Favorite Books, Articles, Films About Lebanon

grandetheater2I get a couple of emails each month from readers asking for recommendations for further reading about Lebanon. I typically write back with a brief list of the old standbys even though this has always struck me as rather unsatisfying. What I’d like to be able to do instead is to compile a robust list of the best books, articles, films, and online resources about Lebanon, and make it available on the blog.

Of course, I have no time to do this all on my own, so this task has officially been crowdsourced to the Qifa Nabki readership (that’s you).

The floor is now open. To encourage you all to take this seriously, I’m going to make it a little more interesting: the reader who submits the largest number of (worthy) suggestions in the comment section will win an autographed photo of the Qnion’s star reporter, Jacob Tafnis. Good luck!
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45 thoughts on “Favorite Books, Articles, Films About Lebanon

  1. Hello QN,
    I suggest the book :

    From beirut to jerusalem by thomas friedman,

    Amzon discription: “There have been any number of books that have worked hard at interpreting the melange called the Middle East. This one, however, makes a difference because it’s so well written and captures the psychological mannerisms of the people of Lebanon and Israel–the first step to understanding some of the mysterious “why” that seems to elude the American public and government. Friedman’s credentials are impressive: he spent six years of journalistic service for the New York Times in Beirut and Jerusalem, has won two Pulitzer prizes, and is now the Times ‘s chief diplomatic correspondent. His writing is vastly descriptive, incredibly illuminating, very educational, and marvelously persuasive. His advice to U.S. diplomats is that since “Middle East diplomacy is a contact sport,” they must bargain as grocers, or, in other words, realize that everything has a price and the sale can always be made with enough hard work.”

    Posted by ghitti555 | October 20, 2009, 10:39 am
  2. Among the books i like Killing Mr Lebanon by Nicholas Blanford. for fiction i like some of amin malouf’s books and i like Hanan al-Shaykh’s style.
    for movies i like caramel by Nadine Labaki and Waltz with Bashir by ari folman.
    music i like Ghazi Abdel Baki, the one and only fairuz and here favorites are a lot.
    and for tourism and websites related i found this the most hopefull.

    Posted by armen | October 20, 2009, 11:31 am
  3. Pity the Nation — Robert Fisk

    By far the best on the Civil War

    Posted by Abu Guerrilla | October 20, 2009, 11:32 am
  4. ‘Lebanon, a shattered country’ by Elizabeth Picard — a little old but very solid.

    ‘An enchanted modern’ by Lara Deeb on the actual social world of the Hezbollah constituency.

    ‘Sitt-Marie Rose’ by Etel Adnan — an absolute literary masterpiece rendition of the war in my opinion.

    ‘Too many enemies’ by Rosemary Sayigh for the Palestinian perspective.

    Posted by Darwish | October 20, 2009, 12:05 pm
  5. Learning English, by Rashid Da’if — hilarious novel, great to get a sense of the Beirut/rest of the country social dynamics.

    The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine — another great, highly entertaining novel for an intimate grasp of it all.

    Lords of the Lebanese Marches by Michael Gilsenan — very solid ethnography of mountain power dynamics.

    Gate of the Sun by Elias Khoury — literary rendition of the Palestinian exile in Lebanon (written by a famous Lebanese novelist)

    La guerre du Liban: De la dissension nationale au conflit regional, 1975-1982, by Samir Kassir — hard to find, only in French, and stops in 1982 — yet the best, and by far, history of the Civil War in my opinion.

    West Beirut (movie).
    Caramel (movie).

    Posted by Darwish | October 20, 2009, 12:25 pm
  6. I can recommend the following classics:

    House of Many Mansions by Kamal Salibi
    History of Modern Lebanon by Fawwaz Traboulsi

    Does this earn me the autograph of Mr. Tafnis?

