The most recommended books on the Arab Spring

Who picked these books? Meet our 11 experts.

11 authors created a book list connected to the Arab Spring, and here are their favorite Arab Spring books.
Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

What type of Arab Spring book?

Loading...

Book cover of Escape from Aleppo

Alyssa Hollingsworth Author Of The Eleventh Trade

From my list on refugees.

Why am I passionate about this?

My sister worked for nine years teaching women in Afghanistan, and the Taliban tried to kill her for it—several times. Back in 2011, I was able to visit her in-country and I fell in love with the kind, brave people and their scarred, stubborn nation. But when my sister was eventually forced to return home, she was not the sister who had left. Refugees told me similar stories; stories about memories that wouldn’t stay quiet even though they were safe. I couldn’t help wondering: How do you rebuild a life after losing everything? My debut book, The Eleventh Trade, became the place I wrestled with that question. 

Alyssa's book list on refugees

Alyssa Hollingsworth Why did Alyssa love this book?

When bombs fall on Nadia’s home, she’s separated from her family in the middle of a war. Over the course of a few short, dangerous days, she has to find a way through her destroyed city to her parents. With startling detail, N.H. Senzai captures the frenzy and peril of Nadia’s situation. 

N.H. Senzai also writes wonderful books about Afghan refugees, like Shooting Kabul, but I personally found Escape from Aleppo her best work so far. I read it all in a gulp, and came out with a deeper understanding of what even a tiny slice of the refugee experience can look like.

By N.H. Senzai,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Escape from Aleppo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

"Filled with kindness and hope...Heartbreaking...Necessary." -Booklist (starred review)

Nadia's family is forced to flee their home in Aleppo, Syria, when the Arab Spring sparks a civil war in this timely, "harrowing" (Publishers Weekly) coming-of-age novel from award-winning author N.H. Senzai.

Silver and gold balloons. A birthday cake covered in pink roses. A new dress.

Nadia stands at the center of attention in her parents' elegant dining room. This is the best day of my life, she thinks. Everyone is about to sing "Happy Birthday," when her uncle calls from the living room, "Baba, brothers, you need to see this." Reluctantly,…


Book cover of Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink

Ronald Bruce St John Author Of Historical Dictionary of Libya

From my list on explaining the Libyan Quagmire.

Why am I passionate about this?

I first visited and worked in Libya in 1977. At the time, only a handful of books on Libya were available in English, and all of them were technical studies related to the petroleum industry. In an effort to better understand the political economy of this beautiful and intriguing state, I began to conduct my own field research. This research led to the publication in 1981 of two articles on Libya under the pseudonym of our two sons because it was dangerous for anyone to publish critical analysis of the Qaddafi regime. I remain fascinated with Libya, and over time, I have published five books and well over 100 articles and reviews on Libya.

Ronald's book list on explaining the Libyan Quagmire

Ronald Bruce St John Why did Ronald love this book?

In September 2012, radical Islamist terrorists attacked the US Diplomatic Mission and the CIA Annex in Benghazi, Libya, killing Ambassador J. Christopher (Chris) Stevens and three other Americans.

Ethan Chorin, who has 17 years of experience in Libya, wisely begins his narrative of the attacks with an exploration of their antecedents in a wide-ranging discussion of political Islam in Qaddafi’s Libya.

He then recounts events on the day of the attack from a privileged viewpoint as he was both in Benghazi and in contact with Ambassador Stevens on that day.

Next, he discusses the multiple investigations and hearings post-Benghazi in which the Republican opposition sought political advantage, turning an uncertain and often unclear response by the Obama administration into a biting, prolonged critique that stretched over the next four years.

Ethan Chorin is a master storyteller who skillfully weaves anecdotes and personal experiences into a narrative that is likely to…

By Ethan Chorin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On September 11, 2012, Al Qaeda proxies attacked and set fire to the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, killing a US Ambassador and three other Americans.  The attack launched one of the longest and most consequential 'scandals' in US history, only to disappear from public view once its political value was spent. 

Written in a highly engaging narrative style by one of a few Western experts on Libya, and decidely non-partisan, Benghazi!: A New History is the first to provide the full context for an event that divided, incited, and baffled most of America for more than three years, while silently reshaping…


Book cover of This Is an Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt Is Shaping the Twenty-First Century

Srdja Popovic Author Of Blueprint for Revolution: How to Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men, and Other Nonviolent Techniques to Galvanize Communities, Overthrow Dictators, or Simply Change the World

From my list on teaching you how to change society for better.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm super passionate about educating people on how to empower themselves and change the world. I do a lot of different things for a living. And my organization CANVAS works with the groups who are involved in the pro-democracy struggles and “art of the revolution.” Starting as a student activist in my homeland, ruled by ruthless dictator Slobodan Milosevic, I was blessed to meet and work with some of the most courageous people. Throughout the last 25 years, I've tried to capture, share, and transfer successful tools common people may use in order to address injustice, inequality, or small tangible problems through mobilizing their peers – and thus make their communities or the world a better place.

