Saturday, June 2, 2007

Five best books: America in the Arab world

Michael Oren, a senior fellow at the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, is the author of Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East From 1776 to the Present.

He selected a five best list of books that "vividly capture the long history of America's encounters with the Arab world" for Opinion Journal.

A nineteenth-century title on the list:

The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain (1869)

Commissioned by two U.S. newspapers to report on the voyage of the steamship Quaker City in 1867, the relatively unknown humorist Samuel Clemens sailed for the Middle East. The realities he encountered there bore little resemblance to the romantic fantasies that he and millions of Americans had imbibed in "A Thousand and One Arabian Nights." Middle Eastern men, Clemens concluded, were "filthy, brutish, ignorant, unprogressive, and superstitious," and the women so ugly that "they couldn't smile after ten o'clock Saturday night without breaking the Sabbath." These caustic observations and a wealth of others were published in a single volume under Clemens's new pen name, Mark Twain. The Middle East made him: "The Innocents Abroad" earned $300,000, a fortune for the time. Yet pre-"Innocents" myths about the Middle East remained deeply ingrained in the American imagination, later inspiring a cavalcade of fanciful movies, from "The Sheik of Araby" to "Aladdin," from "The Wind and the Lion" to "Indiana Jones." America's romance with the region continued until 9/11, the day the fantasy died.

Read the entire list.

--Marshal Zeringue