    Posted by haytham | October 20, 2009, 12:25 pm
  7. Haytham, it looks like Darwish is ruling the roost right now…

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 20, 2009, 12:36 pm
  8. Here’s a list of some of the better books I’m familiar with:

    Elizabeth Picard – Lebanon: A Shattered Country
    Leila Fawaz – An Occasion for War
    Usama Makdisi – The Culture of Sectarianism
    Kamal Salibi – A House of Many Mansions AND The Modern History of Lebanon
    Ze’ev Schiff and Ehud Ya’ari – Israel’s Lebanon War
    Bernard Rougier – Everyday Jihad (Le Jihad au Quotidien)
    Samir Kassir – Histoire de Beyrouth
    Georges Corm – Le Liban Contemporain
    George O’Ballance – Civil War in Lebanon
    Augustus Norton – Amal and the Shi’a
    Fuad Ajami – The Vanished Imam
    Fawaz Trablousi – A History of Modern Lebanon
    Jean Sarkis – Histoire de la Guerre du Liban
    Gérard de Nerval – Voyage en Orient

    As for films, I’m not very familiar with Lebanese cinema, but I’ve always particularly liked these

    West Beirut

    Posted by sean | October 20, 2009, 12:40 pm
  9. Oops, there are some repeats there. I should have refreshed before posting!

    Posted by sean | October 20, 2009, 12:45 pm
  10. The New Frontier – Khalil Gibran (great political essay)
    Le Rocher de Tanios – Amin Maalouf (one of the best novels about Lebanon ever written)
    La formation historique du Liban politique et constitutionnel – Édmond Rabbath (the bible of Lebanese constitutional law and politics)
    Crossroads to Civil War – Kamal Salibi
    The Lebanese Army: A National Institution in a Divided Society – Oren Barak
    The New Face of Lebanon – William Harris (good for political and historical gossip)

    Movies: West Beirut
    Music: Fairouz, especially singing Rahbani brothers.

    Posted by Blackstar | October 20, 2009, 1:01 pm
  11. I’ll get that autograph by other means. Therefore, only 1 recommendation, which I read today. This is a report about the 2006 war. It’s interesting to see how well-organized Hizballah has become.

    We Were Caught Off-Guard: The 2006 Hezbollah-Israeli War. It’s a US army thing, but public access so not difficult to find.

    Posted by PB | October 20, 2009, 6:32 pm
  12. Jean Said Makdisi – Beirut Fragments

    and everything else has already been said from what i can see. darwish you stole all my ideas. how dare you?
    oh some others come to mind (could have already been listed – who knows)
    Rawi Hage – De Niro’s Game, Cockroach
    Tony Hanania – Unreal City, Homesick
    Amin Maalouf – ALL OF IT – a master!!

    and, naturally, QN’s blog!!!
    (does this win me the prize?)

    Posted by the Sydneysider | October 20, 2009, 7:50 pm
  13. There’s a certain lack of originality so far. Nearly all the books cited are academic works about political history. That says a lot about the perception (or self-perception) of Lebanon.


    1. Hoda Barakat’s trilogy (“The Stone of Laughter” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Stone_of_Laughter, “Ahl al-Hawa”, “The Tiller of Waters”). Three novels set during the civil war, with somewhat marginalized characters (a gay young man, a man in a mental asylum, a lonely tradesman) as protagonists. Madness might be the only way to preserve your humanity when all the rest of the society goes mad around you.

    2. “Testefil Meryl Streep” (Qu’elle aille au diable Meryl Streep) by Rashid Daif is a brilliant short story about gender roles and the macho culture in contemporary Lebanon (Hamra and Ras Beirut, in particular). French and Italian translations available.

