What I’ve been reading

While we are on the topic of the Middle East, I thought I would recommend two novels: Shake Off and Sabra Zoo by Mischa Hiller.

The first is a Le Carre-like spy novel, except the protagonist is a young Palestinian exile living in London, employed by the PLO. When I say Le Carre-like, I mean that it somehow manages to be exciting even though the tradecraft seldom gets fancier than paperwork. Highly recommended.

Sabra Zoo, meanwhile, is set in 1980s Beirut, and surrounds aid workers and Palestinians in the Sabra camp. Not as good as Shake Off but still a good read.

All of this exposed my ignorance of Lebanon and Palestine, and so I’ve been reading Tom Friedman’s From Beirut to Jerusalem just to catch up. I bought it in spite of my disinterest in his column. I now understand why he got the position he has today.

Suggestions for more recent reads are welcome. I prefer a mixture of readable and credible, but I will take simply credible if it I’m forced to choose.

11 thoughts on “What I’ve been reading

  1. Both Robert Fisk’s “Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon” and David Hirst’s “Beware Small States, Lebanon, Battleground, and the Middle East” are excellent reads by two foreign journalists with far more experience in Lebanon than Friedman.

  2. From Beirut to Jerusalem is a good read, which is why Friedman’s slow decline into an infuriating parody of himself has been sad to watch.

  3. To get you started:

    Lebanon:
    Theodor Hanf – Co-existence in Wartime Lebanon
    Fawwaz Traboulsi – A History of Modern Lebanon
    Ussama Makdisi – The Culture of Sectarianism
    Kamal Salibi – A House of Many Mansions

    Palestine:
    Edward Said – The Question of Palestine
    Rashid Khalidi – The Iron Cage
    Amira Hass – Drinking the Sea at Gaza
    Wendy Pearlman – Violence, Nonviolence, and the Palestinian National Movement
    Tom Segev – One Palestine, Complete
    Joe Sacco – Palestine

    Fiction:
    Emile Habibi – The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist
    Anton Shammas – Arabesques
    Tawfiq Awwad – Death in Beirut
    Elias Khoury – The Gate of the Sun

  4. I’m not convinced that Tom “Suck on this” Friedman could have ever written anything on the Middle East I would want to read. (Just google “Suck on this” for video of the reference–I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone say something more odious.) I wonder what serious experts on the Middle East think of the book. As an alternative, one of my favorite books is David Froomkin’s A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, which is absolutely first rate history.

  5. If you’re interested in Lebanon, the book “Hezbollah: A Short History” is excellent. It is by a former US military officer.

  6. Surprised to not see any mentions of “Killing Mr. Lebanon.” It’s moreso political, but is the main book out there that explains the Hariri family’s influence in Lebanon. It’s very readable (and not too long) and is the first book I tell anybody to read if they want to learn more about Lebanon.

  7. A magazine article (so very readable). I feel like it’s a good introduction to the religiously motivated settlers in the West Bank, and what motivates them, and how difficult it will be to disengage them, in seven short internet pages: http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/77378/girls-at-war “You think of settler girls and you think ‘Little House on the Prairie’ or the Jewish equivalent of the Girls Madrassas I’ve been to in Pakistan: Learn your religion, learn how to be a good wife, then have 10 children. But the girls in this story were getting all that and a little extra. Instead of afterschool sports they did afterschool fight-the-state. “