Help me understand the history of the Middle East
September 22, 2014 12:45 PM   Subscribe

The recent conflict in Gaza has reminded me that one of the things that I have wanted to read up on is the recent history of the Middle East, particularly Israel. Can anyone recommend comprehensive and (somewhat) objective books on the subject?

I would like to understand the roots of the present situation (which I guess reaches back beyond the Crusades) and the motivations of the principal actors over the last few decades. As I have found that most stories have at least two sides, I would prefer to avoid narratives that paint one side as being "good" or "bad", or at least to have books that give divergent perspectives on the same events.

Suggestions in history, sociology and fiction are all welcome. Other media, too, if they are particularly good.
posted by Grinder to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
This piece is a great way to get up-to-speed in the space of an afternoon.
posted by jbickers at 12:47 PM on September 22, 2014

The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Very Short Introduction is very good. It covers the same ground as the Vox piece that @jbickers linked to.
posted by OrangeDisk at 12:56 PM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've recommended From Beirut to Jerusalem before. Even if you don't like what Tom Friedman has written lately, I thought that book was excellent.
posted by kat518 at 1:08 PM on September 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

9 questions about the Israel-Palestine conflict you were too embarrassed to ask is one I found to be a great primer.

From Muhammad to ISIS: Iraq’s Full Story is a must-read, in my opinion.
posted by JimBJ9 at 1:31 PM on September 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

I found No God But God, by Reza Aslan to be an easy read that covers the state of religion in the region just before the time of Muhammed, through his life and death and the subsequent fragmentation of Islam, up to the present day.
posted by IanMorr at 2:09 PM on September 22, 2014

The Lemon Tree is an excellent book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, told from the perspective of an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man, and fairly well balanced between the different viewpoints.
posted by phoenix_rising at 2:22 PM on September 22, 2014

Go back at least to the partition after WWI.
posted by JimN2TAW at 3:08 PM on September 22, 2014

I found The Middle East Since 1945 from the Teach Yourself series to be a decent starting point when I read it a few years ago. There's a newer edition since then.
posted by rd45 at 1:36 AM on September 23, 2014

People love to hate on him, but I think that Thomas Friedman wrote a masterpiece in From Beirut to Jerusalem.

Amos' Oz's A Tale of Love and Darkness is tragic and magical. According to wikipedia, when he wrote it, Oz sent imprisoned former Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti a copy of his book A Tale of Love and Darkness in Arabic translation with his personal dedication in Hebrew: “This story is our story, I hope you read it and understand us as we understand you, hoping to see you outside and in peace, yours, Amos Oz”.[2] The gesture was criticized by members of rightist political parties, among them Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely.[4] Assaf Harofeh Hospital canceled Oz's invitation to give the keynote speech at an awards ceremony for outstanding physicians in the wake of this incident.

Sari Nusseibeh's Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life is wonderful. More Israelis need to read it.

Once Upon a Country and A Tale of Love and Darkness are often considered to be complementary.
posted by beisny at 12:18 PM on September 23, 2014

In terms of films, check out Unsettled, The Gatekeepers, Walk on Water and Beaufort.
posted by beisny at 5:16 PM on September 23, 2014

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