    MOVIES: check http://lebanesefilms.blogspot.com/

    Posted by Wa Law | October 20, 2009, 10:49 pm
  14. From ‘Akkar to ‘Amel by Rami Zurayk, Sami Abdul, Tanya Traboulsi
    Photographic Guide to Wild Flowers of Lebanon by Dr. Ahmad Houri & Nisrine Machaka Houri
    http://www.seal-usa.org/ Social & Economic Action for Lebanon
    May Nasr

    Posted by j anthony | October 20, 2009, 10:55 pm
  15. correction to my post

    Posted by j anthony | October 20, 2009, 11:00 pm
    By Jabbour Douaihy, translated by Nay Hannawi

    By Mahmoud Darwish, translated by Ibrahim Muhawi

    By Robert Fisk

    By Itamar Rabinovich

    By Naim Qassem

    By Khalil Gibran

    Last but not least for those who understand Lebanese
    Ziad Rahbani’s Play

    Posted by V | October 21, 2009, 12:04 am
  17. I’m glad the movie “Zozo” made it on the list. Thank you Sean!

    Posted by Doc | October 21, 2009, 2:18 am
  18. Hope you don’t mind but copied this from my blog…:

    For those that want to get to grips with the basics of Lebanese politics then a great start would be The New Face of Lebanon by William Harris. The New Face of Lebanon sweeps right through Lebanese history starting in the Byzantine era and then finishing in 2005 with the assassination of Raik Hariri. This book focuses mainly on Lebanon’s contemporary history and is the best place for anyone trying to fathom Lebanese society today. For those wanting more information on Lebanon during the Ottoman era and the era up to the 50s and 60s then The Modern History of Lebanon by Lebanese historian Kamal Salibi is the best place to go.

    For accounts of the civil war there is no better place to start than Pity the Nation by Robert Fisk. This is by far the best journalistic account of the Civil War in Lebanon and focuses particularly on the 1982 invasion and occupation by Israel of Lebanon. Pity the Nation gives the full account of the massacre that occurred in the Sabra and Shatila massacre. Thomas Freidman in his good book From Beirut to Jerusalem is also an insightful read and detailed account of the period of the civil war in the 1980s.

    Hezbollah an organisation that everyone wants to know more about but is famously secret of its operations. Augustus Richard Norton in two books one called Hezbollah a great short introduction to the organisation and Amal and the Shia probably has gone in to more detail than anyone else. Many people (I personally know of two people) are doing books on Hezbollah at the moment so expect a deluge I will keep you updated on how good they are when they are released.

    Posted by Deen | October 21, 2009, 3:55 am
  19. Yes to V’s Memory for Forgetfulness by Mahmoud Darwish (Allah Yirhamho). Beautiful, profound book which shows you the possibilities literature during conflict and violence can be.

    From Beirut to Jerusalem by Ang Swee Chai (NOT by Thomas Friedman!!) is in my opinion, compulsory reading by anybody who is interested in Lebanon, or human courage at it’s finest. Dr. Ang worked as a doctor during the Sabra and Shatila massacres and the refugee camp wars. A great first-witness account at the very heart of matters during the time.

    Yes to Rawi Hage – De Niro’s Game as well. Enticing, hedonistic story. Taught me a lot about local culture.

    Civil and Uncivil Violence in Lebanon: A History of the Internationalization of Communal Conflict, by Samir Khalaf is a great, recent reference book – exhaustively researched, passionately arugued. Anybody who claims to do work/research on Lebanon but hasn’t read this book is missing something.

    Posted by Won | October 21, 2009, 4:40 am
  20. What about ‘Die Fälschung’ (in English ‘Circle of Conceit’) released in 1981 and shot on location in Lebanon (mailny Beirut) during the Civil War. It has some amazing shots (the shattered, deserted Balad with grass growing by the clock, the Commodore’s press room, Beiteddine as some Christian warlord’s ‘court’). The crew also hired ‘real’ militias as extras.

    Posted by Karin | October 21, 2009, 5:19 am
  21. I want to add a documentary to my list:
    The Al jazeera series on the civil war is a must. It has great archival footage and very interesting interviews with the main political actors. If you can get passed the mangled English translation, then this series is really really good!!

