A Partial Reading List

A few people have asked me for some book recommendations about this region, or have asked what I've been reading over here. So, at the bottom of this page, there's a partial reading list (click on the titles in blue to access these books at my favorite U.S. online bookstore, Books-A-Million).

Someone I met here said there are only one or two books about this region that fairly present "both sides," and those are the only books worth recommending. In fact, I don't think there are two sides here—I think there are about thirty-seven sides here. And I think the solution to not finding enough books that fairly present all sides is to read a lot of books, go figure. I would not describe any of the books listed below as a comprehensive explanation of this region. I would describe each of them as a small piece of the big, complex puzzle that is the Arab-Israeli story.

These are the books that I've liked and thought were worth reading. However, there are only so many hours in a day, so I've only turned over a few stones in the massive mountain of writings about this region.

Den of Lions
by Terry Anderson

Former bureau chief of The Associated Press in Beirut (and later Visiting Professional at my MSJ alma mater, the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University) gives his frank account of being kidnapped by Shiite extremists and held prisoner for seven years in the Middle East.

Peace Not Apartheid
by Jimmy Carter

Released after my return from Israel, Carter's book is a readable summary of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through summer 2006. The book supports a two-state solution, discusses the main obstacles to peace, and considers what role the US can play in the peace process—as well as the abandonment of this role under the current Bush administration.

From the Holy Mountain
by William Dalrymple

One of my favorite writers (he usually writes about India), Dalrymple tells the story here of numerous Middle Eastern Christian sects and their disappearance in the 20th and 21st centuries from the region where they've existed for 2,000 years.

The Middle East For Dummies
by Craig S. Davis

A good overview of the interrelated histories, conflicts, alliances, and enmities that make up the modern-day Middle East. Not necessarily a read-it-straight-through book, but quite handy to have on your shelf when you're wondering what the White Paper was, when Lebanon was born, how long the British Mandate lasted, or who the Druze are.

Great World Religions: Islam
by John L. Esposito

Audio lecture series (Course No. 6102) from the Teaching Company. This is a good introduction to Islam, delivered with enthusiam and expertise, in a set of 12 lectures that each last 30 minutes. Using the link I've provided to this title, you can go on from there to explore the rest of the Teaching Company's excellent offerings, including lecture series on Judaism and Christianity, religious history, and the complex history of the Middle East conflict.

Sacred Geography
by Edward Fox

Riveting account by a British journalist of the politics of archaeology in the Holy Land, the influence of the Arab-Israeli conflict on the rule of law, and the unsolved murder of an American archaeologist who was a teacher at Birzeit University on the West Bank.

From Beirut To Jerusalem
by Thomas Friedman

No longer current, but still very educational and compulsively readable, this book by a promininent journalist combines clear thinking, crisp writing, and a passion for the Middle East.

The Quest for the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel
by Rivka Gonen

For one of the articles I wrote after arriving here, I interviewed the author, an archaeologist and former curator of ethnography at the Israel Museum. She gave me a copy of this interesting account of the various groups all over the world who've been convinced they were one of the lost tribes of Israel.
Drinking the Sea At Gaza
by Amira Hass

This respected Israeli journalist moved to Gaza in the 1990s to cover Palestinian life under occupation, for the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz. Her more recent book is Reporting From Ramallah, which I haven't read yet.
Leap of Faith
by Queen Noor al-Hussein

Well-written, informative autobiography of the American who married King Hussein of Jordan. A biased view of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but a perspective that most of us have heard far less than we've heard the equally biased Israeli view.
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Jerusalem
by H. Paul Jeffers

A handy introductory book to this city. Particularly good for looking up when various events occurred (3,000 years of volatile, eventful local history can be a bit much to store in your head) and getting basic information on the phrases that locals throw around from the day you arrive, such as the "status quo," the "Green Line," and the "Russian Compound."
The Trouble With Islam4.
by Irshad Manji

A controversial critique of Islam by a religious, Canadian-born, lesbian journalist from a Muslim family. A modern, Western, liberal believer's confrontation with the dominant religion of the conservative Middle East.

Coming Home To Jerusalem
by Wendy Orange

An American journalist's account of the eye-opening six years she spent working in Israel and the Palestinian Territories in the 1990s.

Jerusalem: City of God, City of Fire
by F.E. Peters

8-disc set of audio lectures, published by the Barnes and Noble "Portable Professor" series. Excellent introduction to Jerusalem and overview of its history and geography.

The Israelis
by Donna Rosenthal

Excellent book about contemporary Israeli life, covering a sweeping range of society while always remaining specific in terms of individuals and their experiences. Gives a strong sense of who is here and what it's like to be here.
Elvis In Jerusalem
by Tom Segev

Segev is a respected and sometimes controversial Israeli historian and journalist. This recent, short book is a good introduction to his work. His two best-known books, both a lot longer than this, are well worth reading: One Palestine, Complete and The Seventh Million.
The World's Religions
by Huston Smith

An old-but-reliable introduction to the histories, tenets, and rituals of seven major contemporary religions, including the three that have dominated this land at one time or another throughout its bloody history: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.
Damascus Gate
by Robert Stone

An enjoyable suspense novel about the religious fanatics, burned-out idealists, and self-serving journalists who populate the streets of Jerusalem, as well as the bizarre schemes and dreams that start to make sense when you've been in the Holy Land a little too long.

Martyrs' Crossing
by Amy Wilentz

Evocative novel written by an American journalist shortly before the second intifada began. (As bad as the situation is in the novel, it soon became worse and it remains worse.) In a region full of polemics, Wilentz does a good job of telling her story through her characters.