The best books on the Levant region

2 authors have picked their favorite books about the Levant and why they recommend each book.

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Origins

By Amin Maalouf,

Book cover of Origins: A Memoir

I read Maalouf's book many years ago and it remains one of the best books I have ever read about identity. It helps that he is a gifted writer and that Maalouf's story is so compelling.

Origins

By Amin Maalouf,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Origins, by the world-renowned writer Amin Maalouf, is a sprawling, hemisphere-spanning intergenerational saga.

Set during the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the first quarter of the twentieth, in the mountains of Lebanon and in Havana, Cuba, Origins recounts the family history of the generation of Maalouf's paternal grandfather, Boutros. Why did Boutros, a poet and educator in Lebanon, travel across the globe to rescue his younger brother, Gebrayel, who had settled in Havana?

Maalouf is an energetic and amiable narrator, illuminating the more obscure corners of late Ottoman nationalism, the psychology of Lebanese sectarianism, and the dynamics of…


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. 


I wrote...

The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square

By Steven A. Cook,

Book cover of The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square

What is my book about?

The Struggle for Egypt is a sweeping political history of Egypt that takes readers from the crystallization of Egyptian nationalism in the late 19th century up to the January 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak. The book underscores that Egypt was never as stable as commonly assumed and that the demonstrations that shook Egypt a decade were consistent with a long history during which Egyptians rebelled against their leaders. This accessible text, written from a "close to the ground" perspective, provides invaluable insight into the Middle East's largest and most influential country. It is for history buffs, policy geeks, and Middle East obsessives.

Arabian Love Poems

By Nizar Qabbani, Bassam K. Frangieh, Clementina R. Brown

Book cover of Arabian Love Poems

Damascus-born Nizar Qabbani, a lawyer by training, abandoned a career in diplomacy in the late 1960s to become one of the Arab world’s most beloved poets. Both his sensual and political poems carry seeds of defiance, rebellion and a quest for liberation from autocratic institutions and rigid social norms. This edition reproduces Qabbani’s own handwritten text of the selected poems.

Arabian Love Poems

By Nizar Qabbani, Bassam K. Frangieh, Clementina R. Brown

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This translation of Nizar Kabbani's poetry is accompanied by the striking Arabic texts of the poems, penned by Kabbani especially for this collection. Kabbani was a poet of great simplicity - direct, spontaneous, musical, using the language of everyday life. He was a ceasless campaigner for women's rights, and his verses praise the beauty of the female body, and of love. He was an Arab nationalist, yet he criticized Arab dictators and the lack of freedom in the Arab world.

Who am I?

Sam Dagher is a Lebanese-American journalist and author with more than 15 years of experience reporting on the Middle East and its people. He has lived in Baghdad, Beirut, and Damascus and worked throughout the region. Sam has been committed to telling the region’s stories from the ground up and in the process shedding new light on the root causes of war, extremism, and migration.


I wrote...

Book cover of Assad or We Burn the Country: How One Family's Lust for Power Destroyed Syria

What is my book about?

From an award winning journalist specializing in the Middle East, this groundbreaking account of the Syrian Civil War reveals the never-before-published true story of a 21st-century humanitarian disaster. Assad or We Burn the Country examines Syria's tragedy through the generational saga of the Assad and Tlass families, once deeply intertwined and now estranged in Bashar's bloody quest to preserve his father's inheritance. By drawing on his own reporting experience in Damascus and exclusive interviews with Tlass, Dagher takes readers within palace walls to reveal the family behind the destruction of a country and the chaos of an entire region.

Book cover of The Knights Hospitaller in the Levant, c.1070-1309

Jonathan Riley-Smith researched the Hospitaller order for many decades and his work is rightly regarded as a crucial point of reference for the order’s history. This book is amongst his finest achievements—a truly outstanding history of the Knights Hospitaller and their activities in the Levant from the eleventh to the early fourteenth century. It provides a lucid and succinct survey of the order’s hierarchies, vocations and actions.  

The Knights Hospitaller in the Levant, c.1070-1309

By Jonathan Riley-Smith,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Knights Hospitaller in the Levant, c.1070-1309 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As one of the greatest of the military orders that were generated in the Church, the Order of the Hospital of St John was a major landowner and a significant political presence in most European states. It was also a leading player in the settlements established in the Levant in the wake of the crusades. It survives today. In this source-based and up-to-date account of its activities and internal history in the first two centuries of its existence, attention is particularly paid to the lives of the brothers and sisters who made up its membership and were professed religious. Themes…

Who am I?

I’m an associate professor in medieval history at Nottingham Trent University. My interest in the military orders began over twenty years ago with a very simple question – why? Jesus’ teaching to my mind clearly does not condone the use of lethal violence, so how did medieval Christians come to think that holy war warfare could ever be acceptable in the eyes of God? From this underlying question (which I still don’t feel I’ve satisfactorily answered!) emerged a curiosity about the military orders, who so epitomized crusading ideology. I began to ask wider questions such as: who supported the orders? How did they view people of other faiths? Why were the Templars put on Trial? 


I wrote...

