Whether you are planning to travel to Jordan for real, or just visiting from your armchair, these 15 books about Jordan will educate you on its history, culture, intrigue, and its unique place situated smack in the middle of the Middle East.
Like everyone else in the ’80’s who had a jones for Jones, I fell in love with Petra while watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Jordan has been sitting on my bucket list ever since, so I’ve compiled a list of required reading to get me motivated to go.
I’ve been aided in my quest by Naomi from Probe Around the Globe. She’straveled all over the Middle-East, including Jordan and she has some great suggestions. I’ve also supplemented her pics with a crowd-sourced list from fellow Libro Maniacs.
(This article contains affiliate links. This means that if you choose to purchase, I’ll make a small commission.)
Fiction Books Set in Jordan
There are a lot of memoirs and histories on this list of books about Jordan. But I’ve included fiction as well because its richly imagined settings and character studies can often get to a deeper truth than non-fiction.
Appointment with Death, Agatha Christie
In this 19th book of the Hercule Poirot series, he and his luminous mustaches have only 24 hours to solve the death of a tourist at Petra. She’s obnoxious, that Mrs. Boynton– but did she deserve to die? Find out as Poirot uses his “little grey cells” to figure it out.
Mrs. Pollifax, Innocent Tourist, Dorothy Gilman
If CIA spy novels can be considered “cozy”, then Mrs Pollifax is the coziest. She’s a retired granny who’s joined up with the CIA. In this book, the 13rd in the series, she and another CIA retiree are attempting to smuggle a manuscript out of Jordan when things go terribly awry.
Pillars of Salt, Fadia Faqir
This touching book is set in Jordan during and after the British Mandate. It’s the story of two women who were confined to a mental hospital. A young Bedouin and an older woman from Amman find themselves sharing a room in the psychiatric ward.
You learn how they ended up there, and how they were affected by betrayal and a lack of agency in their culture. It’s an “… incredibly complex exploration of truth, lies, and whether we can ever really separate the two.”
The Tower, Alessandro Gallenzi
A murdered priest, Middle Eastern politics and a stolen literary masterpiece set the action for this novel. There is an ambitious digitization project afoot in Amman, Jordan and some previously unpublished writing by Giordano Bruno and the Vatican priest sent to study them both disappear.
You get the historical backstory on Bruno’s Renaissance writings along with a modern day Dan Brown-esque thriller.
The Mandelbaum Gate, Muriel Spark
The action takes place in 1961 in Israel and Jordan. During this time, The Mandelbaum Gate was the checkpoint between the Israeli and what was then the Jordanian sector of Jerusalem. Barbara Vaughn is on a pilgrimage through the region, but her timing is terrible. Political and religious tensions are high and Vaughn’s journey is beset with illness, memory loss, dishonesty and accusations of spycraft.
“It reminded me of its Middle Eastern setting the way it wound around narrow corners, popping out in unexpected surprising places…”
Biography and Memoir Books About Jordan
Married to a Bedouin, Marguerite van Geldermalsen
(Recommended by Naomi.)
Marguerite is of Dutch origin, so I was very interested to read her story. Raised in New Zealand, the writer came to Petra in 1978 on a sightseeing trip (as we all do, I guess). But her life took an 180-degree change, when she meets local Bedouin Mohammad Abdallah Othman. He used his charm to sell souvenirs, but also finds a way to Marguerite’s heart. A true love story, but at the basis an empowering woman who chooses her own destiny as she moves into her husband’s cave.
We laugh and learn about Marguerite’s Bedouin life, and its traditions and hardship. Although she presents everything with lighthearted observations, I have no doubt that her adaptation to this life has been hard. You can purchase the book here or get it on-site while at Petra.
A Leap of Faith, Queen Noor
(Recommended by Naomi.)
This must have been one of the very first books I’ve read about Jordan and it might have planted the seed for me to visit this intriguing and troubled nation. A Leap of Faith is a personal memoir of the love story between Arab-American Princeton Alumni Lisa Halaby and King Hussein of Jordan. The story unravels their whirlwind love affair and the turmoil of the Middle East.
Jordan sits in the middle of a conflicted region and King Hussein treads delicately in the world of diplomacy with Queen Noor by his side. Queen Noor takes a wide view and explains about the formation of the state of Israel in 1948, the six-day war in 1967 and the Camp David peace treaties of 1977. She describes different sides of the conflict and how Jordan always sits in the middle. We learn about her tumultuous family life with a miscarriage, her four children and her worries for her husband, the ruler of Jordan.