Srdja's book list on teaching you how to change society for better

Srdja Popovic Why did Srdja love this book?

Building from the scope of world revolutionaries and revolutions, authors build a compelling idea that nonviolent revolution is something everybody may – and should try at home. Balancing the fine line between solid, historically founded cases and an “academic world” and something which is both accessible and inspiring for the common reader. See numerous cases of common people pushing for massive change, and getting inspired.

By Mark Stengler, Paul Engler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked This Is an Uprising as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

There is a craft to uprising,and this craft can change the worldFrom protests around climate change and immigrant rights, to Occupy, the Arab Spring, and #BlackLivesMatter, a new generation is unleashing strategic nonviolent action to shape public debate and force political change. When mass movements erupt onto our television screens, the media consistently portrays them as being spontaneous and unpredictable. Yet, in this book, Mark and Paul Engler look at the hidden art behind such outbursts of protest, examining core principles that have been used to spark and guide moments of transformative unrest.With incisive insights from contemporary activists, as well…


Book cover of Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink

Ethan Chorin Author Of Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Story-lover Middle East expert Curious Iconoclast Optimist

Ethan's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Benghazi: A New History is a look back at the enigmatic 2012 attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, its long-tail causes, and devastating (and largely unexamined) consequences for US domestic politics and foreign policy. It contains information not found elsewhere, and is backed up by 40 pages of citations and interviews with more than 250 key protagonists, experts, and witnesses.

So far, the book is the main -- and only -- antidote to a slew of early partisan “Benghazi” polemics, and the first to put the attack in its longer term historical, political, and social context. If you want to understand some of the events that have shaped present-day America, from political polarization and the election of Donald Trump, to January 6, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Russian expansionism, and the current Israel-Hamas war, I argue, you need to understand some of the twists and turns of America's most infamous "non-scandal, scandal.”

I was in Benghazi well before, during, and after the attack as a US diplomat and co-director of a medical NGO. I have written three books, and have been a contributor to The NYT, Foreign Affairs, Forbes, Salon, The Financial Times, Newsweek, and others.

By Ethan Chorin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On September 11, 2012, Al Qaeda proxies attacked and set fire to the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, killing a US Ambassador and three other Americans.  The attack launched one of the longest and most consequential 'scandals' in US history, only to disappear from public view once its political value was spent. 

Written in a highly engaging narrative style by one of a few Western experts on Libya, and decidely non-partisan, Benghazi!: A New History is the first to provide the full context for an event that divided, incited, and baffled most of America for more than three years, while silently reshaping…


Book cover of Understanding Libya Since Gaddafi

Ronald Bruce St John Author Of Historical Dictionary of Libya

From my list on explaining the Libyan Quagmire.

Why am I passionate about this?

I first visited and worked in Libya in 1977. At the time, only a handful of books on Libya were available in English, and all of them were technical studies related to the petroleum industry. In an effort to better understand the political economy of this beautiful and intriguing state, I began to conduct my own field research. This research led to the publication in 1981 of two articles on Libya under the pseudonym of our two sons because it was dangerous for anyone to publish critical analysis of the Qaddafi regime. I remain fascinated with Libya, and over time, I have published five books and well over 100 articles and reviews on Libya.

Ronald's book list on explaining the Libyan Quagmire

Ronald Bruce St John Why did Ronald love this book?

In Understanding Libya Since Gaddafi, Ulf Laessing sets out to explain why a country with an embarrassment of riches descended from a highly popular revolution into a failed state.

He focuses on the militias that sprang up to overturn the Qaddafi regime but then pursued separate agendas after the fighting ended.

In the process, the parameters of politics became less about democracy and the future direction of the country and more about control of the nation’s resources. Laessing’s focus on the militias makes two very important points that many authors fail to note.

First, the post-Qaddafi conflict is mostly about money, not ideology, and second, it has proved difficult to end the conflict because too many Libyans benefit from the status quo.

By Ulf Laessing,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Understanding Libya Since Gaddafi as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Why has Libya fallen apart since 2011? The world has largely given up trying to understand how the revolution that toppled Muammar Gaddafi has left the country a failed state and a major security headache for Europe. Gaddafi's police state has been replaced by yet another dictatorship, amidst a complex conflict of myriad armed groups, Islamists, tribes, towns and secularists. What happened? One of few foreign journalists to have lived in post-revolution Tripoli, Ulf Laessing has unique insight into the violent nature of post-Gaddafi politics. Confronting threats from media-hostile militias and jihadi kidnappings, in a world where diplomats retreat to…


Book cover of Red Nile: The Biography of the World's Greatest River

Jonathan North Author Of Napoleon's Invasion of Egypt: An Eyewitness History

From Jonathan's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Historian Reader Francophile Humourist

Jonathan's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Jonathan North Why did Jonathan love this book?

