with. Listening to their stories, and watching them try to cope with so many practical restrictions, tore at my heart. Part of me wanted to “liberate” them from the seemingly outdated traditions that held them back. Simultaneously, I couldn’t help but envy them for the solaces their tight community offered them -- and which Western society denied me. Rather than claiming to be an expert on Kurds, I am now someone who studies them with the greatest respect. The humble Kurdish villagers gave me moral examples that I wish every Westerner could be fortunate enough to have.

Alesa's book list on the Kurds and their world

Alesa Lightbourne Why did Alesa love this book?

History, culture, politics, plus the zing of real personalities. This book has it all, presented by a gutsy but sensitive journalist. Bird traveled through the four nations that are home to Kurds -- Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey -- in 2003. Although a lot has changed since then, her book remains the gold standard for nonfiction about these fascinating and little-understood people. You’ll wish you could have stowed away in her backpack.

By Christiane Bird,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Thousand Sighs, a Thousand Revolts as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Though the Kurds played a major military and tactical role in the United States’ recent war with Iraq, most of us know little about this fiercely independent, long-marginalized people. Now acclaimed journalist Christiane Bird, who riveted readers with her tour of Islamic Iran in Neither East Nor West, travels through this volatile part of the world to tell the Kurds’ story, using personal observations and in-depth research to illuminate an astonishing history and vibrant culture.

For the twenty-five to thirty million Kurds, Kurdistan is both an actual and a mythical place: an isolated, largely mountainous homeland that has historically offered…


Book cover of The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq: A Study of Iraq's Old Landed and Commercial Classes and of its Communists, Ba`thists and Free Officers

Johan Franzen Author Of Red Star Over Iraq: Iraqi Communism Before Saddam

From my list on Middle Eastern communism and leftist movements.

Why am I passionate about this?

Growing up during the Cold War, I became interested in Communism early. I read about how the Communist International worked to spread the world revolution. Despite its Eurocentrism, Communism appealed to people in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. However, it failed to make meaningful inroads in the Middle East. I wanted to know why. When I trained to become a historian, my curiosity turned towards the Arab world. I decided to combine my two interests and research the history of Arab Communist movements. I discovered a fascinating world of firebrand activists struggling against the tide of nationalism, fascism, and religious bigotry. I hope you find these books as gripping as I did.

Johan's book list on Middle Eastern communism and leftist movements

Johan Franzen Why did Johan love this book?

This immense book, which in reality is three books in one, is what first attracted me to Iraqi communism. I had long been interested in the history of the Communist movement, but none of the many books I had read on the topic had ever dealt with Communism in the Arab world. Batatu’s book was a revelation. It is a tour de force of the history of Iraqi social movements of the early twentieth century. Despite many detours along the way, Batatu masterfully tells a gripping narrative of the disparate groups who ended up in the Iraqi state that was created after World War I and how they made sense of this new reality. 

By Hanna Batatu,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The book description for the previously published "The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq: A Study of Iraq's Old Landed and Commercial Classes and of Its Communists, Ba'thists, and Free Officers" is not yet available.


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Interested in politics, Iraq, and the Iraq War?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about politics, Iraq, and the Iraq War.

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