RECENTLY, WE ASKED FIVE MIDDLE EAST EXPERTS TO TELL US ABOUT THE MOST PROVOCATIVE AND IMPORTANT BOOK PUBLISHED DURING THE PAST YEAR IN THEIR FIELD. HERE ARE THEIR RESPONSES:
Shaul Bakhash, professor of history, George Mason University, author of The Reign of the Ayatollahs: Iran and the Islamic Revolution (1990):
Alan Richards and John Waterbury, A Political Economy of the Middle East: State, Class, and Economic Development (Westview Press, 1990). "This study of economic development in the Middle East and North Africa is not an easy read," warns Bakhash. "But it is detailed, comprehensive, and learned. The authors show that a common thread runs through the development of the countries in the region, but without overlooking the particularities of each country. They are especially good at analyzing the benefits and limits of state-led economic growth; the manner in which state, social, and class structure influence and are influenced by strategies of economic development...; and the opportunities and possibilities offered by the recent moves toward privatization in the region."
Bakhash also wanted to recommend Albert Hourani's History of the Arab Peoples (Harvard University Press, 1991): "Much more than a survey, this book represents a synthesis of the broad themes in Middle Eastern history that have been the focus of Hourani's long involvement with the study of Middle Eastern and Arab society. These themes include the relationship between the rulers and the ruled; the role of notables, educated classes, and other elites; the special role of cities in Middle Eastern culture; the attitude of Muslim majorities to Christians, Jews, and other minorities in their midst; the Arab world's encounter with the West; and the glue that holds Middle Eastern society together."
Joel Beinin, professor of history, Stanford University, author of Was the Red Flag Flying There? Marxist Politics and the Arab-Israeli Conflict in Egypt and Israel, 1948-1965(1990):
Gershon Shafir, Land, Labor and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1881-1914 (Cambridge University Press, 1989). "Shafir has written a meticulously researched, theoretically informed, and tightly argued study in historical sociology," says Beinin. "He argues that the origin of the conflict between the two peoples is their struggle over the land and labor markets on the frontier of Zionist settlement and Palestine during the last years of the Ottoman Empire."
Rashid Khalidi, professor of history, University of Chicago, author of Under Siege: PLO. Decisionmaking During the 1982 War (1985):
Albert Hourani, A History of the Arab Peoples. Says Khalidi, "This is exactly what we should have been reading during the Gulf crisis, instead of instant histories of Saddam Hussein. This is the kind of history that is so much lacking in much of what we know about the Middle East. It's a broad synthetic history, and it covers more than you would ever have dreamt possible. But, at the same time, it isn't enormous. The problem with the book that everyone thought would become the standard history of the Middle East, Ira Lapidus's History of Islamic Societies(1990), is that it is more than a thousand pages. Hourani's book is five hundred pages and, at $25, priced reasonably, by Harvard standards. It isn't scintillating, but it's well written, and it has a lot of good charts and maps that will make it accessible to the non-specialist."
Richard Bulliet, professor of history, Columbia University, author of The Camel and the Wheel (1990):
Abraham Marcus, The Middle East on the Eve of Modernity: Culture and Society in 18th-Century Aleppo (Columbia University Press, 1989). Bulliet calls this "a brilliant book that hasn't been noticed to the degree it should have been, a superb study of the city of Aleppo in the eighteenth century‹a work of really sophisticated social history on an incipiently modern Arab city."
Henry Munson, professor of anthropology, University of Maine, author of Islam and Revolution in the Middle East (1988):
Samir al-Khalil, Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq (University of California Press, 1989). "[The reissue of] this book has been on the bestseller list for obvious reasons," says Munson. "But it really is rather an interesting and literate account of the Ba'ath Party and the way Saddam Hussein has used terror to maintain authority in Iraq, although in my opinion it focuses a little too much on the official texts of the party."
Are there any great books you think we missed? Let us know.