I have been dreaming of Egypt recently (an inevitable consequence of five years of working away on my own book on Napoleon in Egypt). The monuments, the glories, the lone and level sands which stretch far away. And the Nile, giver of life, benefactor of bounty.

It would never have occurred to me to tell Egypt’s story by following the course of that great waterway as it rises, flows through Cairo, and on to meet the Mediterranean.

But this was Robert Twigger’s way, and his book is one of the finest on Egypt and why the Nile is so central to the country and to the civilizations whose ebb and flow mark the passage of Egyptian time.

By Robert Twigger,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A rip-roaring yet intimate biography of the mighty Nile by Robert Twigger, award-winning author of ANGRY WHITE PYJAMAS. 'A tour de force' FINANCIAL TIMES.

So much begins on the banks of the Nile: all religion, all life, all stories, the script we write in, the language we speak, the gods, the legends and the names of stars. This mighty river that flows through a quarter of all Africa has been history's most sustained creator.

In this dazzling, idiosyncratic journey from ancient times to the Arab Spring, award-winning author Robert Twigger weaves a Nile narrative like no other. As he navigates…


Book cover of After the Arab Uprisings: Progress and Stagnation in the Middle East and North Africa

Sean Yom Author Of From Resilience to Revolution: How Foreign Interventions Destabilize the Middle East

From my list on democracy and dictatorship in the Middle East.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have always been interested in the politics of democracy and dictatorship. Governing is a funny business: the masses must entrust a very few to lead them, and often with vast power. Where does that trust come from? And why do some rulers act so viciously while others serve with grace? Understanding these very human concerns is a worthy pursuit of knowledge.

Sean's book list on democracy and dictatorship in the Middle East

Sean Yom Why did Sean love this book?

The 2011-12 Arab Spring was a momentous opportunity for a young generation of activists to upend their dictators and secure radical freedoms. The scoresheet more than a decade later is mixed, as this book shows. Some countries remain mired in conflict, like Libya and Yemen; others have tentatively embraced political reform, like Morocco and Jordan; and in still others, like Algeria and Sudan, popular movements and stubborn autocrats are locked in tense confrontation. Few other volumes provide as vivid of a snapshot of regional politics as this one.

By Shamiran Mako, Valentine M. Moghadam,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked After the Arab Uprisings as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Why were some, but not all the Arab mass social protests of 2011 accompanied by relatively quick and nonviolent outcomes in the direction of regime change, democracy, and social transformation? Why was a democratic transition limited to Tunisia, and why did region-wide democratization not occur? After the Arab Uprisings offers an explanatory framework to answer these central questions, based on four key themes: state and regime type, civil society, gender relations and women's mobilizations, and external influence. Applying these to seven cases: Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, Valentine M. Moghadam and Shamiran Mako highlight the salience of…


Book cover of The Naked Blogger of Cairo: Creative Insurgency in the Arab World

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.

Why am I passionate about this?

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?

Marwan Kraidy’s book is a deep dive into the cultural politics of the Arab Uprisings during 2011. Wonderfully written and cleverly organized this academic book looks at the ‘digital’ nature of these resistance movements and the use of art and media tools in the protests. The focus is on young Arabs who used the street to challenge authority and cutting-edge social media platforms to argue for social change. In the book political activism and a period of digital euphoria meet when places like Tahrir Square became the centre of the world. This is one of the most essential accounts of 2011 that offers a refreshing take on Facebook and Twitter as revolutionary agents that helped to bring down the military regime. 

By Marwan M. Kraidy,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Uprisings spread like wildfire across the Arab world from 2010 to 2012, fueled by a desire for popular sovereignty. In Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria, protesters flooded the streets and the media, voicing dissent through slogans, graffiti, puppetry, videos, and satire that called for the overthrow of dictatorial regimes. Investigating what drives people to risk everything to express themselves in rebellious art, The Naked Blogger of Cairo uncovers the creative insurgency at the heart of the Arab uprisings. While commentators have stressed the role of texting and Twitter, Marwan M. Kraidy shows that the essential medium of expression was the human…


Book cover of The Peacock and the Sparrow

Bruce Borgos Author Of The Bitter Past

From my list on a protagonist who has extraordinary capabilities.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always loved peculiar heroes and heroines. Characters with strange gifts and an equal number of challenges. It started with Sherlock Holmes, whose mind fascinated me. As a child, I gravitated to the unnatural protagonist, Tarzan, in the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels and Bilbo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I was never a big fan of Superman, I preferred people who adapted quickly to new surroundings and could think on their feet. Once I began my writing career, I kept those protagonists in my mind. Four novels in, I do my best to capture their spirit and determination to overcome whatever lands in front of them.

