As ISIS’s violent campaign unfolds, as fallout from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is felt around the world, and as the legacy of the Arab Spring continues to perplex and inspire, there has never been a better time for scholars, journalists, and historians to weigh in with considered perspectives on the Middle East. The many forthcoming books on the region aim to deliver arguments and narratives that, in the words of Priscilla Painton, v-p and executive editor at Simon & Schuster, “endure way beyond the headlines.”

How We Got Here

A historical perspective can help readers gain a deeper understanding of complex contemporary issues. Among the titles taking the long view is Iraq: A History (Oneworld, Jun.), by John Robertson. A writer and professor of Ancient and Middle Eastern Studies at Central Michigan University, Robertson focuses on Iraq’s role in the development of the world’s great religions and “the great medieval cultural flowering” that, according to the publisher, “contributed so much to the European Renaissance and the eventual rise of the West.”

Other books explore the more recent past. Syria: A History of the Last Hundred Years (New Press, Mar.), by John McHugo, an Arab linguist and lawyer, looks at the country’s involvement in World War I and surveys the ongoing political and cultural difficulties that have led to its present civil conflict. And The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East (Basic, Mar.), by historian Eugene Rogan, shows how the territory lines drawn during the post-WWI settlement have led directly to the tensions that plague the region today, in an account that PW called “sweeping and nuanced” in its review.

Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says he values works that enhance an understanding of current events by investigating the past: “Perhaps it’s the historian in me, but I am less enamored of books that can be described as ‘the world according to me’ and more intrigued by books that, through dogged research, answer a closed, forgotten, or unanswered question.” The institute awards an annual prize for English-language books about the Middle East; top honors this year went to America’s Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East by Hugh Wilford (Basic), which explores covert activity in the region post-WWII.

Israel and Its Discontents

Historical perspective also informs several books on Israel due out this season.

Anonymous Soldiers: The Struggle for Israel 1917–1947 (Knopf, Feb.), by Bruce Hoffman, looks at the decades leading up to the formation of Israel, with a focus on Britain’s failure “to reconcile competing Arab and Jewish demands and uprisings.” Hoffman, an expert on terrorism and insurgency, directs the Center for Security at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. The essay collection Jerusalem Interrupted (Interlink/Olive Branch, May), edited by Lena Jayyusi, examines the effects of the British Mandate and the subsequent formation of Israel on the social fabric of Jerusalem and, in particular, its once-robust Arab culture. And Erased from Space and Consciousness (Indiana Univ., Jun.), by Noga Kadman, profiles 418 Palestinian villages in Israel that were “depopulated” beginning in 1948.

Other titles zero in on the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Journalist Edward Platt’s The City of Abraham: History, Myth and Memory; A Journey Through Hebron (Pan Macmillan, available) takes readers inside the West Bank city of Hebron, assessing how the city’s mythos—its famous hill, Tel Rumeida, is thought to be where Abraham resided—has informed tensions between the city’s Palestinian and Israeli residents. The Two-State Delusion: Israel and Palestine—a Tale of Two Narratives (Viking, Apr.), by reconciliation expert Padraig O’Malley, argues that the “two-state solution” is politically and logistically untenable. And Cursed Victory: A History of Israel and the Occupied Territories (Pegasus, May), by scholar and former Israeli soldier Ahron Bregman, looks at the lasting impact of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, also known as the Six-Day War.

Some books enter the debate by making explicit political arguments. Haymarket’s On Palestine (Mar.) offers a discussion between historian Ilan Pappé and political commentator/activist Noam Chomsky that is sharply critical of Israeli policy. Julie Fain, Haymarket’s managing editor, says, “There is a real fear, not just [among] publishers, but [also among] politicians, the media, and other institutions [of] being perceived as pro-Palestinian.” She adds that Haymarket will publish seven titles on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2015 alone. “We see such a gap between the stories that need to be told and the opportunities available for those stories to get attention. We are not attempting to straddle the middle on this issue. We have a point of view and we publish it.”

The Rise of ISIS

The violent tactics of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the militant group seeking to take control of large swaths of the Middle East, have catapulted the organization into the public consciousness.

In The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution (Verso, Feb.), Patrick Cockburn, the longtime Middle East correspondent for the London-based Independent, explores the emergence of ISIS and the ways in which Western foreign policy may have enabled the group’s growth. Leo Hollis, a senior editor at Verso who worked on the book, says Cockburn was observing ISIS long before it began appearing in headlines. “Patrick has been reporting from Iraq for decades. He was watching the rise of radical Sunni insurgence since 2003; it was only in 2014 that they took the ISIS name.” Hollis adds that publishing a book about a subject as it unfolds comes with its own challenges: “Even through the production process, we were updating the material. [The book] is as up to date as we could get it [before] the moment we had to go to press.” (The Rise of Islamic State is an expansion of The Jihadis Return, which Cockburn published with Or Books in August 2014; Verso purchased the rights from Or in July.)

Hollis says books such as Cockburn’s can trace the origins of current events in a way that the 24-hour news cycle can’t. “As [the news] becomes faster and faster, there is less time to analyze, and there is less time look at... the long, deep history of things. What’s absolutely clear is [Cockburn’s] analysis of why ISIS was able to emerge. What were the failures that allowed it to happen? Those are failures that come all the way back home.”

