The most recommended Middle East books

Who picked these books? Meet our 128 experts.

128 authors created a book list connected to the Middle East, and here are their favorite Middle East books.
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Book cover of Turks, Moors, and Englishmen in the Age of Discovery

Andrew Hadfield Author Of Amazons, Savages, and Machiavels: Travel and Colonial Writing in English, 1550-1630: An Anthology

From my list on early English travel writing.

Who am I?

I am a Professor of English at the University of Sussex. I have worked on a wide range of subjects over the years, mainly about the English Renaissance. I have a long-standing interest in travel and colonial writing, the ways in which the English interacted with other peoples and other places, which started with my interest in Ireland where I studied and which was the subject of my early books. I have broadened my perspective as I have read more on the Americas, Africa, Europe, and Asia, over the years and am committed to uncovering the truth of the uncomfortable, challenging, and fascinating history of the early British Empire.

Andrew's book list on early English travel writing

Andrew Hadfield Why did Andrew love this book?

A comprehensive and helpful survey of English attitudes to the peoples from the Ottoman Empire and North Africa, written in straightforward English with a host of helpful quotations and historical analyses.

A reliable guide to English encounters with peoples from the southern Mediterranean, as they sought to dominate what was then the most strategically important area of the world.

By Nabil Matar,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Turks, Moors, and Englishmen in the Age of Discovery as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

During the early modern period, hundreds of Turks and Moors traded in English and Welsh ports, dazzled English society with exotic cuisine and Arabian horses, and worked small jobs in London, while the "Barbary Corsairs" raided coastal towns and, if captured, lingered in Plymouth jails or stood trial in Southampton courtrooms. In turn, Britons fought in Muslim armies, traded and settled in Moroccan or Tunisian harbor towns, joined the international community of pirates in Mediterranean and Atlantic outposts, served in Algerian households and ships, and endured captivity from Salee to Alexandria and from Fez to Mocha. In Turks, Moors, and…

Book cover of Ô nuit, ô mes yeux: Le Caire / Beyrouth / Damas / Jérusalem

Raphael Cormack Author Of Midnight in Cairo: The Divas of Egypt's Roaring '20s

From my list on popular culture along the Nile.

Who am I?

I am a writer and an Arabic to English translator, with a PhD in Arabic Theatre from the University of Edinburgh. In recent years, I have gravitated towards the history of popular culture and the demi-monde in the Middle East. The stories of singers and dancers say much more to me than the conventional subjects of histories of the Arab world – politicians, soldiers, etc. Through them, we can see the Middle East in a way that we seldom see in the West means much more to a lot of the people who live there.

Raphael's book list on popular culture along the Nile

Raphael Cormack Why did Raphael love this book?

Published in French or Arabic, this richly and attractively illustrated book dives headfirst into nostalgia for the nightlife of the 20th century Middle East. Loaded with short vignettes and stories, accompanied by Ziade’s own drawings, this book takes the reader on a tour of nightclubs in Cairo and across the wider Middle East. It is a beautiful, misty-eyed elegy for a lost age.

By Lamia Ziadé,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ô nuit, ô mes yeux as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Dans ce livre il y a les cabarets du Caire, les studios, villas, casinos du Caire, les maris, les amants, l'alcool, les somnifères, l'argent, les suicides, les brownings, les scandales, les palaces. Il y a le chant, la musique, la voix, les ovations, les triomphes, la gloire. Il y a l'audace, le génie, l'aventure, la tragédie. Il y a des poètes et des émirs, des danseuses, des banquiers, des officiers, des imams, des cheikhs, des actrices, des khawagates, des musiciens, des vamps, des noctambules, des révoltés, des sultans, des pachas, des beys, des espionnes, des prodiges, des rois d'Égypte et…

Book cover of Sectarian Politics in the Persian Gulf

Khalil F. Osman Author Of Sectarianism in Iraq: The Making of State and Nation Since 1920

From my list on sectarianism in the Middle East.

Who am I?

