Extreme reader: Meet the man with a 40,000-book library in the UAE

The current cultural advisor for the government of Abu Dhabi, Nusseibeh moved from Jerusalem to the United Arab Emirates in 1967

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They say if one encounters a man of rare intellect, one should ask him what books he reads. But with more than 40,000 books in his library, Zaki Nusseibeh - who has influenced Emirati culture for more 47 years - would struggle to answer that question.

“My library can be considered as one of the largest in the Middle East… I developed it throughout the years to gather almost 40,000 books that are split between my house in Al-Ain and the one in Abu Dhabi,” Nusseibeh, described as the ‘finest man of Al-Ain,’ told Al Arabiya News.


The current cultural advisor for the government of Abu Dhabi, Nusseibeh moved from Jerusalem to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 1967 with a “small collection of books.”

At that time, buying books in the Gulf was difficult, but Nusseibeh did not let geographical constraints prevent him from expanding his library.

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“When I was away, I used to collect books in a continuous and regular way on all topics that were relevant to me,” Nusseibeh said. “I would beg friends to bring me books and ask them to send them to me.”

He added: “Now I even have a library in my house in London … Anywhere I move, I need to have my small library.”

In addition to his passion for books, Nusseibeh - as culture minister and translator for the late UAE President Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan - was pushed to “own and read a large number of books.”


Nusseibeh said he used to read in various languages including French, English, Russian and German, but the easiest for him remained his mother tongue Arabic.

Nusseibeh - who was as an advisor for the International Arab Prize for Fiction, and a member the Council of Administration of the Paris Sorbonne University in Abu Dhabi - has never written his own manuscript.

“I’ve translated books, and I was a former editor and publisher, but I never wrote anything,” he said. “I started considering writing my own book recently… It would focus on the developments of the UAE in the past 50 years.”

Nusseibeh cited the Quran as among his favorite books, which he considers a “constant” source of inspiration and knowledge.

“The Quran is without doubt a book I enjoy reading almost daily and learn from it,” he said. “I also enjoy reading dictionaries as I can always learn from them.”


Nusseibeh said he developed a computer program to catalogue his collection just like in public libraries.

“I want to make my collection available to the public or donate the books to a UAE-based university. I need to make them available for everyone,” he said, adding that he was trying to gather “all the books that someone can need or can learn from in all categories.”

Nusseibeh said he encourages “all parents to take the time to educate their children and make them love reading, because reading is the key to the future.”

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