    Posted by Blackstar | October 21, 2009, 6:18 am
  22. I second Blackstar’s motion, the al-Jazeera documentary, which is available on bittorrent, is indispensable.

    Posted by sean | October 21, 2009, 7:25 am
  23. La formation historique du Liban politique et constitutionnel by Rabbath & Samir Kassir’s Histoire de Beyrouth. Also I think From Beirut to Jerusalem by Ang Swee Chai gives a realistic panorama of the realities at a point in time.

    Posted by 'CZ' | October 21, 2009, 7:35 am
  24. Interesting game that you’ve initiated there Ya Qifana…
    Having read some of the books, listen to some of the music, and watch some of the movies, and having heard of almost all that have been mentioned so far, there will always be something I never heard of. Very pedagogic and helpful from that point of view.
    “Pity the nation”, in whatever consideration you might have Fisk’s today work, is for me a very extensive and moving report of the civil war, which seemingly does not avoid criticism of any belligerent party to it. It reads like a novel too. I agree on many of the other political essays and history works too, although I’m not a fan of Friedman.
    For the bloggers who can read Spanish, Tomas Alcoverro, correspondant of La Vanguardia de Barcelona, has written and writes a lot and very interestingly about Beirut, Lebanon and the region as well.
    I always like Fify Abou Dib in L’O le J, in the section called “Impressions”, once a week, I think. En francais, bien sur.
    On the literary side, I liked “Rachid Daif’s Dear Mr. Kawabata”’s spanish translation. I like almost everything of Maalouf, and I enjoyed the last I read, Racines, in French, a lot. I LOVE Rima Khecheich’s singing with her (Dutch, Flemish?) band. I heard her singing in Beirut some time ago…It was WAW. Her fans kept asking for “Wa Lau”, but she didn’t sing it. Or did she? I have listen to it so many times since then that I’m not sure any more…
    I have to confess that I’m attached to the Blue Note in Hamra. The first time I heard of it (I’d been once in the one in NY ) I thought, “These Lebanese, what a pretentious people!” When I actually went to Makdissi, and more so when I kept going, I started to forgive them for copying the name –or to forget that I once used to go to a Blue Note in New York, which is the same thing-, and began my amazement about how many good musicians of all ages can a small country give.
    But, by far, a Lebanese piece that always stays in my mind is this article of a Canadian-Lebanese writer and teather autor named Wajdi Mouawad, in “Le Devoir” on July 25 2006, in the middle of the July 2006 War (excerpt):
    “Est-ce qu’on peut pleurer des lettres ? Pleurer de tout son alphabet, alphabet arabe, Aleph et Bé,
    Alpha et beta. Devenir poulpe et éclater en encre. Pour inventer des mots ? Est-ce qu’on peut
    pleurer des lettres ?
    Alors marcher dans la rue. Chercher des mots. Non pas pour apaiser, non pas pour consoler. Non
    pas pour dire la situation de tout cela, non pas pour parler politique. Surtout pour ne pas parler
    politique. Au contraire. Utiliser une langue incompréhensible à la politique.
    Au journaliste qui me demandait quelle était ma position dans le conflit du Moyen-Orient, je n’ai
    pas pu lui mentir, lui avouant que ma position
    relevait d’une telle impossibilité que ce n’est plus une position, c’est une courbature. Torticolis de tous les instants”.
    Yes, it is in french.

    Posted by mj | October 21, 2009, 7:45 am
  25. Great response, guys. Here are some more books that a reader sent to me via email:

    Saad-Ghorayeb, Amal. Hizbu’llah: Politics and Religion. London: Pluto Press, 2002.

    Harik, Judith Palmer. Hezbollah: The Changing Face of Terrorism. London: I. B. Tauris, 2004.

    Hamzeh, Ahmad Nizar. In the Path of Hizbullah. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2004.

    Qassem, Naim. Hizbullah: The Story from Within. Translated by Dalia Khalil. London: Saqi, 2005.

