Middle East Studies Greatest Hits

The enterprising scholars at American University Cairo thought it worthwhile to poll M.E. professors [and sundries] on the “most interesting, informative and readable” books in the field of Modern Middle East Studies. 52 scholars of the M.E. responded and below is the top 21.

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

The list seems a bit skewed to the polisci crowd and there are too many general primers for my taste. Hodgson should place way up. I am surprised that Janet Abu-Lughod’s Before European Hegemony or Olivier Roy’s The Failure of Political Islam or Joseph Schacht’s The Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence didn’t make the cut. But, Fromkin and Lockman did? Those political scientists need to pick up some history books…sheesh.

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sepoy

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17 thoughts on “Middle East Studies Greatest Hits”

  1. Interesting list, indeed a bit polisci heavy, and not all on the *modern* Middle East at all. I am quite curious to know who they interviewed. Another article notes that the respondants were based in US, UK, Egypt, Lebanon and Israel. The bias is clear, as with only two exceptions the list is all either surveys or books that focus on the Arabophone Middle East (inclding Egypt but not the rest of North Africa). I think Mottahedeh belongs there, but certainly one would like to see another book or two on modern Iran on a list that claims to cover the whole ME region. And Bernard Lewis as the only text on Turkey is troubling. I agree with Sepoy that Janet Abu-Lughod definitely belongs here (and perhaps also Lila Abu-Lughod’s Veiled Sentiments). I would also vote for Khaled Abou El Fadl’s Corrupting God’s Book, plus some more anthropology (Cohen on Lawrence of Arabia, Messick on textuality and state in Yemen) in addition to more titles on Turkey and Iran. Maybe we should do our own poll.

  2. ah, the dacoit returns!

    the list of people who responded is in their newsletter. They say that they will re-do the survey over the summer and try and get more people outside of continental USA. That same newsletter, funnily enough, has a discussion of “Middle East”.

    As for B. Lewis, I don’t want to see ANYTHING by him but if I had to, I would have chosen his monograph on the Assassins over Turkey.

    I would say Turban for the Crown by Arjomand is another must-be-on-the-list.

    Also, for a poll, I think a far more illuminating question to ask from Middle/Near East people would be: What are the five books from your Orals/Exams List that you still use?

  3. Ay, what a bizarre list– it’s sort of a combination of old (maybe even obsolete) stalwarts, and recently popular & trendy titles (hence two Timothy Mitchells, and the Lockman, which is an interesting book, yeah, but in the top 20?) Lewis as the only Turkey title is really disturbing–the book is well-written, but terribly outdated, with a dubious acceptance of the Kemalist narrative cobbled together with modernization theory. The fact that it’s on this list says a lot about the marginalization of Turkey (and Iran) in ME studies as a whole. (Not that I’m bitter or anything). I get the feeling that the respondants cited the books of the mentors who influenced them 20 years ago–for me, some of their own books would be on the list, instead.

    I’m delighted to see Lisa Wedeen, though–that book is far & away the best thing I’ve ever read on Syria, and should be read far beyond area studies circles.

    Otherwise–echoing the calls for more anthropology, sociology, cultural history, like the assorted Abu-Lughods (I read “Beyond European Hegemony” when I was 17, in the college class that turned my head inside-out & made me decide to be an academic. It completely reshaped the way I thought about history. And “Veiled Sentiments” is certainly one the of top ME anthropology books of the last 30 years, as well as just a lovely read). Yes also to dacoit’s rec. of Brink Messick’s “The Calligraphic State.” I’d also add: Walter Armbrust’s “Modernity and Mass Culture in Egypt” Eickelman & Piscatori’s “Muslim Politics,” Ussama Makdisi’s “The Culture of Sectarianism”, Sami Zubaida’s “Islam, the People, and the State.” Toby Dodge or Charles Tripp on Iraq, Andrew Shryock on nationalism in Jordan, and Martin Stokes, because everything he writes is just so much fun to read. It’s not as much of an “academic” book, but if I could make everyone in the country read on thing on the ME it would be Rashid Khalidi’s “Resurrecting Empire.”

