The CMED Bookshelf

In celebration of the release of our most recent CMED Routledge series publication, Reconstructing the Middle East, we’ve compiled a list of noteworthy Middle East reads recommended by the CMED team and affiliates.

Reconstructing the Middle East, Edited by Abdulwahab Alkebsi, Nathan J. Brown, and Charlotta Sparre.

The editors have brought together a wide range of perspectives from the region and the West to provide readers with a thoughtful analysis of the Arab uprisings of the recent decade and an exploration of future state building possibilities. The volume is divided into five sections, first examining formal political structures in the region, then delving into the power of Arab civil societies, including youth and tribal systems. It continues with a consideration of economics and media, and finally the role of the Arab League and the West.

Combining regional perspectives with detailed case studies and policy analyses, this is an excellent resource for those who seek a broad but thorough understanding of the region affected by the Arab Spring in one carefully assembled package.

Sammar Smesme, center assistant:

ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, by Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan

Incorporating interviews with ISIS fighters and U.S. military officials, Weiss and Hassan explain how ISIS, today and in its earlier manifestations, has exploited Islam, poor governance, and citizen disgruntlement (especially Sunnis toward their oppressive regimes) to build a jihadist army worthy of international intervention. ISIS establishes a solid context for the reader by recounting the upbringing and early working relationships of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, ISIS’s first leader (when the group took the form of al-Qaeda in Iraq), and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIS’ current leader, and several of their Baathist contemporaries.

Warren Fahmy, research assistant:

The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel, By Uri Bar-Joseph

The Angel by Uri Bar-Joseph covers the life and exploits of Ashraf Marwan, Nasser’s son-in-law and close aide to President Anwar Sadat. Marwan was also a spy for the Mossad. Bar-Joseph goes into great depth in identifying and analyzing the intelligence that Marwan provided the Israelis, his relationships with key figures from Libya and Saudi Arabia, as well as his shadowy business dealings, dismissal from government, and mysterious death in London. Bar-Joseph’s writing gives a good sense of time and place, providing detailed background information on key players and historical events that were occurring in the Middle East and around the globe in the 1960s and 1970s. The author also provided good pacing to the narrative, allowing the reader to get a sense of the intrigue as acts of espionage are detailed and world events unfold.

Jasmine English, intern:

Shadow Wars: the Secret Struggle for the Middle East, by Christopher Davidson

Davidson looks at Western interference in the Middle East, arguing that the West has manipulated regional players to secure its own interests. The result of this interference: sectarian war, counter-revolutions and the current incarnation of Islamic extremism.  A compelling view of dark side of our foreign policy.

Nirit Hinkis, research and program coordinator:

Girls of Riyadh: A Novel, by Rajaa Alsanea

This list is missing fiction, so I’m going to add some into the mix:

This charming novel paints a picture of the lives of four young women raised in the upper echelons of Riyadh society, detailing their aspirations, romances, frustrations, and tragedies. The novel is presented in the form of a series of email blog entries, with each entry revealing new developments in the personal stories of the blogger and her friends. The narrator’s publications become a sensation in Saudi Arabia, with readers responding in criticism and encouragement of her racy stories. The narratives themselves, as well as readers’ reactions shed light on the complexities of modern Saudi society, especially as it pertains to women.

Joshua Saidoff, graduate student affiliate:

The Fall of the Ottomans, by Eugene Rogan

Fast-paced, absorbing account of the First World War, largely written from the vantage point of an empire in its final death throws.  Eugene Rogan, British-American historian returns to the beaches of Gallipoli to pay tribute to a fallen great uncle.  There he is inspired by two monuments: one to commemorate British victims and the other for those lost on the Ottoman side.  Rogan embarks on his own campaign to understand the war from the vantage point of the enemy.  This book is the culmination of his efforts.  It is a fitting memorial to both the British and Ottoman aspirations which came to die on the beaches of Gallipoli.

If you're thirsting for even more Middle East reads, Joshua Saidoff has thrown in a few extra gems: 


Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East, by Gerard Russel

Gerard Russel, a British diplomat, travels Iraq seeking vestiges of ancient religions and faith communities.  This colorful ethnography cum travel log introduces readers to history’s nearly forgotten worlds and to the small communities that carry that carry their traditions into the present. 




Invisible Nation: How the Kurds’ Quest for Statehood is Shaping Iraq and the Middle East, by Quil Lawrence

A sympathetic portrayal of the Middle East's least appreciated and most under-reported national minority.




The Road to Fatima Gate, by Michael J. Totten

Brave insightful first-person journalistic account.  weaves together first-person narrative and political commentary into an insightful and entertaining whole. a relatively quick read.




Three Empires on the Nile, by Dominic Green

History repeats itself.  For anyone interested in the politics of the modern Middle East, this book should be a captivating read.  For Western policymakers who wish to effect change in the region, it should be illuminating and humbling.





Oil Kings, by Andrew Scott Cooper

A new look at a history you thought you knew.  Andrew Scott Cooper plumbs the archives and emerges with an astounding history of collusion and mutual dependence between Nixon / Kissinger and the Shah of Iran.



Ally, by Michael Oren

Anguished account of Israel's first American-born envoy to the United States. It expresses the closeness and complexity of the interpersonal and diplomatic relations between the two countries. This book also includes a painful and stinging indictment of the Obama administration's handling of the US-Israel alliance, but also accounts of genuine and close cooperation between an Administration that is genuinely committed to Israeli security but fundamentally at odds quit Israel's strategic outlook.



The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership, by Yehuda Aviner

Yehuda Aviner’s humanity, his menschlichkeit, shines through the stories he tells of Israel’s first Prime Ministers. Aviner was there to see it all. He was often the only person in the room when Israeli and American or British leaders met.  And, when Israeli Prime Ministers stepped up to the podium, under the glare of the cameras, it was Aviner’s words that they intoned.  For all of this, Aviner remained a humble and sincere public servant.  This may be Aviner’s auto-biography, but true to form, it is written in homage to those leaders he admired most, Israel’s Prime Ministers.