The most recommended books about Arabs

Who picked these books? Meet our 22 experts.

22 authors created a book list connected to Arabs, and here are their favorite Arabs books.
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Book cover of Superheroes in the Streets: Muslim Women Activists and Protest in the Digital Age

Sara Shaban Author Of Iranian Feminism and Transnational Ethics in Media Discourse

From my list on proving Arab women can speak for themselves.

Who am I?

As an Arab American woman who grew up in Nashville in an evangelical church, I’ve always maintained complex understandings of myself as both an Arab and a woman. My experiences coupled with my love for reading led me to become a journalist where I could explore stories about Arab women in hopes of learning more about myself. After 9/11, watching my family face racism and hate from a country we're so proud to be a part of, I wanted to change the narrative. I got a Ph.D. in Media Sociology from the University of Missouri and started writing critical analyses of media’s poor representation of Arab women and how we can help change the game.  

Sara's book list on proving Arab women can speak for themselves

Sara Shaban Why did Sara love this book?

Segall’s book introduced me to so many incredible Muslim women that I hadn’t even heard of!

We’re talking about grassroots and famous protestors that engage with digital media to change the landscape of protest. Segall positions these women in positions of power, which we rarely see in literature, and lets them tell us why their stories matter. 

By Kimberly Wedeven Segall,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The icon of the female protester and her alter-ego, the female superhero, fills screens in the news, in theaters, and in digital spaces. The female protester who is Muslim, though, has been subject to a legacy of discrimination. Superheroes in the Streets: Muslim Women Activists and Protest in the Digital Age follows the stories of both famous and grassroots Muslim female protestors, bringing careful attention to protest modes and online national icons.

US Muslim women have long navigated public and digital spaces aware of the complex and nuanced histories that trail them. Given the pervasive influence of mainstream feminism, Muslim…


Book cover of Comrades and Enemies: Arab and Jewish Workers in Palestine, 1906-1948

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

From my list on Middle Eastern communism and leftist movements.

Who am I?

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?

The relationship between Communism and nationalism has always been tricky since both ideologies rose to prominence in the nineteenth century. Nowhere has this been truer than within the Communist movement in Palestine, where Jewish activists from Eastern Europe founded the Palestine Communist Party. Palestinian Arabs who were coopted into the movement struggled with nationalist tendencies within their own community that opposed Jewish immigration and Communist ideas about building a socialist society for everyone. As shown exceptionally well in Zachary Lockman’s book, working-class Jews and Arabs fighting for a new world ended up in an impossible situation, at times working together as comrades and, at others, opposing each other as bitter enemies. 

By Zachary Lockman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In "Comrades and Enemies" Zachary Lockman explores the mutually formative interactions between the Arab and Jewish working classes, labor movements, and worker-oriented political parties in Palestine just before and during the period of British colonial rule. Unlike most of the historical and sociological literature on Palestine in this period, "Comrades and Enemies" avoids treating the Arab and Jewish communities as if they developed independently of each other. Instead of focusing on politics, diplomacy, or military history, Lockman draws on detailed archival research in both Arabic and Hebrew, and on interviews with activists, to delve into the country's social, economic, and…


Book cover of Tents and Pyramids: Games and Ideology in Arab Culture from Backgammon to Autocratic Rule

Andrea Rugh Author Of Egyptian Advice Columnists: Envisioning the Good Life in an Era of Extremism

From my list on how culture influences Middle Eastern history.

Who am I?

From over three decades of work on development projects in countries of the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Africa, I am convinced that when efforts fail, it is invariably because we lack the cultural understanding of what people want or how we provide it. These books all reinforce my point by either underlining the way culture shapes the way people see the world or by showing how when we neglect culture, we do so at our own peril. Culture can be discovered through multiple entry points with these books offering a good start. Even something as mundane as advice columns in newspapers offer political insights when plumbed for the meanings below the surface.

Andrea's book list on how culture influences Middle Eastern history

Andrea Rugh Why did Andrea love this book?

In Tents and Pyramids, Khuri describes how Arabs’ ways of seeing and dealing with reality have implications for power in the Middle East. He juxtaposes tents—the low horizontal Bedouin ones—against vertical hierarchical pyramids. Khuri argues that authority is not built into the tent approach—rather the strategy is to act as equal groups with leaders who are only “first among equals” and isolated individuals are the vulnerable ones. The second group, imagined as hierarchical pyramids, has no standardized rules for succession and ends up being the ones who conquer the rest. To stay in power these autocrats need strong militaries to keep the public from holding them accountable. Although Khuri’s framework doesn’t always hold up, it offers a useful way of imaging the region’s power structures.    

