Good book about Middle-Eastern history

I’m reading a throwaway suspense novel from 1980, about Quaddafi planting a nuke in the middle of New York, and threatening to blow it up if the US doesn’t get the Israelis to get out of Israel and give the land to Palestine. (It’s called The Fifth Horseman) It’s done a good job of making me really curious about that area of the World, as far as ancient history goes. I am relatively ignorant of the subject.

Can anyone recommend a good book or series of books covering the last 4000 years of history of that area? I know, that’s a lotta history, but I’m wondering…


The Bible?

Please. :rolleyes:


Try “The Venture of Islam” by Marshall Hodgson. It’s dense and difficult (three volumes, of which I read only the first two), and its best parts cover early Islam, but it was easily one of the most rewarding and memorable books I read in college. He starts off by defining terms, which I remember as being very dry, but once he gets into pre-Islamic societies, it gets much more interesting.

I’ll second Hodgson.

But for a single volume ( but still pretty big ) work, I’d recommend Ira Lapidus’ A History of Islamic Societies ( 1988, Cambridge University Press ).

  • Tamerlane

Oh and for the whole 4,000 year period ( Hodgson basically skims the pre-Islamic period and Lapidus does even less ), I’m afraid you’ll have to go to multiple volumes. Do you want specific recommendations for specific periods?

For example for the Hellenistic Period, I might recommend Alexander to Actium,* The Historical Evolution of the Hellenistic Age* by Peter Green ( 1990, University of California Press ).

James Bennett Pritchard’s ( Ed.) The Ancient near East ( 1965, Princeton University Press ) is a decent starter for early history ( though perhaps slightly dated ).

There are also a plethora of choices for the Roman/Byzantine Periods :).

  • Tamerlane

If you’re interested in an excellent series from the traditional Jewish perspective, the trilogy of books by Rabbi Berel Wein - Echoes of Glory, Herald of Destiny and Triumph of Survival can’t be beat. While the focus is on the Jewish people and not necessarily on the wider Middle East (and, of course, much of Jewish history in the last millennium took place in Europe and not the Middle East), it will give another perspective on much of the ground covered by secular history books.

Try “A History of the Arab Peoples” by Albert Hourani. Gives a good overview of Arab Middle Eastern history, at least.

A Peace To End All Peace by David Fromkin-subtitled "The Fall Of The Ottoman Empire and The Creation Of The Modern Middle East.One of the best books I’ve ever read-I learned so much that was never taught in HS or college Middle East history courses.For example-The British wanted the US to take over the Palestine Mandate after WW 1.Imagine how history would have been changed if we had .

I’ll second Lapidus, agreeing with Tamerlane.

Still haven’t read the Hourani book, a likely runner-up, but it sure got a lot of good reviews.

My old standby is Philip K. Hitti’s History of the Arabs, but it’s way out of date by now. The Majesty that Was Islam by W. M. Watt might come in for honorable mention—it’s also out of date, except that it is limited in scope to the classical period, and so being out of date isn’t as much of a drawback.

Hourani’s book is pretty good, though I found it a little skimpy in certain areas ( but then I would :wink: ). I think Lapidus is more complete. But really, both are worth checking out.

I agree with JMRossi - Fromkin’s book is excellent and I’ve used it as a ctation several times in GD. However it is pretty specific, so you might want to start with a more general source first.

Haven’t read Jomo Mojo’s suggestions, but I do know W.M Watt is one of the respected “old names” in the field and probably worth a gander.

  • Tamerlane

I have to recommend the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World (4 vols.) as a great reference work. The articles are plenty interesting in themselves, and are good to just sit and read and drink in the knowledge. Although it’s focused on the modern period, it includes plenty of historical background going back to the beginning of Islam. The bibliographies are great for following up on stuff you’re interested in. Should be available on the reference shelf in better libraries.

And for really serious in-depth reference, the top of the line is the Encyclopædia of Islam, new ed., published by E. J. Brill. Good luck finding a library that’s got a complete set. But if you can find it, it’s a treasurehouse of knowledge that far surpasses anything else on the subject.

Thanks for all the input! I’ll mull it over a bit, check out the local library for some of the suggestions…


I’ll second Hourani. I’m about halfway through my copy, and so far I’ve found it a well-written introductory overview.