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The 21 “Best” Books

in Middle East Studies
W E HERE AT MESC WANTED TO MAKE A LIST of
the best Middle East studies books. So we emailed just over
two hundred MES professors and experts and asked them for
the ten books they found to be the most “interesting,
their recommendations will give more insight into what it means
for a book to have been listed as one of the “best” of Middle East
studies. Respondents described their recommendations as,
“provocative books [that] set me to thinking,” “books that either
inspired me in one way or another or that I have found to be
especially useful,” “books that I find interesting or think they are
very important in the history of the field.” These books
informative, and readable” in the field. We received just over sometimes “forced us to rethink our approach to the field,” and at
fifty responses and from these we compiled the Top 21 list. other times were just “the ten books I enjoy most.”
We are very happy with the results and are making plans for
a future improved list. This next list compilation—slated to
Why 21?
begin this summer—will give professors more time to consider
their choices, will be sent out during a less hectic time in the The books are ranked based on the number of times they were
academic year, and will reach out to ask recommendations recommended. We cut off the list at twenty-one because after the
from those neglected by this list. Eventually, we would like to twenty-first book, many of the candidate books are tied for the
produce two yearly lists at the end of summer: a list of the best same rank. For example, there were thirteen books tied for
MES books of the last century and another, more dynamic list twenty-second place in that each was recommended three times.
of the best MES books of the last decade. But let us first
This also happened higher up in the list: there are eight books
explain our flagship list that we have now compiled.
tied with four recommendations each, five books tied with five
each, and Hodgson’s Venture of Islam and Mitchell’s Colonising
Egypt were tied with eight recommendations each. In order to
What Do You Mean, “Best?” give the list a more ordered look, we broke these ties by giving
This list would be more accurately titled, “the twenty-one the higher rank to books that had received especial
Middle East studies books that experts in the field found the recommendations by a professor. In our request email, we asked
most interesting, informative, and readable.” But for brevity’s professors to provide ten books recommendations and to then
sake we kicked ourselves loose of subjectivity’s chains and write a blurb about the book most highly recommended. And so
called our results the twenty-one “best” books in Middle East Venture of Islam was given fifth and Colonising Egypt relegated
studies. to sixth—although they were each recommended by eight
professors—because Venture of Islam had received two especial
Some of the responses expressed understandable confusion recommendations and Colonising Egypt only one.
about what exactly we were looking for. Our original request
was for, “the ten most interesting, informative, readable books
in Middle East studies… Your selections do not need to be What Do You Mean “in Middle East Studies?”
well known or broad in scope.” And while we were rather
pleased with the descriptive trio of “interesting, informative, Our original decisions about which professors to contact
and readable,” not everyone found the request so lucid. As one obviously influenced the shape that the compiled book list would
respondent put it: take. Most of the professors we contacted were political
scientists, modern historians, and economists. Our bias was not
This is no easy task. The trouble is you say lost on the respondents: “Your list of faculty contacts is very
“interesting, informative and readable” and while heavily weighted to modern studies… I am almost the only
there are some books that fit all of those categories, medievalist in the lot. I assume your list will also be skewed in
they may not be the most important. Many important this way.” This will be one of the issues addressed in the list we
books may be interesting for a specialist but not for will compile this summer.
general readers, many may be of great importance
scientifically but difficult to read, and informative is There is also the question of who constitutes an expert in
rather a strange category because many great Middle East studies. Although we emailed two librarians, a
scientific books are addressed to specialists who handful of think-tank experts outside academia, and one Major
already are informed but make an argument. General, our list is heavily, heavily weighted towards professors.
And so, for convenience, we refer to the group of professors,
Perhaps a look at how the respondents themselves described Continued on page 10
their

1978 13. State. The Old Social Classes and the 1990 Revolutionary Movements of Iraq Hanna Batatu.1. Arab Politics: The Search for and Society in the Middle East Legitimacy Nazih Ayubi. Power and Politics in the Making of the Modern Middle 9. 1961 Richard Mitchell. 2. 1962 14. A History of the Arab Peoples Albert Hourani. 1377 6. 1999 5. 1988 17. 1969 11. Over-stating the Arab State: Politics 21. 1989 7. 1991 15. 1995 Michael Hudson. A Political Economy of the Edward Said. The Venture of Islam Marshall Hodgson. Society of the Muslim Brothers Bernard Lewis. Women and Gender in Islam East Leila Ahmed. Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age Albert Hourani. Ambiguities of Domination Lisa Wedeen. Orientalism 12. 1977 . 2004 19. 1986 18. 1975 16. 1997 East Zachary Lockman. The Emergence of Modern Turkey 20. 1988 3. 2002 4. Contending Visions of the Middle Yezid Sayigh. Colonising Egypt Timothy Mitchell. 1978 Middle East Alan Richards & John Waterbury. Rule of Experts Timothy Mitchell. The Muqaddimah Ibn Khaldun. Armed Struggle & the Search for State 8. 1992 10. A Peace to End All Peace David Fromkin. 1992 Roger Owen. The Mantle of the Prophet Roy Mottahedeh. A History of Islamic Societies Ira Lapidus.