I’ve had a diverse work experience, having taught political science, and worked as a journalist and UN official. My interest in sectarianism in the Arab world grew from my work as a journalist covering Middle Eastern and Iraqi affairs and as a UN official in Iraq. Working in Iraq following the 2003 US-led invasion, I witnessed firsthand how the sectarian violence that gripped Iraq highlighted the failure of social integration in nurturing a national identity. Scholarly work on sectarianism in the region was focused on Lebanon. In addressing this scholarly gap, I combined my academic training in political science, extensive knowledge of Islamic history, and decades-long fieldwork and life experiences in the region.

Khalil's book list on sectarianism in the Middle East

Khalil F. Osman Why did Khalil love this book?

Lawrence Porter’s book is a remarkably impressive collection of case studies on sectarianism on both sides of the Persian Gulf written by area specialists, historians, and social scientists. The studies are rich in details and thoroughly researched. The book’s geographical breadth is an advantage, ensuring comprehensiveness. It allows for comparative analysis and the drawing of cross-national conclusions that account for similarities and differences in how sectarianism plays out in various national settings throughout the Persian Gulf region. The book also has a chapter that examines sectarianism in Yemen and two studies on the overlap between ethnic and sectarian identities in the region: one on the Baluch community in the Gulf; the other on Iran’s ethnic, religious, and tribal minorities.

By Lawrence G. Potter (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sectarian Politics in the Persian Gulf as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Long a taboo topic, as well as one that has alarmed outside powers, sectarian conflict in the Middle East is on the rise. The contributors to this book examine sectarian politics in the Persian Gulf, including the GCC states, Yemen, Iran and Iraq, and consider the origins and con- sequences of sectarianism broadly construed, as it affects ethnic, tribal and religious groups. They also present a theoretical and comparative framework for understanding sectarianism, as well as country-specific chapters based on recent research in the area. Key issues that are scrutinised include the nature of sectarianism, how identity moves from a…

Book cover of From the Holy Mountain: A Journey Among the Christians of the Middle East

T.C. Kuhn Author Of The Artist of Aveyron

From T.C.'s 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Archaeologist Professor and teacher Curious traveler Historian Tale Spinner

T.C.'s 3 favorite reads in 2023

T.C. Kuhn Why did T.C. love this book?

An amazing adventure recounting two journeys through the monasteries and shrines of the Middle East 1,400 years apart.

Dalrymple, an experienced journalist and traveler, conducted his incredible recreation at a time of turmoil and religious strife, making his feat almost beyond description for the hardships and risks he took.

The stories he presents of the two Byzantine monks in whose footsteps he followed provide us with both a historical and modern context filled with humorous anecdotes and strange characters from their individual narratives.

The pathos of his own journey reveals the desperation, anger, suffering, and perseverance of those surviving early Christian communities he was able to revisit centuries later, who continue to face many of the same obstacles their distant ancestors once endured. 

By William Dalrymple,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked From the Holy Mountain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the spring of A.D. 587, John Moschos and his pupil Sophronius the Sophist embarked on a remarkable expedition across the entire Byzantine world, traveling from the shores of Bosphorus to the sand dunes of Egypt. Using Moschos’s writings as his guide and inspiration, the acclaimed travel writer William Dalrymple retraces the footsteps of these two monks, providing along the way a moving elegy to the slowly dying civilization of Eastern Christianity and to the people who are struggling to keep its flame alive. The result is Dalrymple’s unsurpassed masterpiece: a beautifully written travelogue, at once rich and scholarly, moving…

Book cover of Ottolenghi Simple: A Cookbook

Mihaela Metaxa-Albu Author Of 30-Minute Keto: Low-Carb Cooking Made Fast, Easy & Delicious

From my list on top cookbooks of all time.

Who am I?

I'm an ex-pastry chef at Zuma London, current food blogger and creative director at and I cook and shoot food photos and videos for 10 hours a day, almost every day of the week and I wouldn't have it any other way. I consider myself an artist and cooking is an expression of my inner self. I started cooking about 15 years ago as a hobby and within a year I took it to the next level by attending a 1-year class at Southgate College in London and getting my Chef Diploma. Right after that, I landed a job as a pastry chef at Zuma London which quickly transformed me into a pro. 

