The 2012 Abu Aardvark Awards
It’s time for the 2012 version of my annual list of the Middle East Channel‘s best books of the year on the Middle East… and, of course, the year’s best hip hop albums! Each year, I read through as many books about the Middle East as I can with an eye towards recommending the most ...
It's time for the 2012 version of my annual list of the Middle East Channel's best books of the year on the Middle East... and, of course, the year's best hip hop albums! Each year, I read through as many books about the Middle East as I can with an eye towards recommending the most thought-provoking, interesting and useful publications of the year (2010 winners here, 2011 here). My own book, The Arab Uprising: The Unfinished Revolutions of the Middle East, is of course ineligible (but for those who care, the paperback is now available and here's a bunch of reviews). Unfortunately for the winners, there's no grandly named award and no cash prize, but at least there's the glory.
It’s time for the 2012 version of my annual list of the Middle East Channel‘s best books of the year on the Middle East… and, of course, the year’s best hip hop albums! Each year, I read through as many books about the Middle East as I can with an eye towards recommending the most thought-provoking, interesting and useful publications of the year (2010 winners here, 2011 here). My own book, The Arab Uprising: The Unfinished Revolutions of the Middle East, is of course ineligible (but for those who care, the paperback is now available and here’s a bunch of reviews). Unfortunately for the winners, there’s no grandly named award and no cash prize, but at least there’s the glory.
A few words on the process. As always, it’s just me making the list — no committee, no free books, nobody screening submissions. That means that the selections tend to follow my own interests, and I probably overlooked or just didn’t get into some outstanding books. I made every effort I could to look at as many potential candidates as possible, and ended up reading more than fifty eligible books (here’s a mostly complete list, though I may have forgotten some or left off those which I only skimmed; really good late 2012 books which didn’t make it onto the pile in time this year will be eligible for next year’s). Reading and rereading them (along with grading) is why I haven’t been posting much the last week.
I have a slight bias towards university press books, though I’m entirely open to well-written and serious books from other presses. I pay more attention to the Arab parts of the Middle East than to Iran, Israel or Turkey, and hope somebody else digs into books on those areas. And I tend to like books which make me feel that I’ve actually learned something new — rich and unique empirical detail, novel theoretical approaches, unexpected comparisons. I don’t agree with everything in every b0ok, and none is without flaws. But all provoked me to think in new ways, taught me new things, held my interest against the allure of Twitter, and challenged my interpretive frames.
Last year I named two top winners: Stephane Lacroix’s Awakening Islam: The Politics of Religious Dissent in Contemporary Saudi Arabia and Wendy Pearlman’s Violence, Non-Violence and the Palestinian National Movement, along with a few honorable mentions. There were a lot of really good books this year, but I didn’t think any stood head and shoulders above the others like in 2011. So instead, this year I have decided to list ten books in alphabetical order. All are impressive in their own ways. And so, without further ado, the Middle East Channel‘s Top Ten Middle East Books for 2012:
Hussein Ali Agrama, Questioning Secularism: Islam, Sovereignty, and the Rule of Law in
Nathan Brown, When Victory is Not an Option (Cornell). How did political competition with the certainty of defeat shape the strategies and ideologies of Muslim Brotherhood political parties? Completed shortly before victory
Christopher Davidson, After the Sheikhs: The Coming Collapse of the Gulf Monarchies
Ziad Fahmy, Ordinary Egyptians: Creating the Modern Nation Through Popular Culture
Bassam Haddad, Business Networks in Syria: The Political Economy of Authoritarian
Gregory Johnsen, The Last Refuge: Yemen, al-Qaeda, and America’s War in Arabia (W.W. Norton). I’ve read far too many accounts over the years of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, and the
Hazem Kandil, Soldiers, Spies and Statesmen: Egypt’s Road to Revolt (Verso). An entertaining
Daniel Kurtzer, Scott Lasensky, Steven Spiegel, Shibley Telhami and William Quandt, The Peace Puzzle: America’s Quest for Arab-Israeli Peace, 1989-2011 (Cornell). Close
Laurence Louer, Shiism and Politics in the Middle East (Columbia/Hurst). An extremely useful guide to the politics of Shia networks in today’s Middle East. This slim volume
Joseph Sassoon, Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party: Inside an Authoritarian Regime (Cambridge). Sassoon draws on enormous volumes of Iraqi documents and audiotapes seized after 2003 to
Congratulations to all of these outstanding colleagues for writing such outstanding books. Reading work like this reminds me of why I’m so proud to be part of the Middle East Studies intellectual community.
And…. there’s of course another tradition here: the best hip hop albums of the year! And for the first year in the history of the awards, the winner isn’t going to include Kanye West or Jay-Z. Cruel Summer had some truly great songs (including “New God Flow”, with Pusha T and Ghostface Killah, my nominee for song of the year), but just didn’t add up to a complete album. A number of other albums with great potential had bright flashes but ultimatedly didn’t quite cut it: Nas, Life is Good (can’t get past the Jay Electronica ghostwriting allegations); Lupe Fiasco, Food and Liquor II (amazing in places but too preachy); Slaughterhouse, Welcome to Our House (brilliant at times, but repetitive and too many dud tracks); Game’s Jesus Piece (too erratic); Big Boi’s Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors (great fun though).
Two albums were simply brilliant, and probably would have won in another year. Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, MAAD city and Big KRIT’s Live from the Underground were each lyrically
But the album of the year is the one that has stayed on the top of my iPod since the spring: Strange Clouds by B.o.B. Nothing else out there could match it for its insane energy, lyrical wordplay, sheer fun, honesty, and dazzling motion. Watch “Play for Keeps“, “Both of Us” (with Taylor Swift), and “So Good“, but stay away from the Nicki Minaj trainwreck “Out of My Mind,” the album’s only dud.
And so there you have it: B.o.B. not only got to perform for President Obama, open for Jay-Z and Eminem, and win the 2012 People’s Choice Awards — he also gets this year’s nod for the coveted Abu Aardvark’s 2012 Album of the Year. Way to go Bobby Ray!
Marc Lynch is associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, where he is the director of the Institute for Middle East Studies and of the Project on Middle East Political Science. He is also a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. He is the author of The Arab Uprising (March 2012, PublicAffairs).
He publishes frequently on the politics of the Middle East, with a particular focus on the Arab media and information technology, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, and Islamist movements. Twitter: @abuaardvark
More from Foreign Policy
America Is a Heartbeat Away From a War It Could Lose
Global war is neither a theoretical contingency nor the fever dream of hawks and militarists.
The West’s Incoherent Critique of Israel’s Gaza Strategy
The reality of fighting Hamas in Gaza makes this war terrible one way or another.
Biden Owns the Israel-Palestine Conflict Now
In tying Washington to Israel’s war in Gaza, the U.S. president now shares responsibility for the broader conflict’s fate.
Taiwan’s Room to Maneuver Shrinks as Biden and Xi Meet
As the latest crisis in the straits wraps up, Taipei is on the back foot.