The best Middle East books 📚

Browse the best books on the Middle East as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of The Dispersion of Egyptian Jewry, 11: Culture, Politics, and the Formation of a Modern Diaspora

The Dispersion of Egyptian Jewry, 11: Culture, Politics, and the Formation of a Modern Diaspora

By Joel Beinin

Why this book?

Until two decades ago, the historiographical school of Jewish pasts in the Middle East was broadly aligned with what we call the neo-lachrymose approach. This approach usually examines the Jewish communities in the MENA region as if they lived in isolation from the non-Jewish majority society. Beinin’s book paved the way to profoundly different directions in studying the Jewish communities of Egypt and the region. Beinin analyzed the various Jewish communities that existed in Egypt (primarily prior to 1956), placed them in the context of global, regional, and Egyptian national history. Moreover, he forever dismantled the notion that we can…

From the list:

The best books on Jewish histories of the Middle East

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Book cover of The Oil Kings: How the U.S., Iran, and Saudi Arabia Changed the Balance of Power in the Middle East

The Oil Kings: How the U.S., Iran, and Saudi Arabia Changed the Balance of Power in the Middle East

By Andrew Scott Cooper

Why this book?

A highly readable tome, Cooper’s account of how the oil politics of the 1970s revolutionized U.S. foreign policy and the Persian Gulf is a must-read for anyone who wants to know more about the political landscape of the Middle East. Cooper traces the personal interactions among the Shah of Iran, Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, Gerald Ford, and the House of Saud in the midst of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, the consequent oil embargo, the formation of OPEC, and the early stirrings of revolution in Iran. Perhaps most helpful, this book dispels many misperceptions about Iran under the Shah while also…

From the list:

The best books on American (mis)adventure in the Middle East

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Book cover of Cities of Salt

Cities of Salt

By Abdelrahman Munif

Why this book?

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…

From the list:

The best books about the oil industry

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Book cover of All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror

All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror

By Stephen Kinzer

Why this book?

The true story of how in 1953, the CIA, aided by the British, conspired to overthrow Iran’s democratically elected prime-minister – an incident which is now considered to have led to the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Kinzer has a storyteller’s instinct and this book reads like a thriller, weaving a gripping story around the intrigue, skullduggery and the personalities involved.

From the list:

The best books to understand modern Iran

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Book cover of The New Book of Middle Eastern Food

The New Book of Middle Eastern Food

By Claudia Roden

Why this book?

Sixty years ago when I first started cooking in Sicily, local ingredients were of topnotch quality but very limited variety, so my American cookbooks and food mags were useless. The discovery of Claudia Roden’s book opened up a whole new world: recipe upon recipe with Mediterranean ingredients and delicious results, and fascinating notes on the origin of the dishes, notes that made me want to know more about culinary history.

From the list:

The best books about food catering to the plate, the eye, and the mind

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Book cover of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

By Ilan Pappé

Why this book?

Israeli historian Ilan Pappe revisits the formation of the State of Israel. Between 1947 and 1949, over 400 Palestinian villages were deliberately destroyed, civilians were massacred and around a million men, women, and children were expelled from their homes at gunpoint. If this had happened today it would have been called "ethnic cleansing". Totally debunking the myth that the Palestinian population left of their own accord in the course of this war, Ilan Pappe offers stunning archival evidence to show that, from its very inception, a central plank in Israel’s founding ideology was the forcible removal of the indigenous population.

From the list:

The best books to read to understand the Middle East

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