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On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines--and Future Paperback – June 4, 2013

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On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines--and Future + Saudi Arabia on the Edge: The Uncertain Future of an American Ally (Council on Foreign Relations Books (Potomac Books)) + Inside the Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (June 4, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307473287
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307473288
  • Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 5.6 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (114 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #108,513 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


A New York Times, Washington Post, and Newsweek Best Book of the Year

“A profoundly important work. . . . An unblemished and objective assessment of the Saudi worldview.”
The Huffington Post

“Few books about Saudi Arabia will chill the reader as artfully as Karen Elliott House’s. . . . Provocative . . . a must-read for anyone interested in human rights, global politics and the future of the weakening Saudi state.”
San Francisco Chronicle

“Recommended reading for all those seeking a new perspective on one of the world’s most consequential societies.”
Henry A. Kissinger

“[House] skillfully unveils this inscrutable place for regional specialists and general readers alike.”
The New York Times Book Review

“Fascinating. . . . An important book that offers insights into the kingdom’s fault lines, as well as gentle suggestions for a positive diplomacy.”
The Washington Post
“The vignettes [House] assembles are not only entertaining and lucidly drawn, but also offer a rare glimpse into a world that is normally closed to Western reporters. . . . Eloquent and timely. . . . Presenting these issues in a readable yet serious book is a rare feat indeed, and she should be commended for it.”
The New Republic
“House demonstrates an unparalleled understanding of the dynamics of Saudi society. Her extraordinary access to Saudis from all walks of life and her keen insights . . . greatly enrich the reader’s understanding.”
—Senator Susan Collins (Maine), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
“A gem of reporting on one of the hardest stories to crack. . . . [House] is one of the wiliest and most determined newspaperwomen of her generation. . . . Illuminating. . . . Masterful.”
The New York Sun
“A valuable assessment of where the kingdom is and where it might go. A stimulating and worthwhile read.”
—George P. Shultz
“A book that future Saudi leaders should read carefully. It exposes incisively and dispassionately the social contradictions and the potential political vulnerabilities of contemporary Saudi Arabia. . . . Timely and truly important.”
—Zbigniew Brzezinski, former United States National Security Advisor

“Revealing and impressively reported . . . House's 30-plus years' experience in one of the least accessible countries makes us see, hear, and experience Saudi Arabia like a local.”
—Tina Brown, The Daily Beast, "Favorite Books of 2012"

“A deeply reported look at an increasingly complicated and fragile society.”
The Kansas City Star

“The internal contradictions of a medieval theocracy in thrall to modern-day petrocapitalism give Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist House ample material . . . Illuminating . . . cogently written.”
Publishers Weekly

“An incisive analysis of divisive dynamics inside the world’s most important supplier of oil. House asks hard questions about the future of Saudi Arabia.”
—Graham Allison, Director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University

“Well-researched, informative. . . . House succeeds in capturing the diversity of Saudi society, painting a more complex picture than the caricature of oil wells and extreme wealth.”

About the Author

Karen Elliott House is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin. She studied and taught at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics and was a senior fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. House lives in Princeton, New Jersey, with her husband, Peter R. Kann, and their children.

More About the Author

Karen Elliott House (1947-) was born in Matador, Texas, population 900. She earned a BJ degree at UT Austin where she discovered the world of news reporting on the student newspaper. She was a reporter, foreign editor and finally publisher of The Wall Street Journal, where she won a Pulitzer Prize in 1984 for her reporting on the Middle East. Her first book, "On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines--and Future," published by Knopf in 2012 is a portrait of Saudi society and culture and examines the fragility of the ruling regime. The book repesents three decades of reporting in this shrouded kingdom.

Customer Reviews

Author Karen Elliot spent decades living in Saudi Arabia and writing this book.
L. Bravim
If I could recommend only one book for foreigners to read to get some understanding of Saudi Arabia, this would be it.
Stephen G. Franks
The book is very well written,very informative without being dry and very well researched.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

124 of 135 people found the following review helpful By zashibis on October 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This wasn't what I was hoping for at all.

Striving to be objective, I will say that the book could serve as a good primer for those who have never been to Saudi but are seeking to understand some of the basic issues facing the House of Saud and its subjects in 2012. With chapters devoted to the roles of religion, women, royalty, education, jihadis, and poverty (among other issues) it succeeds in providing a broad and mostly accurate sketch of Saudi society and the challenges it faces. For people thinking of coming to KSA to work, or for foreign policy generalists not terribly familiar with Arabian peninsula, Ms. House's book provides a solid overview of the complexities of Saudi life, written in breezy style clearly aimed at the general reader.

