Books about the Middle East

Middle East for beginners

People who are interested in the Middle East but not very familiar with it often ask which books would provide a good introduction. A few years ago Robert Fisk, the veteran Middle East journalist, came up with some suggestions. Feeling that his choices were a bit dated, I set out, in a series of blog posts, to compile an alternative list of just 10 books that would give a more contemporary picture.

I started by considering topics and issues that ought to be covered, and invited readers to make suggestions – which can be seen here.

Subsequent blog posts considered books in various categories: history, Islam, society and politics, and fiction.

The final list of 10 books is here, plus a discussion of how I arrived at it.

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Books about Arab countries














Saudi Arabia







Arabic literature in translation

Arabic literature is not well-known in the west. To help redress the balance, here is a list of some works by contemporary Arab writers that have been translated into English (or, in a few cases, were originally written in English). The list, which includes both prose and poetry, is based on recommendations from the British Council's website, with some further additions.

Books about the Arab Spring

There are now dozens of books about the Arab uprisings that began at the end of 2010. Here is a list of those that are readily available in English. There are also separate lists of books about the uprisings in individual countries: TunisiaEgyptYemenSyria and Bahrain.

Books about sexual diversity in Arab countries

Books about religion

The Oxford History of Islam 
by John L. Esposito (ed), 2000. Available from or

Islam: A Short History 
by Karen Armstrong, 2001. Available from or

Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman 
by W. Montgomery Watt. Available from or

Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet 
by Karen Armstrong, 2001. Available from or

A History of Islamic Spain
Mongomery Watt, 1965. Available from or

The Crusades Through Arab Eyes 
by Amin Maalouf, 1989. Available from or

Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms 
by Gerard Russell, 2014. Available from or Review: al-bab.

Arabs Without God: Atheism and freedom of belief in the Middle East
by Brian Whitaker, 2014. Details here

Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari'a 
by Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im, 2009. Available from or

Islam and Human Rights: Tradition and Politics 
by Ann Elizabeth Mayer, 2012. Available from or

Sexual Ethics and Islam: Feminist Reflections on Qur'an, Hadith, and Jurisprudence 
by Kecia Ali, 2016. Available from or

Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender And Pluralism 
by Omid Safi, 2003. Available from or

The Taqwacores
A novel by Michael Muhammad Knight. Available from or Review: Guardian

Islam in the Digital Age: E-jihad, Online Fatwas and Cyber Islamic Environments 
by Gary Bunt. Available from: Review: Guardian

The Muslim Jesus
by Tarif Khalidi. Available from or Reviews: GuardianChristian Science Monitor;