The best books about Baghdad

1 authors have picked their favorite books about Baghdad and why they recommend each book.

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They Came to Baghdad

By Agatha Christie,

Book cover of They Came to Baghdad

I read and reread this suspense novel as a teen, wanting to live vicariously through Victoria Jones — a bored twenty-something working as a temp in 1950’s London, yearning for adventure. After being fired for the umpteenth time, Victoria impulsively takes a job as a travel companion for an invalid heading to Baghdad, where political intrigue bubbles beneath the surface of the city. When a spy unexpectedly dies in her bedroom, Victoria finds herself on the run, and must hide out in an archaeological dig in the middle of the desert. Plot twists and unlikely romance culminate in a rather clever ending. Agatha Christie’s own experiences on digs in the Middle East lend this book the distinct flavor of that time period. If only the role of “travel companion” still existed today — sign me up!

Who am I?

Squat toilets, profuse sweating, jumbo centipedes, ear nibbling—these are just some of the delights I’ve encountered in my global travels, which inspired my YA comedic adventure novels, Never Sorry Ever Jolly and Carpe Diem, which was published in the U.S., Germany, the Netherlands, and China. Carpe Diem was also nominated for numerous YA awards, chosen as a Book Sense/Indie Bound Pick, received a starred review from the School Library Journal, and according to The Washington Post: “This is self-confessed travel junkie Autumn Cornwell's first novel—and she's hit one out of the park.” Basically, I live my life as an adventure then write about it!

I wrote...

Carpe Diem

By Autumn Cornwell,

Book cover of Carpe Diem

What is my book about?

"I've got my entire life planned out for the next ten years -- including my PhD and Pulitzer Prize," claims overachiever teen Vassar Spore, whose overachiever parents named her after an elite women's college. Vassar’s summer plans include AP and AAP (Advanced Advanced Placement) classes — that is, until her long-lost bohemian grandmother suddenly resurfaces and blackmails her parents into allowing Vassar to backpack through Southeast Asia with her.

What starts out as “family bonding” turns into a series of misadventures from Malaysia to Cambodia to the remote jungles of Laos. Tensions mount as Grandma Gerd’s fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants mode of travel drives control freak Vassar absolutely bonkers. She sweats, falls in love, hones her outdoor survival skills -- and uncovers a family secret that turns her whole world upside-down. Vassar Spore can plan on one thing: she'll never be the same again.

The Fist of God

By Frederick Forsyth,

Book cover of The Fist of God

Though not Forsyth’s best-known thriller, The Fist of God is reputedly his favorite. I credit this to the fascinating complexity of the storylines, one subplot after another intricately woven together, and to the way this complexity mirrors the time and circumstance of its setting: the first Gulf War. Forsyth’s vision of the mysterious weapon of mass destruction is a supergun, innocently developed by a Western engineer, but repurposed by the Iraqis as a means to launch a massive gas attack against an invading force. Though The Day of the Jackal has always been a political thriller favorite of mine, after reading The Fist of God I was inclined to agree with Forsyth that this may be his best.  

Who am I?

Four of my formative years were spent in Iran and England where I became intrigued by the history and politics that shaped the Middle East. An avid reader, I was intrigued by how effectively international thrillers, particularly those by British authors, captured the mystery, complexity, and murky ambiguities of global politics. When I launched a second career as a writer, I committed to using international thrillers as a vehicle for exposing readers to other peoples and cultures and to the unending moral dilemmas that shape our political world. My aspiration is to present those stories as effectively and provocatively as the five writers recommended in my list! 

I wrote...

The Shield of Darius (The Unit 1 Series)

By Allen Kent, Jillian Farnsworth (illustrator),

Book cover of The Shield of Darius (The Unit 1 Series)

What is my book about?

In this first novel in Allen Kent’s gripping Unit 1 Thriller Series, businessman Benjamin Sager is abducted while vacationing with his family in Europe, awakening in a small cell occupied only by another captive American. As Sager struggles to determine where he is and why he is being held, Chris Falen, an agent of the CIA’s covert Unit 1 team, uncovers a disturbing pattern of unexplained American tourist disappearances, seemingly vanishing without a trace.

A timely and relevant thriller, The Shield of Darius explores the complexities and ambiguities of global politics while taking the reader on a heart-stopping dive into the maze of international espionage and political intrigue. Falen’s investigation of the missing Americans and Sager’s desperate will to survive collide head-on as both are drawn into the deadly web of the Shield of Darius.

Frankenstein in Baghdad

By Ahmed Saadawi,

Book cover of Frankenstein in Baghdad

They used to say that Cairo writes, Beirut prints, and Baghdad reads. But Iraqis are now writing – and turning to fiction in order to convey the absurdity and horror of the sectarian civil war that engulfed the country following the US invasion. This book is brilliant – and won international prizes. 