Other forthcoming books that address the origins and evolution of ISIS include ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror (Regan Arts, available), by journalist Michael Weiss and Delma Institute analyst Hassan Hassan; ISIS: The State of Terror (Ecco, Mar.), by terrorism experts Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger; and Inside ISIS: Beheadings, Slavery, and the Hellish Reality of Radical Islam (Regnery, Mar.), by Christian Broadcasting Network host Erick Stakelbeck.

The Arab Spring

Just over four years have passed since the protests that launched the Arab Spring, and this season will see books that examine the uprisings from a variety of angles.

The Birth of the Arab Citizen and the Changing Middle East (Interlink/Olive Branch, Apr.), edited by scholars Stuart Schaar and Mohsine El Ahmadi, presents a collection of 21 essays that examine of the roots of the protests and the challenges that lie ahead for activists in the region. Youth and Revolution in the Changing Middle East, 1908–2014 (Lynne Rienner, available), by scholar Haggai Erlich, takes a more historical approach, tracking activist movements in the Arab world from the 19th century to the present and highlighting the role of higher education in sparking dissent.

Other books focus on activism among specific groups of people. Journalist Stephen Starr has updated the original 2012 edition of Revolt in Syria: Eye-Witness to the Uprising (Hurst, Feb.) to reflect developments through the end of 2013. He uses interviews with Syrians “from all levels of society,” according to the publisher, to shed light on the nation’s tendency toward instability. And The Kurdish Spring: A New Map of the Middle East (Transaction, Dec.), by foreign affairs expert David L. Phillips, looks at the history of the Kurds—an ethnic group inhabiting Iran, Iraq, and other areas of the Middle East—and offers insight into how their situation, amid other changes in the region, might improve.

Once Upon a Revolution: An Egyptian Story (Simon & Schuster, available), by journalist Thanassis Cambanis, tells a human story behind the Arab Spring, centering on two men—a middle-class architect and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood—who played pivotal roles in the 2011 uprising in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Simon & Schuster’s Painton, who is also the former deputy managing editor of Time, says, “For a lot of people covering the Middle East, there is always the risk of cynicism. What [Cambanis] concludes is that, while that particular revolution didn’t entirely succeed, the benign-despot regime in the Middle East is no longer something we have to take for granted.” She finds the book persuasive because it’s grounded in the story of real people. “When you show up close how that change occurred, you can at least begin to see the possibility of more change.”

American Interventions

The United States’ ongoing involvement in the Middle East continues to be a highly charged topic, both for the public and for publishers.

The Unraveling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq (PublicAffairs, Apr.), by Emma Sky, dissects the U.S. military presence in Iraq, showing, according to the publisher, how violence in the country “stems from weak governance and corrupt elites, empowered by the U.S.-led coalition.” And Sudden Justice: America’s Secret Drone Wars (Oxford Univ., May), by journalist Chris Woods, purports to be the fullest account yet of the U.S. military’s drone operations in the region. Alexandra Dauler, an associate editor at OUP who worked on the book, says Woods combines extensive data on drones with a consideration of their human cost “built out of personal stories.”

Cultural Considerations

A number of forthcoming books aim to provide a more intimate glimpse of life in the region.

Children of the Stone: The Power of Music in a Hard Land (Bloomsbury, Apr.), by scholar and documentarian Sandy Tolan, tells the story of Ramzi Hussein Aburedwan, a Palestinian musician who founded a music school for Palestinian children. Kathy Belden, an executive editor at Bloomsbury who worked on the book, says Tolan’s focus on children and music acts as a “disarming lens through which he shows what it’s actually like to live” in Palestinian territories. PW called the book “sweeping” in its review and said Aburedwan’s story “forces readers to be thoughtful.”

The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer (Hurst, Apr.), by journalist James Dorsey, looks at how tensions in the Middle East play out on the pitch. Jon De Peyer, a senior editor at Hurst who worked on the book, says soccer’s relevance to issues ranging from the struggle against colonial rule to the debate over gender rights has largely been overlooked. “Soccer often constitutes one of the few platforms for expression of discontent,” he says, “in a region in which all public space is tightly controlled.”

Politics and Culture in Contemporary Iran: Challenging the Status Quo (Lynne Rienner, available), edited by Abbas Milani and Larry Diamond, collects essays from activists, scholars, and artists about the “cultural ferment” that’s poised to challenge “the legitimacy and stability of the present authoritarian regime,” according to the publisher. And When All Lands Were Sea: A Photographic Journey into the Lives of the Marsh Arabs of Iraq (Interlink/Olive Branch, available), by photojournalist Tor Eigeland, documents life in the marshlands between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, where, according to the publisher, the culture has “existed practically unchanged for over 2,000 years.”

Michel Moushabeck, the founder of Interlink, which publishes extensively on the Middle East, believes that the region is the “most misunderstood and misrepresented” area of the world, and that misunderstanding creates fear. “I am convinced that the world would be a better place if more people read the literature of other cultures. We give people who genuinely want to learn about another culture everything they need in order to get a well-rounded understanding of that culture.”

Below, more on the subject of the Middle East.

Native Tongues: Middle East Fiction in Translation: Middle East Books 2015

First-person Perspective: Middle East Books 2015

Focusing on Islam—and on ISIS: Middle East Books 2015