The best Middle East books

11 authors have picked their favorite books about the Middle East and why they recommend each book.

Soon, you will be able to filter by genre, age group, and more. Sign up here to follow our story as we build a better way to explore books.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission (learn more).

Lawrence in Arabia

By Scott Anderson,

Book cover of Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East

T.E. Lawrence, best known from David Lean’s monumental film, is the centerpiece, but this book goes well beyond biography. It has the pace and feel of a thriller, but the research and analytical thinking of a serious historic account. Anderson, a novelist and war correspondent, finds the roots of today’s Middle East turmoil in World War I. He finds alliances, intrigue, and deceit that foreshadowed the turbulent future. His story provides valuable insight into the international politics that shaped the Mid-East after World War I, and set the stage for the dissonant future.


Who am I?

I have spent my working life as a journalist, author and storyteller, aiming to uncover complexity that sheds new light on stories we think we know. I got my training at the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times—and from the wonderful editors of my twelve books. An Innocent Bystander, my book that deals with the Middle East, began as the story of a hijacking and a murder of an American citizen. But as my research widened, I came to see this story couldn’t be told without understanding many perspectives, including the Israeli and the Palestinian, nor could the political be disentangled from the personal.


I wrote...

An Innocent Bystander: The Killing of Leon Klinghoffer

By Julie Salamon, Julie Salamon,

Book cover of An Innocent Bystander: The Killing of Leon Klinghoffer

What is my book about?

My book is about the 1985 hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro and the killing of Leon Klinghoffer, a disabled American passenger. His murder became a historic flashpoint for the intractable struggle between Israelis and Palestinians and gave Americans a horrifying preview of what it means when terrorism hits home. An Innocent Bystander began as the story of that shattering moment and what it meant to the world and to the Klinghoffers, an American-Jewish family. As I learned more, the book’s scope widened, to investigate the tragic reverberations for the wives and sons of the Palestinian mastermind behind the hijacking.

Running through the core of my book lies the painful history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Through the stories of these families, An Innocent Bystander illuminates the complex web of personal and historic grievances that lay behind the geopolitics of a region that remains in turmoil.

Cities of Salt

By Abdelrahman Munif,

Book cover of Cities of Salt

I love novels that view the world through the eyes of cultures that are different from my own. In Cities of Salt, we see the arrival of US oil companies in the Middle East through the eyes of one of the oasis communities that lived there, in relative peace and isolation, before the oil wells were drilled. The narrative traces how men and women’s lives are first interrupted, and then disrupted, confounded, and corrupted by the oil industry and the vast sums of money it generated. The novel is the first of a trilogy, set in a kingdom that is never named. The fact that Abdelrahman Munif (1933-2004) was an oil economist, deprived of his citizenship of Saudi Arabia and driven into exile for his political views, gives us a big clue about which country he was thinking of.


Who am I?

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. 


I wrote...

Burning Up: A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption

By Simon Pirani,

Book cover of Burning Up: A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption

What is my book about?

Coal, gas, and oil have been the main fuels used by society since the industrial revolution. But more have been burned in the last 50 years than in the rest of history. Most alarming of all, fossil fuel consumption has grown fastest in the last three decades, since scientists confirmed that it is the main cause of potentially devastating global warming.

Burning Up traces fossil fuels’ relentless rise since the mid-twentieth century. It dispels explanations that focus on individual consumption, and shows that fossil fuels are consumed through technological, social, and economic systems – and that all these systems must change. This is a history book that speaks to the climate crisis, the greatest crisis of our time.

The Kill Artist

By Daniel Silva,

Book cover of The Kill Artist

I love this author for several reasons. He paints a picture of fascinating worlds of which most people have little experience—usually the Vatican and obscure corners of Italy. His research and knowledge of such places are meticulous. He knows how to keep the tension and pace of a thriller without it becoming a superficial action story. His hero, Gabriel Allon, is an intriguing character with his own history and personal problems. He is not only a lethal spy catcher, but also a brilliant restorer of old masters, which is why he has such unusual access to the Vatican and all its high officers, including the Pope himself. What a combination of talents!


Who am I?

My writing is eclectic and covers many topics. However, all my books tend to have a thriller element to them. Perhaps it's my career as an actor and playwright which has instilled the need to create suspense in all my writings. I sometimes feel that distinguished authors can get so carried away with their literary descriptions and philosophical insights that they forget to keep the story going! It is the need to know what happens next that keeps the reader turning the pages. Perhaps in achieving that some subtlety has to be sacrificed, but, hey, you don't read a political thriller to study the philosophical problems of governing nations!