By Fuad I. Khuri,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This study deals with an unusual and absorbing topic: how the Arabs see and deal with reality and the implications this has for the nature of power in the Arab world. "Tents" and "pyramids" are, metaphorically, opposed mental images; the first signifies the absence of hierarchy and graded authority, the second the presence of both, Khuri argues that the Arabs perceive both social and physical reality as a series of discrete, non-pyramidal structures that are inherently equal in value - much like a Bedouin encampment composed of tents scattered haphazardly on a flat desert surface with no visible hierarchy. Authority…


Book cover of In the Shadow of the Sword: The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire

Jake Jackson Author Of Norse Myths

From my list on Norse mythology from a wide range of perspectives.

Who am I?

I write about mythology, history, art, music, and cosmology. I also write science fiction. Mythology for me is an expression of a people trying to explain the world around them within the limits of their own knowledge. We are the same. Our search to understand the origins of the universe are limited by our language and mathematics, as were the Scandinavians who discovered countries for the first time, always expanding their horizons and adapting their legends accordingly. The Vikings had a rare vitality that sprang from every mythic tale and I love to explore both the deep origins of their worldview, and their influence in the cultures of today.

Jake's book list on Norse mythology from a wide range of perspectives

Jake Jackson Why did Jake love this book?

Tom Holland’s excellent series of contextual historical books bring a rare quality, seeking beyond boundaries to understand the sweep of civilisation across continents. This book focuses on the period we call The Dark Ages in the West, from the Fall of Rome to the rise of the Anglo Saxons. But in Asia and the Middle East literature, science and religion flourished, just as the Vikings raided and traded through Europe across to Arabia where eventually they encountered the great cultures of the East.

By Tom Holland,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A SUNDAY TIMES TOP TEN BESTSELLER

'A stunning blockbuster' Robert Fisk

'A compelling detective story of the highest order' Sunday Times

In the 6th century AD, the Near East was divided between two great empires: the Persian and the Roman. A hundred years on, and one had vanished for ever, while the other was a dismembered, bleeding trunk. In their place, a new superpower had arisen: the empire of the Arabs. So profound was this upheaval that it spelled, in effect, the end of the ancient world.

But the changes that marked the period were more than merely political or…


Book cover of The King in the Stone

Linda Wisniewski Author Of Where the Stork Flies

From my list on time travel dealing with women’s issues.

Who am I?

I’m an avid lifelong reader who became a librarian, my dream job that kept me close to books and everything about them. I’ve seen so many changes in women’s lives since then. My oldest known ancestor was a woman born in 1778. What was her life like compared to mine? What would she think of me? In my time travel novel, I try to answer those questions. I’m drawn to stories that deal with universal women’s themes – family, love, fulfilling work, inequality, domestic abuse, motherhood, sisterhood, daughterhood – the list seems endless, as are the many ways authors use time travel to explore them.   

Linda's book list on time travel dealing with women’s issues

Linda Wisniewski Why did Linda love this book?

I love learning about other cultures, and this Spanish-born author delivers. This book is the sequel to Two Moon Princess, but you can read it first or by itself. Billed as a young adult romance, it touched this older woman’s heart. Two young lovers travel back in time to the Arab occupation of Spain, with the full moon as a portal. I love reading about other authors’ time portals! The beautiful descriptions of the mountains in northern Spain convey the author’s love of her home, and made me want to go there – in the current century, of course! 

By Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The King in the Stone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A full moon, a silver key,
and the forbidden passion of two young lovers
will bring hope to a defeated kingdom
and, through their sorrow, deliver a king
who will change its fate

Sent back in time through a portal the full moon opens,
Julian and Andrea, two lovers from a parallel universe, are
caught in opposite sides of the battle between the last
Spanish stronghold and the Arabian invaders. A battle for
survival that will determine the fate of a kingdom and
demand of them the ultimate sacrifice: As the Arabs close
on the mountains, Julián makes a decision…


Book cover of A History of the Arab Peoples

Wayne H. Bowen Author Of Undoing Saddam: From Occupation to Sovereignty in Northern Iraq

From my list on the history of the Middle East.

Who am I?

My primary field in history is Spain, over which I have published six books. However, I became interested in the Middle East when the US Army deployed me to Iraq in 2004. Although I had taught the history of the region, experiencing war and reconstruction for myself, and spending time in Iraq, Kuwait, and Qatar made the Middle East come alive to me. I wrote Undoing Saddam, my war diary, during my Iraq tour. I followed up that work with a textbook on Arabia, articles on the Ottoman Empire, and plans for future projects on the region, both on its own and in relation to early modern and modern Spain.  

