Arab Digest 2024 Summer Reads part 1

Summary: this summer’s good read recommendations feature a bumper crop of thoughtful, provocative and insightful books from a wide-ranging group of authors and editors.

Arab Digest is pleased to bring you Part 1 of our summer 2024 good reads, with several of the books, we are proud to say, written or edited by our newsletter and podcast contributors. From deep dive geopolitical analyses to a sweeping history of Africa we present a MENA festival of great summer reads. Enjoy!

An African History of Africa: From the Dawn of Humanity to Independence by Zeinab Badawi (WH Allen) Zeinab Badawi’s scintillating and sweeping history of Africa from the African perspective deservedly shot to top of the Sunday Times non-fiction bestseller list when it was released earlier this year. When we asked Zeinab Badawi on our podcast why she wrote this book she replied: “There is a lovely Southern African saying ‘when the lions have historians than the hunters will cease to be heroes’ and history generally does tend to glorify the actions of the victors. All of Africa was vanquished by the Europeans. And that is why I think that (Africans’) own history and own interpretations and visions and perspectives have been overshadowed by the account of the victors.” Her telling of Africa’s history is an invaluable contribution, one that deserves a wide audience. You can find our podcast with Zeinab Badawi here.



A River Dies of Thirst (Diaries) by Mahmoud Darwish (SAQI.) SAQI has once again done itself proud by republishing the great Palestinian poet of resistance Mahmoud Darwish’s A River Dies of Thirst. Darwish died in 2008 at the age of 67 and this is his final book. In her introduction Ruth Padel calls A River Dies of Thirst “a precious document. It gives us the last poems – poems that survive (the) trampling; words that cannot be broken or occupied.”




Seeking Stability Amidst Disorder: The Foreign Policies of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar, 2010-20 by Tobias Borck (Hurst) In this comprehensive and thoughtful exploration of the three key Gulf states and their separate yet entwined pursuit of stability in a region ever more plunged into instability and war, Tobias Borck proves an acute and reliable pilot. As Alistair Burt, a former UK Middle East minister notes “Tobias Borck’s significant contribution is not just a look back at a turbulent decade, but a knowledgeable guide to how an increasingly confident Gulf looks.” You can find our podcast with Tobias here.




The Queer Arab Glossary edited by Marwan Kaabour (SAQI.) This collection of essays, accompanied by a glossary of queer Arabic street slang proves a worthy companion to This Arab is Queer, also published by SAQI and a previous AD summer reads selection. Marwan Kaabour has shown deft editorial skill in assembling this provocative and cheekily illustrated collection. Kaabour an internationally acclaimed graphic designer, artist and writer notes in his introduction: “Queer slang is a way to identify other members of our community. It is an expression of social recognition and a form of protest. Slang allows us to say things that conventional words and phrases are incapable of expressing; it fills the gaps.”



Two Plays About Israel/Palestine: Masada and Facts by Arthur Milner (iUniverse, Inc.) These two plays by a distinguished Canadian playwright explore the intersections between Arabs and Jews in Palestine and Israel. Masada as one critic wrote “leads its audience onto very slippery moral ground and leaves the viewer to grope for his or her own answers…Writing and staging Masada was an act of moral courage.” Of Facts on its London premiere in 2010 the Financial Times wrote: “The current grievous tensions — and with them years upon years of conflict — press into the room. The tiny space becomes a pressure cooker. A powerful piece that digs deep.” As the Gaza war and the genocide continues these plays speak again with an urgent and timely relevance.



Centers of Power in the Arab Gulf States by Kristian Coates Ulrichsen (Hurst) A tour de force that dismisses binary analysis of the Gulf states and takes the reader into fresh analytical territory. This is a book that as Dr Dania Thafer notes “brings new conceptual insights into the various degrees and forms of both soft and hard power in the region. An intellectually stimulating and rich examination of the power of GCC countries.” Kristian is a regular contributor to the AD podcast and you can find his latest Football and fear in Saudi Arabia here.



Next Monday Part 2 of AD summer reads

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