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 withsome 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 consideringtopics 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.

Note: al-bab receives commission from Amazon for book purchases made using links on this site.

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 isa listof those that are readily available in English. There are also separate lists of books about the uprisings in individual countries:Tunisia,Egypt,Yemen,SyriaandBahrain.

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

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

A History of Islamic Spain
Mongomery Watt, 1965. Available

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

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 Review:Guardian

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

The Muslim Jesus
by Tarif Khalidi. Available Reviews:Guardian;Christian Science Monitor;