Bruce's book list on a protagonist who has extraordinary capabilities

Bruce Borgos Why did Bruce love this book?

Author I.S. Berry’s debut is perfect for people like me who love a realistic spy story.

Her protagonist, Shane Collins, is straight out of a John le Carré novel, and his superpower is a dogged determination to end his long, questionable career by doing something right. This jaded spook is in Bahrain, caught up in the Arab Spring.

I adored how Berry captured the reality on the ground and the complexity of the modern world, and I loved the complexity of Shane Collins, a man on his way out who finds real love and something to fight for, maybe for the first time in his life. 

By I S Berry,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A NEW YORKER BEST BOOK OF THE WEEK

During the Arab Spring, an American spy’s final mission goes dangerously awry in this explosive and “remarkable debut” (Joseph Kanon, New York Times bestselling author) from a former CIA officer that is perfect for fans of John le Carré, Viet Thanh Nguyen, and Alan Furst.

Shane Collins, a world-weary CIA spy, is ready to come in from the cold. Stationed in Bahrain off the coast of Saudi Arabia for his final tour, he’s anxious to dispense with his mission—uncovering Iranian support for the insurgency against the monarchy. But then he meets Almaisa,…


Book cover of The Explosive Expert's Wife

Siobhan Fallon Author Of The Confusion of Languages

From my list on war (that are not actually about war).

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an American writer, Army wife, and occasional expat who has spent nearly a decade of my life living abroad (including Japan, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates), not to mention seven Army moves stateside. I love to read (and write!) books that explore discordance and dislocation, what it is like to be an American living overseas in a time of war, and how these things impact relationships with friends, families, and strangers, and our concept of “home.” My writing is often an exploration of the mundane mixed with the catastrophic. Oh, and I have a weakness for stray cats. Lots of stray cats.

Siobhan's book list on war (that are not actually about war)

Siobhan Fallon Why did Siobhan love this book?

Shara Lessley and I met in Amman, Jordan, during the Arab Spring—both of us American writers whose husbands worked at the embassy. Poetry is not a staple of my reading diet, but Lessley’s poems are small, crystalline stories that perfectly encapsulate what it is like to be an American woman living in the Middle East during a time of potential instability. This volume is slim, but the Jordan that emerges is vast and unforgettable.

By Shara Lessley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Explosive Expert's Wife as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In sparse, powerful lines, Shara Lessley recalls an expat's displacement, examines her experience as a mother, and offers intimate witness to the unfolding of the Arab Spring. Veering from the strip malls and situation rooms of Washington to the markets and mines of Amman, Lessley confronts the pressures and pleasures of other cultures, exploring our common humanity with all its aggressions, loves, biases, and contradictions.


Book cover of Africans: The History of a Continent

Irina Filatova Author Of The Hidden Thread. Russia and South Africa in the Soviet Era

From my list on to understand what is wrong and right with Africa.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a South African historian of Russian origin, who has studied and taught African history since the late 1960s. For us, the Russians, Africa was then an alluring terra incognita of wild nature, adventure, human suffering, struggles, and tenacity. I have studied how Africa became what it is for 50 years and lived in it for 30. I have learnt a lot about it, but for me it is still a land of human suffering, struggles and tenacity, wild nature, and adventure, and it is still alluring. 

Irina's book list on to understand what is wrong and right with Africa

Irina Filatova Why did Irina love this book?

There are thousands of histories of Africa, but only this one ties together environment, economy, demography, and society. In just 300 pages Iliffe presents Africa’s history from the birth of humankind to the mid-1990s. His history of Africa is the story of hardship and social adjustment in which population numbers are not just the result of variable, though mostly unfavourable, environmental situations, but a tool of survival and progress. This social adjustability, different as it may be from European patterns, allowed the continent’s people to build one of the greatest civilisations on earth. It carried them through natural disasters, invasions, the slave trade, and colonial brutalities, but it struggles with the present pace of demographic expansion – the result of modern medicine and globalisation. 

By John Iliffe,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In a vast and all-embracing study of Africa, from the origins of mankind to the present day, John Iliffe refocuses its history on the peopling of an environmentally hostile continent. Africans have been pioneers struggling against disease and nature, but during the last century their inherited culture has interacted with medical progress to produce the most rapid population growth the world has ever seen. This new edition incorporates genetic and linguistic findings, throwing light on early African history and summarises research that has transformed the study of the Atlantic slave trade. It also examines the consequences of a rapidly growing…