the Emad Shahin Rex Brynen Descendants of Its Lesser Rural Notables. Sheikholeslami • Owen’s The Middle East and the Princeton University World Economy. McGill • Batatu’s Syria's Peasantry. Austin Julie Taylor Mounira Charrad • Seale’s The Struggle for Syria: A Robert Tignor Clement Moore Henry Study in Post-War Arab Politics.Rogan A. 1700. these 52 UC Berkeley As’ad Abu Khalid runner-ups: professors Nezar Alsayyad UCLA these books were all tied for twenty-second place with contributed: Sondra Hale Michael Ross three “votes” each UC Santa Barbara AUB (Beirut) Juan Campo • Abrahamian’s Iran Between Two John Meloy Lisa Hajjar John Waterbury Garay Menicucci Revolutions • Abu-Lughod’s Veiled AUC (Cairo) University of Arizona Enid Hill Julia Clancy-Smith Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in David Dunford Hazem Kandil a Bedouin Society Walid Kazziha Bahgat Korany University of Calgary. 1800-1914 Michael Barry University of Texas. Georgetown University Charles Tripp 1900 Barbara Stowasser University of Michigan • Kerr’s The Arab Cold War Harvard University Susan Waltz Susan Kahn • Lewis’ The Middle East: A Brief Susan Miller University of Oxford History of the Last 2000 Years Ahmed . and Their Politics Begin-Sadat Center University of Chicago Efraim Inbar Orit Bashkin • Cole’s Colonialism and Amikam Nachmani Fred Donner Revolution in the Middle East Martin Stokes Binghamton Univeristy Lisa Wedeen • Cook’s Commanding Right and Richard Antoun Donald Quataert University of Durham Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Emma Murphy Thought Columbia University University of London.Al-Shahi Indiana University Homa Katouzian • Mahmood’s The Politics of Piety John Walbridge Eugene L. R Hawting Hossein Kamaly Palestine: Merchants and Laleh Khalili Peasants in Jabal Nablus. Shenandoah University University of Utah 1945-1958 Peter Sluglett Calvin Allen • Slyomovics’ The Object of Tel Aviv University University of Washington Memory: Arab and Jew Narrate Meir Litvak Alwyn Rouyer the Palestinian Village Bruce Maddy-Weitzman Eyal Zisser Yale University • Vatikiotis’ The History of Michael Gasper Modern Egypt Ellen Lust-Okar . R. SOAS • Doumani’s Rediscovering Richard Bulliet G.

” and two requests for book recommendations. even after we included our timeline “best” (or “people’s favorites. if you will. website links page (http://fp. I set about creating a list for Middle East studies.htm). so we decided to request entries written within the “best of” lists: in order to be a safe choice. We last century of Middle East studies it would make would have liked to include more professors from various for a very interesting compiled list. Random House composed a list of the 100 Best (English Language) Novels of Please send comments and suggestions to garth. Also. literature. . but if you could jot found on the MESA page. and the experts across America (and some abroad) and I American Universities in Cairo and Beirut. We also sent in a combined twenty- down what you think are the ten most interesting. if the early and latter part of the century. the beating heart of the Arab world. What Middle East knowledge.edu/mesassoc/links. supplemented the list with about eight other universities not I realize that you must be busy. or would they go all the way back to Ibn Batuta?” We were cautious about being temporally But perhaps this is the curse of the first place selection in provincial. it provoked discussion about what books were the been our intent.com the Twentieth Century. Ulysses at the top of the list should be drawn and quartered. so I liked the idea of having them all in one But I suppose some explanation is necessary for the idea of place. two emails to the Washington Institute and the Brookings Institute but we assume that we were thwarted by an email informative. If you like. in 1998. beyond reproach or incomprehensible. But I loved the list and felt that. a sprinkle of Israeli institutions. We are compiling a "Top 25 Books in Middle East In most cases we selected six professors from each Middle East Studies" list for our MES office newsletter. email addresses (in English) from the websites of the Middle East studies centers in these countries. we sent out two-hundred Continued from page 7 librarians. from 1905 to 2005. I would invariably find myself sorting the individual jelly servings into columns of Garth Hall their different flavors—at least until the food arrived. Beginning October 13th.trevor@gmail. that we contacted for the study as “professors. professors interpretation of objectivity) and stirred up the pot of English continued to list Ibn Khaldun’s 1377 work The Muqaddimah. it needs to be either last hundred years. with the exception of a dash basing this list on feedback from professors and of British schools. I am studies center or department. for that matter). Limiting the list to books written in the last century was the Thank you for your help. When my parents used to take me out to breakfast as a child. compiled bean-counting and ranking? Well. especially from the Middle East itself. but it was selections do not need to be well known or broad difficult and sometimes impossible to obtain faculty lists or in scope. And if you could. and readable nonfiction books in the filter in that we did not receive any responses from these. I’m always forgetting book Why List? recommendations. which had not really nothing else. A beating heart of MES literature. We then wanted your input. Also. I have long into list form in Cairo. was the template for those requests: Especially not the Major General. just ask and I can send you the final Why Only Books From the Last Century? results. A concentrate of Middle East studies possessed me to want to reduce such brilliant literature to such juice. You can guess how I But the time span also spawned problems in that found that interpreted Ulysses’ placement (and AFI’s placement of Citizen some respondents were trying to make their list represent both Kane. And so. please write one sentence on why you chose the book you did for your first choice. This We hope the others will not take offence at this umbrella term. This initial list consisted entirely of universities in the United States. Middle East Studies Graduate Student. I thought that whoever put Joyce’s with “Top 21 Book List” as subject heading. We created our email list by going to each of the student in Middle East Studies at the American university program sites listed on the very helpful MESA University in Cairo. enjoyed both reading and categorizing. etc. come October 2005. This preliminary list is also weighted towards American My name is Garth Hall and I am a graduate professors. I liked the idea of having a consolidated list of listing the “best” Middle Eastern studies books. Your countries.arizona. for starters. result of an early email response: “What is your timeline? Are Garth these to be books that are in print and circulating in this century and last (20th century). MESC Editor So I was very interested when.” depending on one’s limiting recommendations to the last century.