Enter any bookstore, or browse on-line, and you’ll be bombarded by books on Islam, the Middle East, and related subjects. Here are some of my favorites, with an emphasis on those voices that may have gotten lost in the din. I’ve also thrown in a few other titles that have influenced my thinking on the issues from theology to epistemology to the history of ideas.
If you’d like to buy any of these titles, I’d recommend checking with your local bookseller. Or you can click on the links provided to order at Powell’s Books, as well as at Amazon.
Abdo, Geneive. No God but God: Egypt and the Triumph of Islam. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. One of the best examples of first-hand analysis and reportage from the Muslim world. ISBN 0-8050-7514-3 [Powell’s] [Amazon]
Donini, Pier Giovanni. Arab Travelers and Geographers. London: Immel, 1991. Gives non-Arabic readers good access to the rich field of Arab travel writing. See also Khair, Tabish, Martin Leer, Justin D. Edwards, and Hanna Ziadeh, eds. Other Routes: 1500 years of African and Asian Travel Writing. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-907151-35-3 (This book is rather rare and may be hard to find) [Powell’s] [Amazon]
Fakhry, Majid. Averroes (Ibn Rushd): His Life, Works and Influence. Oxford: Oneworld, 2001. Approachable work on one of the world’s great philosophers. Also recommended: Leaman, Oliver. Averroes and his Philosophy. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988. ISBN 1-8516-8269-4 [Powell’s] [Amazon]
Maalouf, Amin. The Crusades through Arab Eyes. Translated by Jon Rothschild. New York: Schoken Books, 1984. Indispensable. Opens a new chapter in thinking about Islam and the West. ISBN 0-8052-0898-4 [Powell’s] [Amazon]
Mottahedeh, Roy. The Mantle of the Prophet: Religion and Politics in Iran. Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2008. Latest edition of Mottahedeh’s account of one cleric’s journey through revolutionary Iran. One of the few books to get Iran right. ISBN 1-8516-8234-1 [Powell’s] [Amazon]
Pedersen, Johannes. The Arabic Book. Translated by Geoffrey French. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984. Captures the Arab love of written and spoken language. ISBN 0-6911-0148-5 [Powell’s] [Amazon]
Pickthall, Marmaduke. The Meaning of the Glorious Koran: An Explanatory Translation. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1909. A bit archaic but otherwise classic translation. See also Michael Sells, Approaching the Koran, which provides English-speakers with a sense of the text’s original majesty and power. ISBN 0-6794-1736-2 [Powell’s] [Amazon]
Usama ibn Munqidh, The Book of Contemplation: Islam and the Crusades. Translated by Paul M. Cobb. Hardmondsworth: Penguin Classics, October 2008. Updated translation of this delightful memoir of the Arab encounters with the Crusaders. ISBN 0-1404-5513-2 [Powell’s] [Amazon]
Watson, Andrew M., Agricultural Innovation in the Early Islamic World: The Diffusion of Crops and Farming Techniques, 700-1100. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983. A fascinating look at humble agronomy. ISBN 0-5210-6883-5 [Powell’s] [Amazon]
Philosophy/History of Ideas/Cultural Criticism:
Bernal, Martin. Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, Volume One: The Fabrication of Ancient Greece, 1785-1985. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1987. Bernal gives classical scholarship a good shake. ISBN 0-8135-1277-8 [Powell’s] [Amazon]
Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. New York: Vintage Books, 1994. Three important works by a master intellect. More than worth the difficulties when encountering Foucault for the first time. Archaeology of Knowledge includes Foucault’s inaugural lecture at the Collège de France in 1970, which lays out his thinking in usually clear terms. ISBN 0-4152-6737-4 [Powell’s] [Amazon]
Girard, Rene. Violence and the Sacred. Translated by Patrick Gregory. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977. Provocative look at religious roots of violence. ISBN 0-8018-2218-1 [Powell’s] [Amazon]