Further Reading

There are a lot of good books available for people interested in Yemen. Below is a not-remotely-exhaustive selection of the ones we have enjoyed.

For an introduction to the country we recommend Tim Mackintosh-Smith's Travels in Dictionary Land. A Patrick Leigh-Fermor for the twenty-first century, he's a great writer with a deep knowledge and love for the country. Learned but good-humoured, this book is the edited highlights of his first twenty years here (it also includes a number of Arabic learning tips).

Then there are the classic writers from the colonial heyday: Henry de Monfreid, gentleman of fortune, Freya Stark, the last of the romantic travellers, and Wilfred Thesiger, old-school explorer. These are seriously good books.

The Hostage, written by one of Yemen's top novelists, is set in 1940s Yemen during the Imamate and paints a fascinating picture of this mysterious period. As a bonus, the English translation comes with two excellent introductory essays, one of which was written by YCMES Visiting Professor Prof Robert Burrowes.

The various guidebooks are a few years out of date and not very long - Lonely Planet, for example, only gives the country a few pages at the back of its Oman and UAE guide - and the best by a long way is written in German. They just about do the job, though, especially when augmented with things like this restaurant guide to Sana'a, and we are on hand to give you any up-to-date and detailed advice you might need on top of what they provide.

There are also a few English-language newspapers in Yemen, and their websites feature up-to-date news.


There are a number of good works that can give you a slightly more rigorous introduction to the Middle East and Islam. It is obviously interesting to read the Qur'an, but the following are also useful:

We, however, are interested in Yemen. Top of every reading list for any course on the country, with good reason, is A History of Modern Yemen by YCMES board member Paul Dresch. Although it has been criticised for its somewhat northern perspective (all anthropologists were based in the North when he was here doing his research), the book does what it says on the tin and to a very high level.

For those interested in the politics and development of Yemen, the following, including works by YCMES board member Dr Shelagh Weir and YCMES Visiting Professor Prof Robert Burrowes, should come next. The most up-to-date academic survey of Yemeni politics is Yemen into the Twenty-First Century, but it suffers from having been put together before the Arab Spring.

  • Robert Burrowes, The Yemen Arab Republic: The Politics of Development, 1962-1986 (1987)
  • Marina de Regt, Pioneers or Pawns? Women health Workers and the Politics of Development in Yemen (2007)
  • Kamil Mahdi, Anna Würth & Helen Lackner (eds.), Yemen into the Twenty-First Century: Continuity and Change (2007)
  • Shelagh Weir, A Tribal Order: Politics and Law in the Mountains of Yemen (2006)

The following online sources go some way to addressing the two year gap from 2011 to the present. A better way of addressing this gap, of course, is to attend our Politics of Yemen course this summer.

Qat, the mildly narcotic leaf that you will see being chewed by almost everyone, is an important part of the political process, and the following articles (if you have access to them) ground the habit in Yemeni national identity and history. Wedeen looks more at elite chews, while Varisco wrote his article pre-unification and therefore focuses on North Yemen.

In fact, there are a lot of good books on the country's anthropology, a subject we are very keen on since our academic dean is Harvard anthropologist Prof Steven Caton. He has written widely on the subject – Yemen Chronicle is particularly good – and so have YCMES visiting professor Prof Thomas B Stevenson and a number of other prominent academics.

  • Steven Caton, Peaks of Yemen I Summon: Poetry as Cultural Practice in a North Yemeni Tribe (1993)
  • Steven Caton, Yemen Chronicle: An Anthropology of War and Mediation (2006)
  • Paul Dresch, Tribes, Government, and History in Yemen (1994)
  • Ann Meneley, Tournaments of Value: Sociability and Hierarchy in a Yemeni Town (1996)
  • Brinkley Messick, The Calligraphic State: Textual Domination and History in a Muslim Society (1996)
  • Thomas Stevenson, Social Change in a Yemeni Highlands Town (1985)

For a specific and encyclopaedic investigation of Sana'a, this one is excellent, although since only 2,000 copies were printed it is not easy to track down [NEWSFLASH: They're reprinting it!]:

  • World of Islam Festival Trust, Sana'a: An Arabian Islamic City (1983)

Obviously there is a lot more than this. YCMES has an extensive library, and if that is not big enough then we suggest visiting the American Institute of Yemeni Studies, whose new facilities in Sana'a include their own library. If you would like any further reading suggestions, or reading lists for our Middle Eastern Studies courses, please get in touch. Along, however, with this Al-Bab list of books, this Al-Bab list of articles and chapters, and our Anthropology and Politics course syllabi, the following are also useful:

  • Thomas Stevenson, Studies on Yemen, 1975-1990: A Bibliography of European Language Sources for Social Scientists (1994)
  • Thomas Stevenson, Visions of Yemen: A Filmography (2003)