    For Turkey and the Ottoman Empire– Eric-Jan Zurcher’s “Turkey: a Modern History” is dry, but the best general history at the moment. My mentor’s just gotten a contract from CUP to write a book that I think will supplant it. Feroz Ahmad’s stuff is better than Lewis. Bozdogan & Kasaba’s “Rethinking Modernity and National Identity in Turkey” is awesome, also good are Michael Meeker’s “A Nation of Empire”, Hasan Kayali’s “Arabs and Young Turks,” and Eugene Rogan and Cemal Kafadar’s books. I’m currently working as an editor for the 19th/20th C. volume of the new Cambridge History of Turkey, and another book coming out of an Oxford conference on “Turkey’s Encounter With Modernity”– and if the drafts I’ve seen thus far are any indication, both will be good.

    Ok, I have to go make my own post on this now.

  4. I love a good book list and a nice debate. So now we have a chopped, screwed and fortified Middle East list (both in the comments here and over at Verbal Privilege, which features an alternative list rich on Ottoman imperial and Turkish concerns) and a proposal on the table for a South Asia list (not exactly what I meant – but thanks for drawing out the logical implication Prachi).

    Let’s get it started on the South Asia list: I bid Event, Metaphor, Memory; anyone care to raise me an Empire and Information or Elementary Aspects?

  5. Bernard Lewis?!

    Poor, poor Iranian studies. Let’s pretend it’s part of the Middle East:

    Afsaneh Najmabadi’s Men without Beards, Women without Mustaches and The Story of the Daughters of Quchan are both good 19th and 20th century works of critical history and historiography, as are Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi’s Refashioning Iran and Firuzeh Kashani-Sabet’s Frontier Fictions.

    Fariba Adelkhah’s Being Modern in Iran and Ziba Mir-Hosseini’s Islam and Gender are excellent anthropological works.

    I like Janet Abu-Lughod’s work, but Engseng Ho’s The Graves of Tarim is going to knock people’s socks off when it come out this spring.

    Kathryn Babayan’s Mystics, Monarchs and Messiahs is excellent for Safavid cultural history.

    For more general stuff, Arjomand’s Turban for the Crown and Abrahamian’s Iran between two Revolutions and Khomeinism are good.

    And I like Farzaneh Milani’s Veil’s and Words for Modern Iranian literature.

    I also think South and Central Asia and Indian Ocean Studies should be included on the basis on Persianate and Islamicate cultural ties. That’s what I am imbibbing for orals and for a good long time beyond. I’d have to say my favorite historian in this realm is Sanjay Subrahmanyam. But since getting non-Arab countries that are geographically part of the Middle East in there seems to so difficult, maybe that’s a battle for another day!

  6. Excellent! Now, we have Iran and Turkey covered…who wants to tackle the Maghrib?
    As for South Asia….we shall begin that soon.

  7. Hi all,

    I worked on the list and just wanted to answer a few questions, make a few responses.

    *Interesting list, indeed a bit polisci heavy*

    You’re right. We were faced to come to terms with this fact when we published our results, noting that,

    “Our original decisions about which professors to contact

    obviously influenced the shape that the compiled book list would

    take. Most of the professors we contacted were political

    scientists, modern historians, and economists. Our bias was not

    lost on the respondents: ‘Your list of faculty contacts is very

    heavily weighted to modern studies… I am almost the only

    medievalist in the lot. I assume your list will also be skewed in

    this way.’ This will be one of the issues addressed in the list we

    will compile this summer.”

    *The bias is clear, as with only two exceptions the list is all either surveys or books that focus on the Arabophone Middle East (inclding Egypt but not the rest of North Africa).*

    Too true. Hopefully this can be remedied this summer. I would love to find THE book on Tunisia.

    *I agree with Sepoy that Janet Abu-Lughod definitely belongs here (and perhaps also Lila Abu-Lughod’s Veiled Sentiments).*

    Veiled Sentiments tied with about a dozen other books for “22nd place.” They were accorded a runner-up status in the newsletter. I know that won’t satisfy you, but thankfully I’m not responsible, as I accorded myself no votes in the survey.

    *That same newsletter, funnily enough, has a discussion of “Middle East”.*

    Many people working on that same newsletter, funnily enough, disagreed with my classification of Chad as a Middle Eastern country.

    *Ay, what a bizarre list‚Äì it‚Äôs sort of a combination of old (maybe even obsolete) stalwarts, and recently popular & trendy titles (hence two Timothy Mitchells…*

    I found Rule of Experts too insightful and entertaining to be considered trendy. But I think your label of “bizarre” fits nicely.

    *But because I enjoy few things more evangelizing about good books, here’s a completely idiosyncratic list of readings on the Middle East that were not already on the AUC list… (from elizabeth‚Äôs post at her Verbal Priveledge)*

    Alternative list #1. My Radcliffe publishing house. My Brian de Bois-Guilbert. Most excellent.

