Here's what you can read to better understand the Israel-Hamas war

An open book in the foreground, with a map of Israel in the background


Posted November 2, 2023 | Updated on Apr 05, 2024

Understanding the Israel-Hamas war is difficult, and social media isn’t always helpful, clear, accurate, or well sourced. We compiled five expert lists of recommended reading from diverse authors, viewpoints, and backgrounds to help explain the history, context, and experiences shaping the war.

Financial Times

Published on Oct. 9 , just days after Hamas’  Oct. 7 attack, this list by Financial Times editor Roula Khalaf is a selection of books recommended by Financial Times specialists, including:

A portrait of Netanyahu’s combative politics and his relationship with Palestinians and the two-state solution

A graphic novel that offers a nonfiction account of Israel’s 1956 killing of over 100 Palestinians in Rafah following armed Palestinian raids. Sacco’s illustrations make tangible the Gaza Strip’s isolation.

Explores the origin and evolution of Hamas and its  rivalry with other Palestinian political organizations

A look at why Palestinians did not get their own state as regional colonial rule collapsed during the 20th century. A nuanced analysis of how outside actors shaped Palestinians’ political futures, but the author – a Palestinian American historian – finds Palestinian leaders also bear responsibility. 

The Globe and Mail

This Canadian newspaper asked its foreign correspondents, reporters, and editors for their suggested reading to make sense of the history behind the Israel-Hamas war. Their list included:

A Palestinian American author and scholar explores sites of Palestinian memory through photography from Jean Mohr.

A child of Holocaust survivors, Hass was born in Jerusalem but stayed in Gaza for years. This book, released in 1996, chronicles her life.

An Israeli journalist explores how the Holocaust impacted the thinking of David Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin, and Nahum Goldmann and the formation of Israel.

This memoir tells the story of a Palestinian family forced to flee Jerusalem for the U.K. The family unknowingly moved to a predominantly Jewish suburb of London where Karmi wrestled with her sense of self and identity.

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Foreign Policy

Foreign Policy recently compiled a list designed to help readers understand the Israel-Hamas war, including these two books:

“In careful but compassionate prose, Roy, a political economist, chronicles the systematic immiseration of Gaza, the devastating consequences on the people trapped there, and the failed peace process that has enabled Hamas to endure and attract support.” — Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy columnist

“Elgindy served as an advisor to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah on permanent status negotiations with Israel from 2004 to 2009 and thus had a front-row seat to Washington’s peacemaking efforts. His book provides a deeply researched historical examination of how U.S.-Palestinian relations shaped the peace process over the decades and contributed to the crisis of Palestinian leadership we see today.” —Jennifer Williams, Foreign Policy deputy editor

Middle East Institute

In 2022, the Middle East Institute’s book review editor shared recommended reading from books reviewed in The Middle East Journal, including these:

“Western readers hungry for didactic primers about Middle East politics confront bookshelves of forgettable volumes. What makes this offering notable is that the authors themselves are activists from the region and write as sensitive insiders rather than as foreign journalists or retired diplomats penning yet another screed.” —Sean Yom, Temple University

“Fred Hof, a retired military officer and experienced Middle East negotiator, tells the story of the last effort to reach an Israel-Syria peace agreement.” —Daniel Kurtzer, Princeton University

American Enterprise Institute

A former CIA officer turned Middle East scholar at AEI, Kenneth Pollack recommended the best books on Middle East military history, including:

“…Dupuy extensively interviewed nearly all of the major political and military leaders on both sides of every war … it is why his book remains the single best work on the subject and the foundation on which all later histories rest.”

Adan was a senior military official in the war. Pollack recommends this book as “ outstanding first-hand account … Adan’s book is also distinguished by his ruthless honesty in pointing out his own mistakes as well as those of the larger Israel Defense Forces.”

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