Wayne's book list on the history of the Middle East

Wayne H. Bowen Why did Wayne love this book?

The Arabs, as the most widespread and influential ethnic group in the Middle East, challenge historians to tell their stories in a way that is coherent, consistent, and engaging. This book accomplishes this task well, weaving together a disparate history, that reaches from the Atlantic to South Asia, across multiple kingdoms, dynasties, nations, republics, and political movements. At times rulers, and at times subjects of foreign empires, the Arabs nonetheless maintained a consistency of culture and civilization, in the midst of wildly divergent political systems and geographic locations.  Hourani manages to tell a single story, but while still doing justice to this dispersed people. 

By Albert Hourani,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Upon its publication in 1991, Albert Hourani's masterwork was hailed as the definitive story of Arab civilization, and became both a bestseller and an instant classic. In a panoramic view encompassing twelve centuries of Arab history and culture, Hourani brilliantly illuminated the people and events that have fundamentally shaped the Arab world. Now this seminal book is available in an expanded second edition. Noted Islamic scholar Malise Ruthven brings the story up to date from the mid-1980s, including such events as the Gulf War; civil unrest in Algeria; the change of leadership in Syria, Morocco, and Jordan; and the aftermath…


Book cover of The Crusades Through Arab Eyes

Terence Ward Author Of Searching for Hassan: A Journey to the Heart of Iran

From my list on counter history to enrich your world view.

Who am I?

The excitement of new visions! Ever since growing up surrounded by Arabian deserts and then Iran’s mountains, I’ve been fascinated with diverse cultures. My path led me to Cairo and Berkeley for university and then onto Greece, Indonesia, and Italy. Today’s dominant world histories remain rooted in Anglo-American narratives. Only by challenging enshrined status quos, can we capture the truth, often long hidden. Now, an interest for critical storytelling may capture a fuller picture. History needs to be told not only from the point-of-view of the victors, but also the vanquished. Counter histories create bridges of dialogue, where there were none. This is what inspires me.

Terence's book list on counter history to enrich your world view

Terence Ward Why did Terence love this book?

This Paris-based Lebanese author may soon be awarded the Nobel Prize! His first book is a classic that forces readers into a completely different perspective. Maalouf offers in his own vivacious style, a vivid portrait of a society torn by internal conflicts and shaken by a traumatic encounter with an alien culture of invaders. His fascinating insights delve deeply into the Arab and Islamic consciousness today. All Maalouf’s books should be read! Each opens unexpected, illuminated windows on the Middle East with compassion, wisdom, and drama.

By Amin Maalouf,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Crusades Through Arab Eyes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

European and Arab versions of the Crusades have little in common. For Arabs, the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were years of strenuous efforts to repel a brutal and destructive invasion by barbarian hordes. In "The Crusades Through Arab Eyes", Amin Maalouf has sifted through the works of a score of contemporary Arab chroniclers of the Crusades, eyewitnesses and often participants in the events. He retells their stories in their own vivacious style, giving us a vivid portrait of a society rent by internal conflicts, and shaken by a traumatic encounter with an alien culture. He retraces two critical centuries of…


Book cover of Salma the Syrian Chef

Cathy Camper Author Of Ten Ways to Hear Snow

From my list on Arabs that don’t feature camels or the desert.

Who am I?

As an Arab American, I rarely saw kids’ books about Arab Americans. And until recently, many of the books featuring Arabs and Arab Americans reiterated old stereotypes, showing them in the desert with camels, or as only an ancient (and often backwards) culture, ignoring all the exciting, modern contributions of Arabs historically, and today. In the West, Arabs are often stereotyped as hyper-religious, terrorist, or war-torn. I wanted to share kids’ books about Arab kids having fun, being creative, and in loving, caring families – books that share the richness of Arab culture in a positive way. 

Cathy's book list on Arabs that don’t feature camels or the desert

Cathy Camper Why did Cathy love this book?

Salma and her mom live in a refugee camp in Canada, and they miss Salma’s dad, who is still in Syria. Salma decides to cook a Syrian meal for her mom, but to make the meal a success, she needs to get help and ingredients from everyone in the village. I loved how making and sharing the food they miss from their home in Syria helped Salma and her mom start to build a new community. And the illustrations are as delicious as the food they cook! 

By Danny Ramadan, Anna Bron (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Salma the Syrian Chef as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 4, 5, 6, and 7.

What is this book about?

Newcomer Salma and friends cook up a heartwarming dish to cheer up Mama.