Mihaela's book list on top cookbooks of all time

Mihaela Metaxa-Albu Why did Mihaela love this book?

If you want to up your weeknight meal with delicious Middle-Eastern flavors and if you want to learn how to combine veggies in so many delicious ways, then you must read Yotam Ottolenghi's cookbook. He's a true genius of the Middle-Eastern cuisine and probably no other chef can mix unique flavors and simple ingredients as well as he does. While the recipes are truly unique, you'll find that they’re made with simple ingredients in under 30 minutes.

By Yotam Ottolenghi,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

JAMES BEARD AWARD FINALIST • The New York Times bestselling collection of 130 easy, flavor-forward recipes from beloved chef Yotam Ottolenghi.

In Ottolenghi Simple, powerhouse author and chef Yotam Ottolenghi presents 130 streamlined recipes packed with his signature Middle Eastern–inspired flavors, all simple in at least (and often more than) one way: made in 30 minutes or less, with 10 or fewer ingredients, in a single pot, using pantry staples, or prepared ahead of time for brilliantly, deliciously simple meals. Brunch gets a make-over with Braised Eggs with Leeks and Za’atar; Cauliflower, Pomegranate, and Pistachio Salad refreshes the side-dish rotation;…

Book cover of Nomads in the Middle East

Nicholas Morton Author Of The Mongol Storm: Making and Breaking Empires in the Medieval Near East

From my list on the Mongol conquest of Western Eurasia.

Who am I?

I am an associate professor at Nottingham Trent University and my interest in the Mongols first began many years ago during my MA at Royal Holloway University. I had always been interested in the historic relationships between nomadic and agricultural societies, but what I found fascinating about the Mongols was the sheer speed and range of their expansion—how could they have conquered the greater part of the Asia within only a few decades? Exploring how the Mongols grappled with the realities of ruling such a vast imperium remains a very thought-provoking issue, so too is the question of how the peoples they overthrew accommodated themselves to Mongol rule. 

Nicholas' book list on the Mongol conquest of Western Eurasia

Nicholas Morton Why did Nicholas love this book?

The Mongols only form one part of Nomads in the Middle East which paints on a far broader canvas, looking at the long-term history of relations between nomads and agricultural societies in the Middle East.  Spanning from the seventh century all the way up to the modern era, and discussing peoples as diverse as the Bedouin, the Seljuk Turks, and of course the Mongols, Beatrice Forbes Manz provides an incredible overview of the role played by nomadic societies in shaping this region. For those interested in the Mongols, this book helps us to take a step back and a take panoramic view of their actions within a much longer timeline. 

By Beatrice Forbes Manz,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A history of pastoral nomads in the Islamic Middle East from the rise of Islam, through the middle periods when Mongols and Turks ruled most of the region, to the decline of nomadism in the twentieth century. Offering a vivid insight into the impact of nomads on the politics, culture, and ideology of the region, Beatrice Forbes Manz examines and challenges existing perceptions of these nomads, including the popular cyclical model of nomad-settled interaction developed by Ibn Khaldun. Looking at both the Arab Bedouin and the nomads from the Eurasian steppe, Manz demonstrates the significance of Bedouin and Turco-Mongolian contributions…

Book cover of The Shield of Three Lions

Christina Dudley Author Of The Naturalist

From my list on when you dream of waking up in a period drama.

Who am I?

I’m a writer of traditional Regency romances who would be happy to let everyone fight over Mr. Darcy while I sneak off with Captain Wentworth. If period dramas are dress-up for grown-ups, the best historical fiction is nothing less than a trip in a time machine, no Dramamine required. So if you’ve ever dreamed of being knocked over the head and waking up in a Jane Austen novel, you’re not alone. Come join me in one of my Regencies. I’ll save you a glass of ratafia.