Who am I?

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. 

I wrote...

The Unraveling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq

By Emma Sky,

Book cover of The Unraveling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq

What is my book about?

When Emma Sky volunteered to help rebuild Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, she had little idea what she was getting in to. Her assignment was only supposed to last three months. She went on to serve there longer than any other senior military or diplomatic figure, giving her an unrivaled perspective of the entire conflict.

Sky provides unique insights into the US military as well as the complexities, diversity, and evolution of Iraqi society. The Unraveling is an intimate insider's portrait of how and why the Iraq adventure failed and contains a unique analysis of the course of the war. Highlighting how nothing that happened in Iraq after 2003 was inevitable, Sky exposes the failures of the policies of both Republicans and Democrats.


By Ben Wilson,

Book cover of Metropolis: A History of the City, Humankind's Greatest Invention

The central premise of Metropolis is that cities have been the great incubators of new ideas in politics, religion, and technology. Wilson argues convincingly that cities are humanity’s greatest invention since they created the necessary ingredients to creating most other inventions. He covers dozens of major urban developments from around the world since the dawn of history thousands of years ago. From the world’s first city, Uruk, in present-day Iraq nearly 5000 years ago, we are taken on a tour of fascinating cities that during their heyday were great centers of culture, learning, commerce, science and shows how they contributed to global history in a unique way at a key juncture in time. Athens, Baghdad, London, New York, Amsterdam, and Paris – they all have fascinating pasts that reflected and helped to develop the modern world. There is certainly a lot of information to digest but it is presented in…

Who am I?

Stephen R. Bown has has written ten books on the history of exploration, science, and ideas – including books on the medical mystery of scurvy, the Treaty of Tordesillas, the lives of Captain George Vancouver, and of Roald Amundsen and a doomed Russian sea voyage. His books have been published in multiple English-speaking territories, translated into nine languages, and shortlisted or won many awards. His latest book is a sweeping history of the Hudson’s Bay Company, the English monopoly that had a profound influence on the development of North America over 200 years.

I wrote...

The Company: The Rise and Fall of the Hudson's Bay Empire

By Stephen R. Bown,

Book cover of The Company: The Rise and Fall of the Hudson's Bay Empire

What is my book about?

The story of the Hudson's Bay Company, dramatic and adventurous and complex, is the story of modern Canada's creation. And yet it hasn't been told in a book for over thirty years, and never in such depth and vivid detail as in Stephen R. Bown's exciting new telling.

The Pride of Baghdad

By Brian K. Vaughan, Niko Henrichon (illustrator), Todd Klein (illustrator)

Book cover of The Pride of Baghdad

This powerful graphic novel illustrates—literally and figuratively—the many casualties of religious conflict. Set in Baghdad in 2003 and told from the perspective of a pride of lions, this book captures the struggle for survival, the loss of innocence, and the collateral damage inflicted by war. A clear allegory, this book has proven an excellent teaching tool. The Pride of Baghdad raises important questions about clashing viewpoints, loyalty, sectarian violence, the true price of war, and who, ultimately, pays it. Although narrated by four lions, the story offers a heartbreakingly realistic glimpse into Iraq during the US-led invasion, the consequences of which reverberate still. As I watch the terrible events playing out daily in Ukraine, my mind drifts back to this book, and I am reminded that past is prologue. We are witnesses right now. And may we all be on the right side of history.

Who am I?

Frequent visits to my parents’ Maltese homeland from the time I was very young piqued my interest in the island’s opulent history. Life under the rule of the Knights of St John fascinated me most. The Maltese Islands lend themselves very well to literary descriptions—gifted with four compass points of natural beauty, the smell of the sea constant no matter how far inland one might venture, ancient temples that predate the pyramids of Egypt. It was during a pre-college trip to Malta in July 2000 that the idea to write a novel based on the Siege of 1565 took root, thanks to a visit to the Malta Experience in Valletta.

I wrote...

Eight Pointed Cross: A Novel of the Knights of Malta

By Marthese Fenech,

Book cover of Eight Pointed Cross: A Novel of the Knights of Malta

What is my book about?

The violent clash between the Ottoman Empire and the Knights of St John on the island fortress Malta serves as the backdrop to Eight Pointed Cross. Siblings Domenicus and Katrina Montesa live under threat of raids by corsairs loyal to the Ottoman Sultan. Hundreds of leagues away in Istanbul, Demir’s dream of becoming a horseman in the Sultan’s cavalry is his only salvation against torment by his cruel brother.

The 1551 Turkish invasion of Malta and the island’s bloody defence will change the lives of the three protagonists, whose fates are intertwined not only with each other, but with nobles and peasants, knights and corsairs, on both sides of the conflict as the novel sweeps across the Mediterranean. Surviving this battle-soaked world of swords and scimitars will test the limits of every character’s courage, loyalty, and love.

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