Oh, Coquette. How can one possibly start to understand ISIS, ISIL, the Saudi regime, the Syrian crisis—hell, the entire Middle East as something more than a bewildering source of violence? I read The Grand Chessboard when you recommended it a while ago, but now I need something that helps me gain a little more perspective about that part of the world; I’m thinking about big-picture surveys of the history, political and economic control, and shifts in cultural and religious thought in that region. It’s a tall fuckin’ order, I know, and I recognize that I’ve got an icky Western stance that imagines a huge diverse part of the world as one big blanket mess that can somehow be understood through a few books. But I want to learn—or at least start. Any reading suggestions?
If you just want some general perspective on that part of the world, I’d recommend James Gelvin’s “The Modern Middle East.” (Be sure to get the fourth edition.)
If you want a little less history and a little more “Grand Chessboard” style politics, I’d recommend you go with Karl Yambert’s “The Contemporary Middle East.”
They’re both offer big-picture surveys of the region. With either book, you’ll learn a ton.