Robert F. Worth is a contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine. His latest book is A Rage for Order: The Middle East in Turmoil, from Tahrir Square to ISIS. (October 2019)


The End of the Show

Indian troops under British command entering the Abadan oil refinery in Iran, 1941

Lords of the Desert: The Battle Between the United States and Great Britain for Supremacy in the Modern Middle East

by James Barr

Grand Improvisation: America Confronts the British Superpower, 1945–1957

by Derek Leebaert
The British did all they could to maintain their overseas empire and deeply resented American efforts to displace them. For their part, the Americans fought hard to evict Britain from its privileged global position even as they complained about British colonial arrogance. The rivalry was at its fiercest in the Middle East, where oil was at stake, and that is the focus of James Barr’s revelatory history Lords of the Desert.

Yemen Under Siege

Damage from bombing by Saudi-led forces, Sanaa, Yemen, November 2017

Yemen and the World: Beyond Insecurity

by Laurent Bonnefoy, translated from the French by Cynthia Schoch

Yemen in Crisis: Autocracy, Neo-Liberalism and the Disintegration of a State

by Helen Lackner
In about 570 AD, in the dry hills of what is now northern Yemen, the great dam of Marib collapsed. It had been one of the engineering marvels of the ancient world, with a mud-and-brick retaining wall fifty feet high and 2,100 feet long—twice as long as the Hoover Dam.

The Pillars of Arab Despotism

A militant Islamist fighter during a parade to celebrate the Islamic State’s declaration of a caliphate, Raqqa province, Syria, June 30, 2014

The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation Is Changing the Middle East

by Juan Cole

Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East

by Shadi Hamid
The educated youth who kicked off the revolutions of 2011 are not necessarily the vanguard of a new and more secular Middle East. They are one party in a bitter conflict over fundamental issues of identity and social order, a conflict whose outcome is far from certain.

The Jihadis of Yemen

The market and Old City in Sanaa, Yemen, March 2011

The Last Refuge: Yemen, al-Qaeda, and America’s War in Arabia

by Gregory D. Johnsen

High-Value Target: Countering Al Qaeda in Yemen

by Edmund J. Hull
Yemen is an ancient country on the southern heel of the Arabian peninsula, the crucible of many of the peoples and customs we now think of as Arab. But to most Westerners, it is little more than a code word for bizarre terror plots.

Al-Qaeda’s Inner Circle

The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11

by Lawrence Wright
Five years after the September 11 attacks, Osama bin Laden is a diminished figure. President Bush has started mentioning him again in recent speeches, but mainly to highlight American success in crippling and isolating al-Qaeda’s leaders. Last year, the CIA disbanded Alec Station, the unit assigned to hunt down bin …


Crafting the Koran

Two folios from a Qur’an, Near East, Abbasid period, late ninth-early tenth century

Early manuscripts of the Koran are now on display, under glass, at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C., together forming an ur-text in fragments. They are yellowed pages, splotchy at the edges, with lines of brown Arabic text in the stark, vertical script known as Hijazi. One of the striking features of the show is the visual progression of the Koran from the simplicity of early Arabian styles to ever more detailed and colorful traditions of graphic art, fed by Persian influences.

In the Attic of Early Islam

Inlaid metal basin depicting scenes from the Mamluk court, later known as the Baptismal Bowl of Saint Louis, by Muhammad Ibn al-Zayn, Egypt, circa 1320-1340

One of the most memorable moments in The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition, by Shihab al-Din al-Nuwayri, comes in the section on lions, which were still indigenous to the Middle East in Nuwayri’s time. He could scarcely have imagined that his book, written with such confidence from the heart of a mighty empire, would one day appear to us like that lion: a vanished, near-mythical creature at the desert’s edge.

Yemen: The Houthi Enigma

Armed Houthi members in Sanaa following the group's takeover of the Yemeni goverment, September 29, 2014

Safa al Ahmad’s remarkable BBC documentary, Yemen: The Rise of the Houthis, is a rare close-up look at the most mysterious player in this agonizing and complex drama. The Houthi movement, which grew out of a deep sense of victimization by the state, has long been an enigma, even to many Yemenis, and it defies easy explanation.