The Teutonic Knights in the Holy Land, 1190-1291

By Nicholas Morton,

Book cover of The Teutonic Knights in the Holy Land, 1190-1291

What is my book about?

The military orders were among the strangest manifestations of the crusading movement. Splicing a monastic vocation with that of a campaigning knight and, in some cases, a medical practitioner, the most famous military orders are undoubtedly the Templars and Hospitallers. Yet there were many others. This book explores the early development of the less well-known order known as the Teutonic Knights.  

The Teutonic Knights are generally remembered for their actions in the Baltic region but, as this book demonstrates, during the Thirteenth Century they played an important role, both in the major crusading expeditions to the Near East and in propping up the Crusader States stretched out along the Levantine coast.  

Book cover of We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria

Pearlman expertly, delicately and lovingly assembles elements from the stories and journeys of close to 90 Syrians into a mosaic “mapped onto Syria’s historical trajectory from authoritarianism to revolution, war, and exile” as she explains in the introduction. For me there are echoes of Maalouf’s Origins in this book: More than a hundred years later and Syrians and Levantines are still having to flee their homelands because of tyranny, conflict and political and social upheaval. Pearlman is an accomplished professor at Northwestern University who speaks Arabic and has spent more than 20 years studying and living in the Middle East. Her expertise and empathy shine through in a book that gives us a chance “to listen to actual Syrians, as human beings,” as she says.

We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled

By Wendy Pearlman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

LONG-LISTED FOR THE CARNEGIE MEDAL

Reminiscent of the work of Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich, an astonishing collection of intimate wartime testimonies and poetic fragments from a cross-section of Syrians whose lives have been transformed by revolution, war, and flight.

Against the backdrop of the wave of demonstrations known as the Arab Spring, in 2011 hundreds of thousands of Syrians took to the streets demanding freedom, democracy and human rights. The government's ferocious response, and the refusal of the demonstrators to back down, sparked a brutal civil war that over the past five years has escalated into the worst humanitarian…


Who am I?

Sam Dagher is a Lebanese-American journalist and author with more than 15 years of experience reporting on the Middle East and its people. He has lived in Baghdad, Beirut, and Damascus and worked throughout the region. Sam has been committed to telling the region’s stories from the ground up and in the process shedding new light on the root causes of war, extremism, and migration.


I wrote...

Book cover of Assad or We Burn the Country: How One Family's Lust for Power Destroyed Syria

What is my book about?

From an award winning journalist specializing in the Middle East, this groundbreaking account of the Syrian Civil War reveals the never-before-published true story of a 21st-century humanitarian disaster. Assad or We Burn the Country examines Syria's tragedy through the generational saga of the Assad and Tlass families, once deeply intertwined and now estranged in Bashar's bloody quest to preserve his father's inheritance. By drawing on his own reporting experience in Damascus and exclusive interviews with Tlass, Dagher takes readers within palace walls to reveal the family behind the destruction of a country and the chaos of an entire region.

The Shell

By Paul Starkey, Moustafa Khalifa,

Book cover of The Shell: Memoirs of a Hidden Observer

The Shell is a peek into both the horrors and absurdities of totalitarian regimes told in the form of a prison diary kept by the author. Khalifa, a Christian by birth and an atheist, was mistaken (or perhaps not, given what I learned about the Assad regime in the course of my work) for a radical Islamist, arrested and locked up in the notorious Tadmor desert prison, more accurately a death camp. The book reveals the horrific consequences of the logic and methods of the Assad family and other dictators in the Middle East and beyond: Anyone suspected of harboring a hint of opposition to the ruler will be labeled a terrorist and traitor, crushed and turned into an example to instill fear in the wider population.

The Shell

By Paul Starkey, Moustafa Khalifa,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The work of a moder-day Sozhenitsyn that exposes acts of violence and brutality committed by the Syrian regime. This compelling first novel is the astonishing story of a Syrian political prisoner of conscience—an atheist mistaken for a radical Islamist—who was locked up for 13 years without trial in one of the most notorious prisons in the Middle East. The novel takes the form of a diary which Musa keeps in his head and then writes down upon his release. In Tadmur prison, the mood is naturally bleak and yet often very beautifully captured. The narrator, a young graduate, is defiant…

Who am I?

Sam Dagher is a Lebanese-American journalist and author with more than 15 years of experience reporting on the Middle East and its people. He has lived in Baghdad, Beirut, and Damascus and worked throughout the region. Sam has been committed to telling the region’s stories from the ground up and in the process shedding new light on the root causes of war, extremism, and migration.


I wrote...

Book cover of Assad or We Burn the Country: How One Family's Lust for Power Destroyed Syria

What is my book about?

From an award winning journalist specializing in the Middle East, this groundbreaking account of the Syrian Civil War reveals the never-before-published true story of a 21st-century humanitarian disaster. Assad or We Burn the Country examines Syria's tragedy through the generational saga of the Assad and Tlass families, once deeply intertwined and now estranged in Bashar's bloody quest to preserve his father's inheritance. By drawing on his own reporting experience in Damascus and exclusive interviews with Tlass, Dagher takes readers within palace walls to reveal the family behind the destruction of a country and the chaos of an entire region.

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