    Alagha, Joseph. The Shifts in Hizbullah’s Ideology: Religious Ideology, Political Ideology, and Political Program. Leiden: Amsterdam University Press, 2006.

    Norton, Augustus R. Hezbollah: A Short History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007.

    Noe, Nicholas, ed. Voice of Hezbollah: The Statements of Sayed Hassan Nasrallah. Translated by Ellen Khouri. London: Verso, 2007.

    Saleh, Nabil. The Qadi and the Fortune Teller. London: Quartet Books, 1996. Reprint, Northampton, MA: Interlink Books, 2008.

    Keep ’em coming!

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 21, 2009, 10:26 am
  26. “Un siecle pour rien”, an overview of the XXth century in the region from a lebanese diplomatic point of view, in the form of a conversation between Jean Lacouture, Ghassan Tueni and Gerard Khouri.

    “Atlas du Liban, Territoires et Societe”(2007), with plenty of graphics and maps about lebanese economy, demographics and society of the last decades.

    Posted by mj | October 21, 2009, 12:50 pm
  27. A couple of movies dealing with Lebanese culture, the Lebanese diaspora, and multiculturalism:

    – Jalla! Jalla! (Swedish)

    – Fat Pizza (Australian). Very politically incorrect, the few references to Lebanese/Lebanese culture are hilarious!

    Posted by mas | October 21, 2009, 1:18 pm
  28. A number of very good suggestions above…I second William Harris’s “Faces of Lebanon” as an excellent first book to read about Lebanon. Two great books seem to be left out of the above lists however. Farid el-Khazin’s “Breakdown of the State in Lebanon: 1967-1976” is the most comprehensive account of the Civil War’s outbreak. Also, Magnus Ranstorp’s book “Hizb’allah in Lebanon: the Politics of the Western Hostage Crisis” includes the most reliable English language account of Hezbollah’s origins (in Arabic I highly recommend Wadah Sharara’s book “Dawlat Hezbollah”).

    Posted by Ex Oriente Lux | October 21, 2009, 5:24 pm
  29. I’m writing an MA thesis on the Maronite diaspora in the United States, here’s part of my bibliogrpahy:

    Dib, Kamal. “Warlords and Merchants: The Lebanese Business and Political Establishment.”

    Halliday, Fred. The Millet of Manchester. British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 19, No. 2. (1992), pp. 159-176.

    Hourani, Albert and Nadin Shehadi, eds. “The Lebanese in the World: A Century of Emigration.”

    Jaulin, Thibaut. Lebanese Politics of Nationality and Emigration. European University Institute RSCAS No. 2006/29.

    Kaufman, Asher. “Reviving Phoenicia.”

    Kayal, Philip M. “The Syrian-Lebanese in America.”

    Leeuwen, Richard Van. “Notables and Clergy in Mount Lebanon.”

    Naff, Alixa. “Becoming American: The Early Arab Immigrant Experience. “

    Phares, Walid. “Lebanese Christian Nationalism.”

    Salibi, Kamal S. “The Modern History of Lebanon.”

    Zachs, Fruma. “The Making of a Syrian Identity.”

    Zamir, Meir. “The Formation of Modern Lebanon.”

    Zamir, Meir. “Lebanon’s Quest.”

    As for documentaries, few compare with the Al-Jazeera series on the Civil War. A must see!

    Posted by jaymrosen | October 21, 2009, 5:41 pm
  30. Here’s another one that should be on there:

    Michael Johnson – All Honourable Men: The Social Origins of War in Lebanon

    On problem, though, is that a lot of these, especially those published by IB Tauris or Palgrave, are difficult to find at all and extremely expensive if you do find them.

