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Libya 101: Read Up on Nation’s History, Politics

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Capitol Hill staffers seeking to learn more about Libya and its ruler, Moammar Gadhafi, should check out some of these recommended books on the nation’s political history.

As NATO prepares to take over full command of military operations in Libya, many Americans are scrambling to learn more about the North African country, but it’s not easy. 

There is “shockingly little literature on Libya,” said Marc Lynch, associate professor of political science and international affairs and director of the Institute for Middle East Studies at George Washington University.

Still, Lynch and Frederic Wehrey, senior policy analyst at the RAND Corp., suggested five books for readers on Capitol Hill looking to put the current situation in Libya in context. 

A History of Modern Libya,” by Dirk Vandewalle, 2006

In less than 300 pages, this “foundational work” offers a standard political history of Libya, from the “trauma of the Italian occupation and the early hope that accompanied the Gadhafi coup d’etat,” Wehrey said. It also covers the subsequent political and economic developments that Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi generated, making it a complete and concise analytical overview of Libya’s contemporary history.

The State and Social Transformation in Tunisia and Libya,” by Lisa Anderson, 1987

An “old but good book,” Anderson’s work compares state-building in Libya and nearby Tunisia, Lynch said. Anderson, president of American University in Cairo, presents an in-depth historical analysis of the social and economic factors unique to the formation of states in both countries. There is also a special emphasis on the void left after the dissolution of the Italian occupation, which left Libya little hope for achieving a comprehensive institutional structure.  

Libya’s Qaddafi: The Politics of Contradiction,” by Mansour O. El-Kikhia, 1997

Author El-Kikhia was forced to flee Libya in the 1980s for speaking out against Gadhafi. Because of his personal history, Wehrey said, the book “might be a little painted and biased,” but he argues that it is an indispensable work nonetheless. El-Kikhia not only provides an informative account of how Gadhafi’s regime works, but he also paints a telling picture of the man who rules the country, including his ideology and his eccentricities.

The Libyan Paradox,” by Luis Martinez, 2007

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