I wrote...

Number Ten

By Robin Hawdon,

Book cover of Number Ten

What is my book about?

Suspense, romance, and high action in an explosive political thriller. A junior aide to the British Prime Minister is falsely implicated in an assassination attempt, and has to fight for his life against unknown forces, using only his inside knowledge of Number Ten's operations and the help of a female insider.

“Wow! Number Ten begins in explosive fashion and maintains a high-octane, fast pace until the very last word. A glorious thriller that kept me enthralled throughout.” Linda Hill (top 500 Amazon reviewer)

Elusive Victory

By Trevor N. Dupuy,

Book cover of Elusive Victory: The Arab-Israeli Wars, 1947-1974

You cannot understand the military history of the Middle East without understanding the first five Arab-Israeli wars and over 40 years later the best book on the subject remains Dupuy’s touchstone work. Dupuy was a superb military analyst and historian. As an American he is about as even-handed as anyone can be with this ultimate of “Rorschach” tests. Better still, Dupuy extensively interviewed nearly all of the major political and military leaders on both sides of every war. He walked the ground of most of these battles with the combatants themselves. It is why his book remains the single best work on the subject and the foundation on which all later histories rest.


Who am I?

After college I joined the CIA. They assigned me to the Iran-Iraq military account so I had a front-row seat for the Persian Gulf War. I went on to do two tours at the NSC and a quick stop at DoD in between, all working on Middle East political and security issues. I was unexpectedly thrown out by Bush II in 2001 and so had to flee to the think tank world. I’ve since written ten books on the political-military affairs of the Middle East and am now working on my eleventh, a history of the U.S. and Iraq since 1979 titled The Iraq Wars.


I wrote...

Armies of Sand: The Past, Present, and Future of Arab Military Effectiveness

By Kenneth M. Pollack,

Book cover of Armies of Sand: The Past, Present, and Future of Arab Military Effectiveness

What is my book about?

I have been working on Middle East militaries for 35 years, both inside the U.S. government and out. Armies of Sand tackles one of the greatest mysteries of modern military history: the striking ineffectiveness of Arab armed forces. This constant has lain at the heart of the Middle East military balance since World War II. It has been a defining, albeit often underappreciated, element of Middle Eastern geopolitics. Moreover, in explaining why Arab militaries have so consistently underperformed during the modern era, I explore broader questions of why different societies have been more and less able to generate military power at different periods of time: Why the terror of the battlefield in one era can become a military laughingstock in the next and vice versa.

Jerusalem

By Simon Sebag Montefiore,

Book cover of Jerusalem: The Biography

For those curious about whether there is a God (or not), a good place to sit and think about it is Jerusalem, which three major religions consider to it be a very sacred place: Jews, Christians, and Muslims (plus the Armenians, for added value). A place with an extraordinary history of conquest and religious fervour.


Who am I?

I’ve been an entrepreneur for over 40 years and now pass on that knowledge to mentees and university students. The key to success in business is being able to attract and then learn from mentors, who, in my opinion, always should provide their knowledge, wisdom, and connections free of charge. As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to go down ‘The Dark Side’, especially if the pursuit of money and power becomes overwhelming. Many famous billionaires are not especially nice people. But there are many nice businesspeople out there and I aspire to be one of those, hence my pursuit of a daily advancement in esoteric, hermetic, and other knowledge.


I wrote...

The Beermat Entrepreneur: Turn Your good idea into a great business

By Mike Southon, Chris West,

Book cover of The Beermat Entrepreneur: Turn Your good idea into a great business

What is my book about?

The Beermat Entrepreneur helps you convert your jotted notes about your business idea into a big and successful business. With wit and humour, this quick-to-read and simple-to-use book could turn your beermat inspiration into reality.

You’ve got a bright idea. An idea that you think maybe, just maybe, could become a brilliant business. But what next? The Beermat Entrepreneur is the answer. It takes you through all the crucial stages between those first notes on a beermat and a business that is sound, lasting, and profitable. It tells you what the other books don’t – the lessons that most people have to learn by bitter experience; the tricks that all entrepreneurs wish somebody had told them before they set out. From testing your idea and finding a mentor, through selecting and motivating the right people and securing your first customer, to deciding when to ‘go for growth’ – this is the guide to turning good ideas into real businesses.