    Posted by sean | October 22, 2009, 1:08 am
  31. Has anybody read “An Enchanted Modern: Gender and Public Piety in Shi’i Lebanon ” http://www.amazon.com/Enchanted-Modern-Lebanon-Princeton-Politics/dp/0691124213/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1256202514&sr=1-4 or “The Shifts in Hizbullah’s Ideology: Religious Ideology, Political Ideology, and Political Program ” http://www.amazon.com/Shifts-Hizbullahs-Ideology-University-Dissertations/dp/9053569103/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1256202819&sr=1-1” ?? Here’s an author’s interview http://religion.info/english/interviews/article_317.shtml If they have how were they?

    And a lot of people mentioned the Al-Jazeera documentary on Lebanon, but here’s one by Al-Jazeera on the Gemayel familiy! http://english.aljazeera.net/programmes/general/2009/05/20095317388560607.html#

    Posted by Won | October 22, 2009, 5:14 am
  32. And I’m glad somebody else mentioned the wonderful book by Dr. Ang Swee Chai. Get the book people!

    Posted by Won | October 22, 2009, 5:16 am
  33. That is really interesting that Dr. Ang Swee’s book is interesting. I have to admit I did not give it the time of day because I assumed she stole the title of the book from Friedam? Why would you name your book after an already famous book on Lebanon??

    Posted by Deen Sharp | October 22, 2009, 5:24 am
  34. We don’t know if she copied Friedman’s book, but I think Friedman should be honored if she did copy the title of his book, or if she didn’t, he should be honored by the amazing coincidence.

    Posted by Won | October 22, 2009, 5:45 am
  35. Oh by the way, her surname is Ang and her name is Swee Chai, so that makes her Dr. Ang not Dr. Ang Swee. Just a minor correction.

    Posted by Won | October 22, 2009, 7:21 am
  36. I am a big fan of The War on Lebanon: A Reader, edited by Nubar Hovsepian.
    Other recs are already included here.

    Posted by Ozge Guzelsu | October 22, 2009, 7:43 pm
  37. No one has mentioned David Gilmour, The Fractured Country. Has anyone read this? I have dipped in and appears very knowledgeable but rarely gets a mention.

    Posted by deensharp | October 27, 2009, 3:59 am
  38. Distant Relations: Iran and Lebanon in the last 500 years. edited by Houchang Chehabi. Highly recommended for the background to the creation of Hizballah.

    Posted by Nadim Shehadi | October 28, 2009, 10:24 am
  39. Thanks Deen and Nadim. Both suggestions have been added to the bibliography.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 28, 2009, 11:05 am
  40. Nadim very modestly did not mention his other book that has not been listed yet: N Shehadi and DH Mills (eds), Lebanon: A History of Conflict (1993).

    Posted by Deen Sharp | October 28, 2009, 11:14 am
  41. Thanks Deen. I’ve updated the page.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 28, 2009, 11:29 am
  42. My favorite documentary-
    Beirut: The Last Home Movie by Jennifer Fox.
    Portrays the Bustros Family home in Achrafieh which now houses the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,

    Posted by beirut drive-by | August 1, 2012, 9:23 am
  43. I actually forgot the name of the book (I can only hope you can help me remember ) the title has the keywords “Damascus, Beirut, markets, bazaars” . It’s a great study of the sociopolitical makeup of the Lebanese economy with interviews with politicians. I remember the section with Walid jumblatt the most. I have been looking for the title nonstop since I lost it on a visit in 2004. Hope u guys can help.

    Posted by Bachir | August 1, 2012, 1:35 pm
  44. Maybe I missed it, but it looks like nobody’s mentioned “Les Classes Sociales au Liban” by Claude Dubar and Salim Nasr. Published in 1976 (and currently out of print), this book is an essential work for any historian interested in Lebanon’s pre-civil war political economy. Not only is the research and analysis excellent, but a large part of this work is composed of fascinating interviews with representatives of numerous socio-economic backgrounds and political positions conducted during the period of political upheaval that preceded the onset of the Lebanese civil war.

    Posted by Spencer | August 7, 2012, 10:27 am


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