All Salma wants is to make her mama smile again. Between English classes, job interviews, and missing Papa back in Syria, Mama always seems busy or sad. A homemade Syrian meal might cheer her up, but Salma doesn't know the recipe, or what to call the vegetables in English, or where to find the right spices! Luckily, the staff and other newcomers at the Welcome Center are happy to lend a hand-and a sprinkle of sumac.

With creativity, determination, and charm, Salma brings her new friends together…


Book cover of The New Arab Wars: Uprisings and Anarchy in the Middle East

Jack A. Goldstone Author Of Revolutions: A Very Short Introduction

From my list on discover the power of revolutions across history.

Who am I?

I have studied revolutions for over forty years, trying to understand how people fought for liberty and democracy--but also to understand how things so often went wrong!  I have worked at universities in the US, the UK, Japan, Germany, Russia, and Hong Kong, gaining a global view of how societies change. I have learned that everywhere people have to struggle for their rights.  Whether in ancient Greece or in modern Cambodia, the resulting revolutionary drama unfolds sometimes with wonderful results, but sometimes with tragedy.  No events better display the very best and worst that we can accomplish.  I’ve chosen the books on this list to convey the power of revolutions, their grand successes and tragic failures.

Jack's book list on discover the power of revolutions across history

Jack A. Goldstone Why did Jack love this book?

 All the books in this list worry about the relationship between revolutions and liberty and democracy. Is democracy desirable? Does it mean the same thing in different societies? Do revolutions bring democracy closer? Or do they start conflicts that make it more distant? These questions arose again in the Arab Uprisings against dictatorships from Tunisia to Syria that occurred in 2010-2011. Unfortunately, instead of bringing democracy, they brought instability, and in some cases horrifically violent civil wars, that continue to this day. Mark Lynch is angry about this outcome, but he is also one of our finest scholars of Middle East politics, and has written a passionate, detailed account of these uprisings and how they produced anarchy and violence.

By Marc Lynch,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Marc Lynch's last book, The Arab Uprising, described the then ongoing revolutionary change and prospect for the consolidation of democracy in key Arab countries that still seemed possible. But Lynch saw dark signs on the horizon, especially in Syria. That book ended with the hope that the Arab uprisings heralded a fundamental change over the long-term, but with the warning that Arab regimes would not easily give up their power. Instead, Egypt's revolution has given way to a military coup; Libya's produced a failed state; Yemen is the battleground for a proxy war and will be destroyed; Syria has become…


Book cover of In Spite of Partition: Jews, Arabs, and the Limits of Separatist Imagination

Paul Mendes-Flohr Author Of A Land of Two Peoples: Martin Buber on Jews and Arabs

From my list on truth and Palestinian-Israeli reconciliation.

Who am I?

My engagement in the topic has two distinct vectors, academic, and personal, or, if you wish, existential. My academic engagement began when Buber's son Raphael (1900-91), who served as the Executor of  the Martin Buber Literary Estate, invited me to assemble and edit his father's writings on the "Arab Question." He explained that of all of his father's publications, his ramified writings promoting the political and human dignity of the Palestinian Arabs spoke most dearly and, as a citizen of the State of Israel, most immediately to him. I accepted Rafael's invitation with alacrity, for like Raphael I'm an Israeli by choice, having emigrated to the country in 1970. 

Paul's book list on truth and Palestinian-Israeli reconciliation

Paul Mendes-Flohr Why did Paul love this book?

Partition—the idea of separating Jews and Arabs along ethnic or national linesis a legacy at least as old as the Zionist-Palestinian conflict. Challenging the widespread "separatist imagination" behind partition, Gil Hochberg demonstrates the ways in which works of contemporary Jewish and Arab literature reject simple notions of separatism and instead display complex configurations of identity that emphasize the presence of alterity within the selfthe Jew within the Arab, and the Arab within the Jew. In Spite of Partition examines Hebrew, Arabic, and French works that are largely unknown to English readers to reveal how, far from being independent, the signifiers "Jew" and "Arab" are inseparable.

By Gil Z. Hochberg,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Partition--the idea of separating Jews and Arabs along ethnic or national lines--is a legacy at least as old as the Zionist-Palestinian conflict. Challenging the widespread "separatist imagination" behind partition, Gil Hochberg demonstrates the ways in which works of contemporary Jewish and Arab literature reject simple notions of separatism and instead display complex configurations of identity that emphasize the presence of alterity within the self--the Jew within the Arab, and the Arab within the Jew. In Spite of Partition examines Hebrew, Arabic, and French works that are largely unknown to English readers to reveal how, far from being independent, the signifiers…