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Want to learn more about the Middle East? Start here.

Many Americans want to know more about the troubled region. But they’re largely on their own because we tend to learn very little about it in school.

Jews prayed at the Western Wall, beside the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, or the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, in the Old City of Jerusalem on Oct. 16.Jon Gambrell/Associated Press

Americans want to know more about the Middle East, and they are taking matters into their own hands. Literally. Last week, two of the five best-selling books on The New York Times’ nonfiction paperback bestseller list were about the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Google searches related to the conflict spiked after Hamas launched a series of attacks against Israeli communities, and interest remains high as Israel has struck back by invading Gaza in an effort to topple the Hamas leadership.

The surge in interest highlights a paradox in American politics: Despite the enormous significance of the Middle East, and of the American role there, we tend to learn very little about it. High school world history classes often barely touch on the modern Middle East. Even at the collegiate level, the Globe editorial board recently argued, universities haven’t done enough to teach their students about the roots of the conflict.


Schools need to do better. But in the meantime, if you’re one of those Americans seeking a broader understanding of the conflict, where should you turn? (Beyond your daily newspaper, naturally.) The Globe asked scholars of the region — including Tarek Masoud, a professor at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government; Lior Sternfeld, associate professor at Penn State University; and Susannah Heschel, professor at Dartmouth College — for book recommendations. Here are some of the texts they suggested, along with a few others:

▪ Ari Shavit, “My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel”: A personal, narrative history about Zionism and the history of modern Israel written by a prominent Israeli journalist.

▪ Rashid Khalidi, “The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine”: A Palestinian nationalist perspective on the history of the conflict written by a Columbia historian.

▪ Alan Dowty, “Israel/Palestine”: An introductory book on the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by a now-retired international relations professor at University of Notre Dame.


▪ Shai Feldman, Khalil Shikaki, and Abdel Monem Said Aly, “Arabs and Israelis: Conflict and peacemaking in the Middle East”: A textbook cowritten by Israeli, Palestinian, and Egyptian scholars that describes the history of the conflict, attempts at resolving it, and the perspective of all of the involved parties.

▪ Joe Sacco, “Palestine”: A graphic novel that tells the experience of Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank in the 1990s from the Palestinian perspective.

▪ Sarah Glidden, “How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less”: A graphic novel by a young American Jewish woman who travels to Israel and comes to question her own political views and identity.

▪ Benny Morris, “Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001”: An Israeli historian traces the roots of political Zionism through the history of modern Israel and the Israeli-Arab conflicts in a highly detailed book based on archival sources.

▪ Tareq Baconi, “Hamas Contained: The Rise and Pacification of Palestinian Resistance”: The former head of a Palestinian policy think tank explores the roots and ideology of Hamas as a Palestinian nationalist group.

▪ Hillel Cohen, “Year Zero of the Arab-Israeli Conflict: 1929”: An Israeli scholar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem recreates the Arab-Jewish-British violence that broke out in 1929 in Palestine and the impact it had on the future Arab-Israeli political landscape.

▪ Michael Stanislawski, “Zionism: A Very Short Introduction”: A short read that explains the history of Zionism as an intellectual, cultural, and national movement — and why it remains controversial.


Of course, that’s a partial list. But understanding the perspectives of Israelis and Palestinians, and the human suffering both sides have endured, is the best antidote to the sort of crude politics that increasingly characterize the debate over the Middle East in the United States.

For people who lack a personal connection to the region, the Middle East can sometimes seem like just another intractable, confusing conflict in a world with too many of them. Writing in these pages, Howard Axelrod recently described the unwelcome pressure his students suddenly feel to take sides. But the Middle East doesn’t need more hot takes, and it doesn’t need more slogans tailored to fit on bumper stickers. It needs more nuance — and a lot more compassion.

Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.