Our Last Best Chance: A Story of War and Peace, King Abdullah II of Jordan
This book is written for non-Jordanians and is a good primer on the geopolitical challenges facing Jordan. It covers King Abdullah’s unexpected rise to power and issues that he has had to deal with related to the Israeli-Palestinian standoff and America’s involvement in the Middle East.
Consider this original source material from an insider, and an unflinching look at Jordan’s role as the stable power in the region.
Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell: Adventurer, Adviser to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of Arabia, Janet Wallach
(Recommended by Naomi.)
At my hotel in Amman, I found clippings and a copy of this book about Gertrude Bell and was blown away. Saddened by the failure of our educational system and the weight of movies, I learned that it’s not TE Lawrence who deserves all the attention for the embodiment of adventure in Jordan.
I learned about this intelligent, fearless women who, by sheer determination, mapped out the whole of the Middle East as we know it today. She was the brains who led the British empire into World War I in the Middle East– and she was the lady who made bonds with Arab kings and tribesmen. A fascinating piece of feminist history that is overshadowed by Hollywood’s success of Lawrence of Arabia. After reading this, I’m sure you’re convince it should be Gertrude of Arabia.
The Desert and the Sown: Travels in Palestine and Syria, Gertrude Bell
(Recommended by Naomi. While not strictly set in Jordan, Naomi recommends reading more about Bell and her journeys through the Middle East.)
Curious to find out more about this refreshing part of history, I wanted to learn more about Gertrude Bell. What better way to read her own journey, as she sets out in 1905 to a world unknown to foreign ladies of that time. It’s a man’s world, seen through the eyes of a high society British lady in turbulent times.
The Desert and the Sown is like a travel blog avant-la-lettre, as Miss Bell takes us on her journey through the mesmerizing countries of Persia, Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria. Accompanied by numerous images, her memoirs take us on a political journey but more interesting a personal discovery.
Seven Pillars of Wisdom, TE Lawrence
Yes, TE Lawrence is that Lawrence of Arabia. His memoir talks about the Arab revolt against the Turks during the First World War and it’s chock full of history and drama. He was a fascinating and controversial figure (as you’ll note from Naomi’s comments above). This book won’t be for everyone. It is at times both majestic and tiresome. If you aren’t up for the full 784 pages, then just do a viewing of the Lawrence of Arabia movie.
There is also a thorough biography of Lawrence from Michael Korda
The Land Beyond: A Thousand Miles on Foot through the Heart of the Middle East, Leon McCarron
In this extraordinary memior, McCarron traveled 1,000 miles along trade routes, pilgrimage trails and Bedouin paths. He explores the quagmire of current geopolitics through the layers of history, culture and religion that have shaped the Holy Land
“… he skillfully weaves into his narrative a brief historical survey of the places he visits and the stories of the many people he meets.”
If you like tales of a good long walk, check out are list of books about walking. It features this book from McCarron and many others.
The Language of Baclava, Diana Abu-Jaber
Abu-Jaber’s family emigrated to upstate New York, but her childhood also involved visits back to Jordan. Her book explores her life through a series of vividly remembered meals. Meet her imperious grandmother, her hotheaded father and her cousins.
“… it is a coming-of-age memoir about food and family and living between cultures”. In a bonus, each chapter also includes family recipes.
The Best Jordan Guidebooks and Travel Resources
Once you’ve read some of the books on this list, you’ll be jazzed to visit Jordan. The following blog resources and travel books on Jordan will give you practical tips to help you get there.
Travel Blog Resources for Jordan:
- Naomi’s guide for how much it cost to travel to Jordan.
- Things Naomi found surprising about Jordan.
- Five stunning Roman ruins in Jordan.
- A full 10-day Jordan itinerary.
Hiking in Jordan: Trails in and Around Petra, Wadi Rum and the Dead Sea Area, Dr. Gregory F. Maassen, Chris Grant and Martin Smit
This book covers over 400 kilometers of hiking trail with GPS points, hiking maps and sample itineraries.
If you are keen to hike, you should also check out the Jordan Trail. It’s a 650 kilometer north/south trail that includes the Dana Biosphere reserve, Petra and Wadi Rum.
Petra: The History of the Rose City, One of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Charles River Editors
This short read offers an history of Petra which, “looks at the history of Petra from prehistoric times to the end of the Crusades, as well as the city’s ‘rediscovery’ in the 19th century and how it has entered the world’s imagination since then.”
The book is a good primer before visiting Petra and can supplement what you learn from an on-site guide.
Lonely Planet is a good resource for getting background info on the sites that you will be visiting and an easy one stop shop for checking practical information like museum hours.
As a moneysaving tip, the Lonely Planet guides are nearly always available for free with a Kindle Unlimited membership.
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