In Search of Fatima

By Ghada Karmi,

Book cover of In Search of Fatima: A Palestinian Story

There is no better way of understanding what it means to be a Palestinian than reading a personal account. When this account is written by one of the veteran activists on behalf of Palestine in the West and a scholar by her own right, the reward is even greater for the reader of this autobiographical tale.  

Who am I?

Ilan Pappé is a professor with the College of Social Sciences and International Studies at the University of Exeter. He was formerly a senior lecturer in political science at the University of Haifa. He is the author of The Ethnic Cleansing of PalestineThe Modern Middle EastA History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples, and Britain and the Arab-Israeli Conflict.


I wrote...

Ten Myths About Israel

By Ilan Pappé,

Book cover of Ten Myths About Israel

What is my book about?

In this groundbreaking book, published on the fiftieth anniversary of the Occupation, the outspoken and radical Israeli historian Ilan Pappe examines the most contested ideas concerning the origins and identity of the contemporary state of Israel. The “ten myths” that Pappe explores—repeated endlessly in the media, enforced by the military, accepted without question by the world’s governments—reinforce the regional status quo. He explores the claim that Palestine was an empty land at the time of the Balfour Declaration, as well as the formation of Zionism and its role in the early decades of nation-building. He asks whether the Palestinians voluntarily left their homeland in 1948, and whether June 1967 was a war of “no choice.” Turning to the myths surrounding the failures of the Camp David Accords and the official reasons for the attacks on Gaza, Pappe explains why the two-state solution is no longer viable.

The Crusades and the Christian World of the East

By Christopher MacEvitt,

Book cover of The Crusades and the Christian World of the East: Rough Tolerance

There has been an explosion of interest in the Crusades since 9/11, with many medieval historians working hard to push back against over-simplified and often inaccurate depictions of Christian holy war and Christian-Muslim relations. This impressively researched book adds a fascinating new dimension to the story of the Crusades, examining relations between newly arrived European Catholics and the many and varied indigenous Levantine Christian communities in the decades following the Crusader conquest of Jerusalem in 1099. MacEvitt rejects the dominant narrative, which held that the Frankish conquerors, imbued with the rigid prejudices of an intolerant European Christendom, had little interaction with or understanding of the local populations. Instead, he paints a portrait of a surprisingly practical and flexible Crusader regime, characterized by extensive Frankish-local social, religious, and legal interactions. MacEvitt's nuanced model, which he dubs "rough tolerance," avoids both idealization and demonization, and offers a fruitful way to approach relations…

Who am I?

I was raised in a Jewish but completely secular family, with no religious traditions or affiliations. Perhaps because religion was so exotic, I have always found it fascinating. In college, I gravitated toward topics in medieval religion, which crystallized the strangeness of an era both earthy and intensely devout. I wanted to understand why an Anglo-Saxon monk sitting in a cold monastery in northern England cared so much about biblical history. Or how Saint Bernard could so relentlessly hound a fellow monk over a scholarly treatise, yet also work energetically to protect Jews from violence. I can't say I'll ever fully comprehend the force of religion, but I love trying.


I wrote...

Dark Mirror: The Medieval Origins of Anti-Jewish Iconography

By Sara Lipton,

Book cover of Dark Mirror: The Medieval Origins of Anti-Jewish Iconography

What is my book about?

In Dark Mirror I ask a simple question: why did Jews become such powerful and poisonous symbols in medieval art?

The straggly beard, the hooked nose, the bag of coins, and gaudy apparel―the artists of medieval Christendom had no shortage of virulent symbols for identifying Jews. Yet, hateful as these depictions were, the story they tell is not as simple as you might think. I argue that anti-Jewish visual stereotypes were neither an inevitable outgrowth of Christian theology nor a simple reflection of medieval prejudices. In fact, Christians used depictions of Jews to think about their own faith, culture, and perception. Changes in the way Christians viewed themselves and the physical world drove the depiction of Jews from benign, if exoticized, figures connoting ancient wisdom to increasingly vicious portrayals inspired by (and designed to provoke) fear and hostility. 

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.

American Missionaries and the Middle East

By Mehmet Ali Dogan (editor), Heather J. Sharkey (editor),

Book cover of American Missionaries and the Middle East: Foundational Encounters

This edited volume features some of the world’s leading scholars on the experiences of American missionaries in lands ruled by the Ottoman Empire during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Covering the efforts of Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Mormons, and more, this book illuminates the messy interplay of religion, science, politics, and nationalism in the interactions between these missionaries and the native inhabitants they encountered. It dispels common myths that shroud this topic and shines a light on understudied issues such as the challenges of textual translation in cross-cultural contexts, the role of gender in evangelism, and competing visions of social change at work in education.