    Do any of you have recommendations for Middle East studies professors, experts to contact for the revised survey this summer? (Aside from the authors of the works you have recommended.) It would make the job of compiling a larger survey request list that much easier.

    Have a good one,

    Garth

  8. Thanks for checking in, Garth.

    As for recommendations: H-Mideast-Medieval and H-Mideast-Political, H-Africa should be good places to augment MESA’s roll. Of course, key is send the request before Spring is over because once summer begins, they scatter, these m.e. scholars….

  9. Hi Garth– write to the H-Turk list as well, if you want to get some more books on Turkey and the Ottoman Empire in the mix. And by ‘trendy’ I didn’t mean ‘no good’, just that Mitchell’s work is fairly recent (by the standards of the list), and very popular (also likely to be much-copied!) I haven’t read Rule of Experts yet, but thought Colonising Egypt was very good. James McDougall at Princeton would be a good person for N. Africa recommendations….

    and tattooed hand: yee-haw, let’s tear down the area studies barricades! i’m with you. ditto on Fariba Adelkhah (who is a lovely person as well as a whip-smart scholar) and Afsaneh Najmabadi. The latter I only know though her chapters in various collections, incl. Kandiyoti’s…I think the reason several edited volumes pop up on my list is that some individual chapters and/or journal articles would rival actual books (like Suad Joseph’s work on gender and family, which I’d choose if there were a full-length monograph to put down) But that’s another kettle.

  10. I have an idea for the south asia list.

    The only list that this dear group would find acceptable.

    Start_List:

    -Everything by every subalternist.

    End_List.

    ;)

    jak

  11. Dear Sepoy,

    How about a South Indian (Pre-British Colonial?) History Must-Read list for Xmas, for those of us looking to bulk up our wishlists?

  12. I actually make lists like this in my spare time when I am bored. (Yeah, I’m that cool).

    I wanted to make a list about all aspects of ‘south asia’ (as well as other world regions). After research and recomendations, I choose these – many I’ve read, most I haven’t.

    1. Early India: A History to 1300
    2. Asoka and the Decline of the Mauryas
    3. Rise and Fall of the Imperial Guptas
    4. A History of South India, to 1700
    5. The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier: 1204-1760
    6. The Delhi Sultanate: 1206-1527
    7. The Sikhs of the Punjab: 1460-2000
    8. A Social History of the Deccan: 1300-1761
    9. Vijayanagara: 1340-1700
    10. The Mughal Throne: 1526-1707
    11. The Empire of the Great Mughals: 1526-1707
    12. The Marathas: 1600-1818
    13. From Plassey to Partition: 1707-1947
    14. The Indian Princes and Their States: 1765-1947
    15. A History of Modern India: 1480-1950
    16. The Long Partition and the Making of Modern South Asia: Refugees, Boundaries, Histories
    17. A History of Kashmir – Bamzai
    18. The Sindh Story
    19. A Comprehensive History of Assam
    20. Nepal and Bhutan: Country Studies
    21. A History of Sri Lanka – Silva
    22. India after Gandhi
    23. A History of Pakistan and Its Origins
    24. A History of Bangladesh
    Culture
    1. The Origins of Yoga and Tantra, to 1300
    2. An Introduction to Hinduism
    3. The Strides of Vishnu
    4. The Hindus: An Alternative History
    5. Buddhism: A History
    6. Theravada Buddhism: From Ancient Benares to Modern Colombo
    7. Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations
    8. An Introduction to Jainism
    9. The Jains
    10. Tantra: Path of Ecstasy
    11. Tantra in Practice
    12. Classical Indian Philosophy
    13. Understanding Sikhism
    14. The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India
    15. Sinister Yogis
    16. Caste, Society, and Politics in India (1700-Today)
    17. The Language of the Gods in the World of Men
    18. Literary Cultures in History
    19. The Lost World of Hindustani Music
    20. The Oxford Illustrated Companion to South Indian Music
    21. Masterpieces of Traditional Indian Architecture
    22. Indian Painting: The Great Mural Tradition
    23. Chola: Sacred Bronzes of South India
    24. Paintings for the Mughal Emperor

    Not so much on Islam in general, but I put that under the Abrahamdom (my name for the Middle East) with The New Cambridge History of Islam, V. 1-6 and a few other books.

    This list and the others is pretty much my reading for the next decade. Ah, well..

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