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Gerard Russell

Consultant, keynote speaker, Arabic speaker and author

Balanced Rocks
Gerard Russell


Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms

ISIL wants to kill them, and Western history books have forgotten them. This book describes seven endangered religions in the Middle East that have roots in the distant past.

Despite its reputation for religious intolerance, the Middle East has long sheltered many distinctive and strange faiths: one regards the Greek prophets as incarnations of God, another reveres Lucifer in the form of a peacock, and yet another believes that their followers are reincarnated beings who have existed in various forms for thousands of years.


These religions represent the last vestiges of the magnificent civilizations in ancient history: Persia, Babylon, Egypt in the time of the Pharaohs. Their followers have learned how to survive foreign attacks and the perils of assimilation. But today, with the Middle East in turmoil, they face greater challenges than ever before.

Gerard Russell - Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms

"One of the most interesting books I've read in the past three years"

- Bill Clinton

In Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms, former diplomat Gerard Russell ventures to the distant, nearly impassable regions where these mysterious religions still cling to survival. He lives alongside the Mandaeans and Ezidis of Iraq, the Zoroastrians of Iran, the Copts of Egypt, and others. He learns their histories, participates in their rituals, and comes to understand the threats to their communities. As more and more of their youth flee to the West in search of safety and prosperity, these religions face the dire possibility of extinction.

Map of forgotten kingdoms

Learn more about the Forgotten Kingdoms

The Zoroastrians Of Iran

Explore endangered religions

isis and the middle easts vanishing religious minorities

An illustrated account, with commentary by the author

Praise & Reviews

“This fascinating survey of threatened and vanishing minority religions across the broader Middle East, written in an even tone sprinkled with wonder as [Russell] unearths the esoteric detail of often secretive and syncretic traditions, comes at that piteous moment when sects such as the mysterious Yazidis face extinction from Sunni extremists rampaging across the plains of Nineveh in Iraq.”

— Financial Times

gerard russell

About Gerard Russell

Gerard Russell worked for 14 years as a British and United Nations diplomat, and has lived in Cairo, Jerusalem, Baghdad, Kabul, and Jeddah. He also pioneered work by the British government to address Middle Eastern audiences in Arabic, in 2001 to 2003. He was awarded an MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for this work in 2002. He speaks Arabic and Dari. He is a graduate of Oxford University, has an M.A. in philosophy from London University, and was a Research Fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights at the Harvard Kennedy School from 2010 to 2011. 


Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms is his first book, and took him four and a half years to write, including journeys to eight different countries.


He has written for the New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and elsewhere. He is a regular contributor to the Catholic Herald and still makes regular appearances on Arabic television. An interview with him on BBC's Meet the Author can be seen here.


He now runs a company in London specialising in intercultural communications.

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