Who am I?

I'm a Communication professor at Fresno Pacific University and former Fulbright grantee to Jordan. Growing up in west Texas I was always fascinated with other countries. I encountered Arabic in college, and I quickly fell in love with a language and society that reminded me so much of my home—in fact, the word “haboob” is used by Texas farmers and Bedouin herders alike to describe a violent dust storm. While I was teaching English in Amman, I realized how much I enjoy learning how different cultures come to understand one another. My driving passion is to explore the centuries-long rhetorical history tying Americans and Middle Easterners together in mutual webs of (mis)representation, and this topic has never been more relevant than today.


I wrote...

More Than a Doctrine: The Eisenhower Era in the Middle East

By Randall Fowler,

Book cover of More Than a Doctrine: The Eisenhower Era in the Middle East

What is my book about?

Nowadays, the Middle East can seem a quite complicated place. Between ISIS and Iran, Arabs and Israelis, Kurds and Turks, Yazidis and Druze, not to mention oil, Islam, terrorism, Judaism, and Christianity, the issues and conflicts that divide the region often appear bewildering to the average American—much less the ever-changing question of what U.S. foreign policy should be in the region.

My book cuts through those issues to directly explain the origins of American intervention in the Middle East during the Cold War. I use the lens of presidential rhetoric to trace the arguments, fears, and actions that drove U.S. policymakers to get involved in this important region in the first place. I show that many of the anxieties commentators currently voice about the Arab Muslim world are rather similar to the worries felt by Eisenhower and his team. My book demonstrates how major events like the Suez Crisis, Eisenhower Doctrine, coup in Iran, and the 1958 marine landing in Lebanon are still quite relevant to us today. 

America's Great Game

By Hugh Wilford,

Book cover of America's Great Game: The CIA's Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East

A deeply interesting dive into the world of espionage and the early days of the CIA, this accessible book by Hugh Wilford provides an excellent entry point into the exciting movements, people, and ideologies that crosscut the Middle East in the years after World War II. Focusing especially on personalities like Kim Roosevelt and Miles Copeland, this book shows why many Arabs even today suspect the CIA may be behind far more than it lets on. For American audiences, this book will provide an intriguing journey into a world that is unfamiliar to most and fascinating to all, illuminating the role U.S. spy agencies played in creating the modern Middle East.


Who am I?

I'm a Communication professor at Fresno Pacific University and former Fulbright grantee to Jordan. Growing up in west Texas I was always fascinated with other countries. I encountered Arabic in college, and I quickly fell in love with a language and society that reminded me so much of my home—in fact, the word “haboob” is used by Texas farmers and Bedouin herders alike to describe a violent dust storm. While I was teaching English in Amman, I realized how much I enjoy learning how different cultures come to understand one another. My driving passion is to explore the centuries-long rhetorical history tying Americans and Middle Easterners together in mutual webs of (mis)representation, and this topic has never been more relevant than today.


I wrote...

More Than a Doctrine: The Eisenhower Era in the Middle East

By Randall Fowler,

Book cover of More Than a Doctrine: The Eisenhower Era in the Middle East

What is my book about?

Nowadays, the Middle East can seem a quite complicated place. Between ISIS and Iran, Arabs and Israelis, Kurds and Turks, Yazidis and Druze, not to mention oil, Islam, terrorism, Judaism, and Christianity, the issues and conflicts that divide the region often appear bewildering to the average American—much less the ever-changing question of what U.S. foreign policy should be in the region.

My book cuts through those issues to directly explain the origins of American intervention in the Middle East during the Cold War. I use the lens of presidential rhetoric to trace the arguments, fears, and actions that drove U.S. policymakers to get involved in this important region in the first place. I show that many of the anxieties commentators currently voice about the Arab Muslim world are rather similar to the worries felt by Eisenhower and his team. My book demonstrates how major events like the Suez Crisis, Eisenhower Doctrine, coup in Iran, and the 1958 marine landing in Lebanon are still quite relevant to us today. 

Or, view all 76 books about the Middle East

New book lists related to the Middle East

All book lists related to the Middle East

Bookshelves related to the Middle East