The best books on Islam and the State, recommended by Ahmet T. Kuru

It’s widely assumed that in the ideal Muslim society there is no separation between religion and the state, but even in some of the earliest caliphates, the secular and the religious were rarely as closely aligned as religious conservatives would have us believe. Here Ahmet T. Kuru, Professor of Political Science at San Diego State University, recommends books that help trace the historical relationship between Islam and the state—and points to strands of secularism that may hold the key to a happier relationship between Islam and liberal democracy.

The best books on The Middle East, recommended by Fawaz A. Gerges

The Middle East has been and still is much misunderstood. Here Fawaz A. Gerges, a professor and Middle Eastern specialist at London School of Economics, recommends five pioneering works of history and social science that will help you to understand the evolution of the region’s society and politics.

The best books on The Achaemenid Persian Empire, recommended by Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones

At the height of its greatness, the Achaemenid Persian Empire was the largest empire the world had ever known. Too often it is given merely a villainous walk-on part in the heroic history of classical Greece. Here, historian Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones explains why that needs correcting, looks at its cultural achievements and discusses why the first Persian empire is worth studying in its own right and on its own terms.

Erotic Writing by Arab Women, recommended by Selma Dabbagh

Arab women have been writing erotic literature for millennia and have become more creative and daring in recent years in the wake of the Arab Spring and the spread of social media, says novelist Selma Dabbagh, editor of a new anthology, We Wrote in Symbols: Love and Lust by Arab Women Writers. Here, she picks five key examples of erotic writing by women of the region.

The best books on The Syrian Civil War, recommended by Nikolaos van Dam

Few who knew Syria well doubted that the revolution that started in 2011 would lead to a bloodbath. But rather than helping, foreign intervention turned it into an even bigger catastrophe. Syria specialist Nikolaos van Dam recommends books that shed light on Syria’s tragic civil war.

The best books on Jerusalem, recommended by Simon Sebag Montefiore

Jerusalem is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and a place of longing for three faiths—and yet we know it mostly as a place of strife and conflict. British historian Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of Jerusalem: the Biography, recommends books that capture the historical ups and downs of this ever-changing city, but also its vitality, including its irresistible cuisine.

The best books on Turkey, recommended by Elif Shafak

Turkey’s most read author, Elif Shafak, describes Istanbul as ‘a she-city with a female personality’. She chooses five books on Turkey, including a biography of the she-city in all its vibrant energy and intensity.

The best books on The Kurds, recommended by Peter W. Galbraith

The Kurds lost 11,000 lives fighting Islamic State and hoped the West would support them in their quest for nationhood. But as the Kurdish saying goes, ‘The Kurds have no friends but the mountains.’ Author and diplomat Peter W. Galbraith, a longtime advocate of the Kurdish people, recommends the best books on the Kurds—and predicts that one day there will be an independent Kurdistan.

The best books on Al-Qaeda, recommended by Peter Taylor

The award-winning BBC documentary maker Peter Taylor tells us what he learned in his ten years investigating Al-Qaeda, and suggests what we should read to understand where the group came from, and what it’s still trying to do

The best books on Syria, recommended by Nikolaos van Dam

The veteran Dutch diplomat, Nikolaos van Dam, explains why meaningful political change in Syria will be difficult to achieve – and warns that any move towards democracy is likely to be accompanied by severe sectarian tension.

The best books on Turkish Politics, recommended by Hugh Pope

The Istanbul-based author and former foreign correspondent discusses the legacy of Atatürk, the country’s convergence with Europe and why no book has yet been written on Erdogan and the AKP. He picks the best books to help understand Turkish politics.

The best books on Jerusalem, City of Peace?, recommended by James Carroll

Jerusalem has been at the center of conflict for millennia and its current problems cannot be blamed on Israelis and Palestinians alone, says bestselling author and former Catholic priest James Carroll.  He picks the best books to understand Jerusalem’s complex history and its message of peace which still gives him hope.

The best books on Yemen, recommended by Bernard Haykel

Princeton professor Bernard Haykel’s fascinating selection of books paints a worrying picture of a country at odds with the cultural riches of its past. With internal conflicts and poor governance, Al Qaeda is the least of its problems.

Susan Abulhawa on Palestinian Writing

Acclaimed novelist and author of Mornings in Jenin chooses five books about Palestine by Palestinian writers. She says what she sees among the young people in Palestine is humbling, ‘they have such remarkable spirit’