Christina's book list on when you dream of waking up in a period drama

Christina Dudley Why did Christina love this book?

I still remember the day I bought Kaufman’s book in a London bookstore near Westminster Abbey—a girl disguises herself as a boy in medieval England and goes in search of the king, so her estate can be restored. Sign me up! It was my first encounter with the magic of historical fiction, the best of which is immersive and alive, without dull data dumps or jarring anachronisms. This wonderful (and, for me, life-changing) story ticks all my boxes: smart heroine; rich, real characters; scenery that doesn’t creak; and a thumping good romance. Last, but absolutely not least, The Shield of Three Lions is stuffed with hilarious lines and scenes. An author who can make me laugh? Her price is far above rubies.

By Pamela Kaufman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The first novel in the Alix of Wanthwaite series, by bestselling author Pamela Kaufman.

Eleven-year-old Alix is the daughter of the baron of Wanthwaite, whose lands along the Scottish border are among the best in England. But when her family is killed and her lands seized, Alix is forced to flee from the only home she’s ever known. Her one hope of restoring her inheritance is to plead her case to King Richard the Lion Heart, who is far away in France, preparing to go on his Crusade. Alix resolves to follow him. She cuts her hair, dresses as a…

Book cover of America's War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History

Robert Vitalis Author Of Oilcraft: The Myths of Scarcity and Security That Haunt U.S. Energy Policy

From my list on crazy things we believe on oil and world politics.

Who am I?

I have been fascinated with the relationship between the United States and the Middle East since my freshman year at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where I began as a commuter, stuck in gasoline lines, during the “energy crisis” in the fall of 1973, and where I was among the first SUNY students to study abroad in Egypt after the United States resumed diplomatic relations. I wrote my dissertation on Egypt’s economic development (When Capitalists Collide: Business Conflict and the End of Empire in Egypt, 1995) and have been teaching and writing about U.S. involvement in the region for 35 years.

Robert's book list on crazy things we believe on oil and world politics

Robert Vitalis Why did Robert love this book?

A retired career army officer and professor of history who now heads the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, Andrew Bacevich has been writing devastatingly for two decades about the country’s growing military presence in the Middle East since the late 1970s and the waging of its “forever wars” there. America’s War is his magnum opus, a book that lays bare the costs of the military’s mistaken strategic thinking for the United States and for the region.

By Andrew J. Bacevich,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked America's War for the Greater Middle East as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD • A searing reassessment of U.S. military policy in the Middle East over the past four decades from retired army colonel and New York Times bestselling author Andrew J. Bacevich

From the end of World War II until 1980, virtually no American soldiers were killed in action while serving in the Greater Middle East. Since 1990, virtually no American soldiers have been killed in action anywhere else. What caused this shift? Andrew J. Bacevich, one of the country’s most respected voices on foreign affairs, offers an incisive critical history of this ongoing military enterprise—now…

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

Kenneth M. Pollack Author Of Armies of Sand: The Past, Present, and Future of Arab Military Effectiveness

From my list on Middle East military history.

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.

Kenneth's book list on Middle East military history

Kenneth M. Pollack Why did Kenneth love this book?

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.

Book cover of War in the Land of Egypt

Steven A. Cook Author Of The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square

From my list on understanding the Middle East.

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. 

Steven's book list on understanding the Middle East

Steven A. Cook Why did Steven love this book?

This brief volume was first published 35 years ago but stands up over time. It is an allegory about Egypt during the early years of Anwar al-Sadat's rule, but speaks to the larger issues of corruption, the arrogance of power, and the fraying of societal bonds under authoritarian leaders. 

By Yusuf al-Qa'id,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Egypt on the eve of the 1973 October war. A young man has been drafted into the army. His father, the village elder, persuades a poor night-watchman to send his own son as a stand-in. But the impersonation plan goes horribly wrong, with tragicomic results. Qa'id's tale of the fiasco — steeped in irony and black humor — parodies outrageous corruption and ludicrous bureaucracy. A skillfully crafted mosaic of life in modern Egypt.