Readings on Iraq
Readers often ask me to recommend books to read, which are fairly readable, on Iraq. Being an academic, I’m not sure I’m always the best judge of what is readable (specialists like a lot of detail, and get used to dealing with it).
But let me try to step back and make some suggestions.
Anyone at all interested in Iraq who wants a good read should delve into Guests of the Sheik by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea. Although it is by the wife of a then graduate student and written in the 1950s, its engagement with Shiites and women still has resonances today.
For overall Middle Eastern history, I warmly recommend Albert Hourani, A History of the Arab Peoples.
For Iraq, there is a general history by Charles Tripp, a history of the modern period by Phebe Marr, and for the more recent history see Iraq Since 1958 by Marion Farouk-Sluglett, Peter Sluglett. Hanna Batatu’s magisterial book on Iraq should only be attempted by very serious readers interested in social and political history, and it is massive, but it really has most of the keys to understanding the modern history of the country.
For the Shiites in general, see Moojan Momen’s Introduction, in paper from Yale University Press. For the Iraqi Shiites, see Yitzhak Nakash’s The Shi’is of Iraq. My Sacred Space and Holy War has a lot in it about Iraqi Shiites, but I admit freely that it is a collection of journal articles and may be hard going for the neophyte. When I sent it in to the publisher in winter of 2002, I was just trying to keep some of the articles from sliding into obscurity, I wasn’t trying for a wide popular audience. How could I know that the world’s attention would soon be fixated on Najaf? But, some readers have said they found it useful; others say it is tough going. Caveat emptor.