On the other hand, those seeking a deeper level of analysis of the situation in the Kingdom are likely to come away disappointed, as I did. Having spent several years living and working in Saudi Arabia, it didn't take me long before I realized that this book wasn't written for anyone intimately acquainted with the Kingdom or, generally, with Middle Eastern history or politics. Anyone who's spent even a few weeks in Saudi Arabia will have made many of the same observations Ms. House makes, and the level analysis never goes much deeper than the informed generalizations of a long lead article in the Economist or Foreign Affairs. For a book that purports to have been based upon "hundreds" of interviews, this is pretty light-weight stuff.

Worse, some of it is plain silly. When Ms. House latches onto a metaphor, such as Saudi Arabia as an inescapable "labyrinth," you can be sure she'll lash you with it until you want to scream "block that metaphor!!
Read more ›
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44 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Wulfstan TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 24, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Karen House, the Pulitzer Prize winning Wall Street Journal writer, uses her insider and intimate knowledge of Saudi Arabia and it's people to take us on a surprising tour of the mysterious Kingdom.

Karen shows that the people of the Kingdom are heavily dependant on government subsidies, and the government is almost entirely dependent on oil income.

King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud may rule, but there is also a Byzantine bureaucracy powered by old desert nomad tribes and religious leaders This hampers any movement towards progressivism. The primary educational system, except for the very rich, is heavily dependant on Wahhabi- Islamic studies, which leaves the Kingdom behind in this modern techo world. It also has been accused of propagating hate.

The nation is also hampered by it's rampant sexism. Altho the author manages to get access quite well, men still hold nearly 90% of the jobs that are filled by Citizens. Hopefully, this is changing, women now are the majority of college graduates.

The author does not restrict her investigations to the rich and powerful. She delves into the almost unknown (at least to westerners) world of the poor in this rich nation.

Fascinating, informative, well written.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By James Mitchell on October 7, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I enjoyed the copious anecdotes... the author has clearly conducted a massive amount of primary research and has an informed opinion about the values, attitudes, and beliefs of the Saudi people. (Which, lo and behold, are not homogenous.) However, I found the tone of the book shifted from factual journalism in the beginning, to opinion-editorial by the end. Ms. House clearly has informed opinions, but I would have preferred if she simply laid out the facts and the data, rather than telling me what to think.

I worked in Saudi Arabia 4 years ago, and I have recently returned, and the nation's progress appears to be on an upward trajectory. Perhaps my assessment is more superficial than her assessment - my contacts with the Saudi people do not have the breadth and depth of her primary research - but I simply don't have the pessimism that I perceived in her book (esp. the latter portions).

Her data and analysis has made me second guess my optimism; however, I think she would have done a better job of making me reconsider my views if she hadn't displayed such strong opinions towards the end of the book, because I wonder if she has some strong biases that cloud her judgement.

I think a more accurate title of her book would be, "On Saudi Arabia's Fault Lines: Its Princes, People, Past, Princes, Religion, Princes, and Future"
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Riggwelter on October 5, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
As someone who has lived in Saudi Arabia for many years I can attest that Ms. Elliott House has been able to succinctly capture many of the various forces that are at play in Saudi Arabia in an accurate and compelling way. Her breadth of source material from the halls of power down to the average person on the street reflect a rare ability to get people to trust her and let them share their honest feelings and opinions. The fact that the book takes into accounts the very latest events is also refreshing, as most/many other books on the subject of Saudi Arabia do not take current events into account. All in all an excellent read and one I can recommend without reservation.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By American Reader on November 15, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Karen Elliott House has clearly researched her subject matter and knows Saudi Arabia, at least as well as a Westerner that, presumably, does not speak Arabic can. Her book provides good insight into the history of the formation of the kingdom, and its political pecularities.

The weakness in this book is the book organization of content within chapters. The reader often feels that he is rereading, again and again, the same points, being driven home far too many times. The writing is redundant and it becomes boring it is so repetitive. It would have been more interesting to make the point once, and then delve deeper. The other weakness to the book is its broad generalizations about various segments of society.

Karen Elliott House has provided the reader not knowing much about Saudi Arabai, like me, a nice broad overview of the various important subjects of the nation. However, this book is limited in its depth and is mildly irritating as examples of certain people in society seem to be generalized about all of their same sex, class, and position.

A good effort and nice research, but the editor could have helped her make this book even better..
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