Celebrated for his fearless humor and astute critique of the Arab world’s political landscape, Bassem Youssef played a pioneering role in post-revolution Egyptian media. Born in Cairo in 1974, he trained as a heart surgeon before shifting his focus to comedy, and launched the groundbreaking television show Al-Bernameg (“The Program”) in the wake of the Arab Spring.
Modeled after The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Youssef’s platform became a powerful force for satire, scrutinizing the actions and policies of Egypt’s political leaders. While his sharp wit and unwavering commitment to free speech made the program wildly popular, it also led to clashes with authorities, causing the show to be shut down after just three seasons.
Since moving to America nearly a decade ago, Youssef has continued to engage in political and social commentary, compiling his insights on the Egyptian Revolution and the modern Middle East into the 2017 book, Revolution for Dummies: Laughing Through the Arab Spring. His work remains a symbol of courage and resilience in the face of repression and a testament to the enduring power of satire in shaping public discourse.
In a reading list for The Week, Youssef shared 6 books that have most influenced his life and craft. From George Orwell to Howard Zinn, they underscore the role of religion and media propaganda in popular ideology. Explore his recommendations below, and dive into the bookshelves of other iconic comedians here.
Bassem Youssef’s Reading List
“This is the ‘duh’ choice. It’s everyone’s favorite book. But for me it is even more special. What I have seen in Egypt and how the media manipulated people on a daily basis might be a chapter out of Orwell’s book — a chapter that is not even well written.” -BY
“It always fascinates me how some people choose to stand for truth in the face of organized, deeply rooted propaganda. I come from a region where questioning the ‘official history’ of our region, our religion, and our countries is frowned upon. Propaganda serves many purposes, one of which is making people falsely feel good about themselves. That’s why a book like this is not welcomed by many.” -BY
Forcing God’s Hand by Grace Halsell
“This 1999 book opened my eyes to how religion and Rapture theory ran deep in the rhetoric and ideology of right-wing America. In a country that has a constitution separating church and state, religion had a much deeper impact than I’d thought. Using scripture to steer national policy? Sounds very familiar to me.” -BY
America by Jon Stewart
“Watching Stewart’s show was something, but reading this textbook-spoofing history of the United States reveals just how hilarious and twisted were the minds behind the show.” -BY
God and the Fascists by Karlheinz Deschner
“A must-read book about the religious support given by the Vatican to Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, and Croatia’s Ante Pavelic prior to and during World War II. The rhetoric that was used then is no different from what we are hearing now.” -BY
The China Study by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell II
“This is the only nonpolitical book on my list, but it changed my life. The book, based on a two-decades-long study, busts common myths about food, making the case that humans do not need meat or other animal products. The argument is all built on sound research and medical testing, not fake science.” -BY
(via The Week; photo by Mustapha Azab)
Looking for an Amazon alternative? Support local, independent booksellers by shopping Bassem Youssef’s reading list – and hundreds of other celebrity book recommendations – through Radical Reads’ Bookshop page.