- Hardcover: 368 pages
- Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1 edition (September 15, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0312535740
- ISBN-13: 978-0312535742
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 56 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #729,211 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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City of Gold: Dubai and the Dream of Capitalism 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. The modern city-state of Dubai exists largely because two men willed it so. Through a combination of prescient investment of resources, grandiose vision and the freedoms of absolute rule, the late Sheikh Rashid and his son (and current ruler) Sheikh Mohammed transformed the backwater village into a global powerhouse erupting onto the earth. Mohammed's ideas are so stamped on the landscape that two of his poems are being written on the sea as a group of [artificial] islands. Dubai-based journalist Krane does a superb job of conveying the near-manic atmosphere swirling around the creation of the world's tallest building (half a mile high), first indoor ski slope (in a mall) and—incidentally—the world's largest carbon footprint, revealing the creativity and tolerance that characterize a city where 95% of its residents are foreigners, as well as the inevitable costs of such lavish ambition. Environmental needs have been ignored (another island was built atop a coral reserve, and migrant laborers and sex workers face routine abuse and exploitation. A fascinating study of a small nation that has taken the ideas of modernization and capitalism to their outer limits. (Sept.)
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“The history of a little Emirate’s epic transformation, from an impoverished pearling enclave, to the shining city on the hill, is revealed in full detail. Jim Krane is a great reporter, whose journalistic credentials are brought to bear in this unique work that is infused with facts, ample history, emotion and stunning narratives. He leads his audience into the nooks and crannies of the "unknown" Dubai, to reveal the humanity and intrigue that pulsates beneath the surface. He shows how powerful persons with a global reach collaborated to build an economic gem out of the desert. This is a fast-moving Arabian tale, but very much a modern one; not only laden with facts, it is a guidebook and cautionary tale for other developing nations in their quest to rapidly achieve the Western dream.”-- Justin Dargin, Harvard University - author of Desert Dreams and The Dolphin Project: The Development of a Gulf Gas Initiative
"Dubai is fortunate to have as skilled and passionate a chronicler as Jim Krane. The city leaps off these pages with panache, brassiness, splendor and suffering. There is no better book about Dubai, and there may never be." --Jon Alterman, Director of the Middle East Program at CSIS and author of The Vital Triangle: China, The United States and The Middle East
“How did one of the planet’s last unexplored wastelands, for millennia ignored by history, become in just a few short decades the playground of the unimaginably rich? In City of Gold, Jim Krane traces the fascinating and long overlooked history of Dubai, from pirate battles and eccentric British explorers to the glittering spires of a metropolis that emerged from nowhere, in prose as spare and enchanting as a desert fairy tale.”--James Hider, author of The Spiders of Allah: Travels of an Unbeliever on the Frontline of Holy War and Mideast correspondent The Times of London
“A marvelous book. Beautifully written! Jim Krane has written a fascinating account of a Middle East we rarely get to hear about. Jim Krane’s book on Dubai’s rise and fall -- in this era of global financial crisis -- is a cautionary tale for us all.”--Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR Middle East Correspondent
Top customer reviews
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Krane writes well and interviews widely but perhaps his greatest strength is his sensitivity to a textured narrative, of not being satisfied with a simple story, in presenting angles and opinions that are often contradictory. Not only does this make his story richer, but you're never quite sure how he thinks of any of this until the very end. The long-time resident finds himself seduced by Dubai, a city that developed so quickly that it's no longer in the modern age, but "somewhere out in the future."
The unstated assumption among Dubai observers seems to be that of most economists, politicians and other social engineers - life is better when you have more money and more stuff. It is therefore the job of those in power to enable people to make and accumulate more. And since Dubai is doing that quite well, it must be a swell place. Thanks to the generosity of the Sheikhs, Emiratis have one of the highest per capita incomes on the planet. They have all the stuff they could ever want, including literacy and higher life expectancy. But where is the benefit of living longer when your life amounts to little more than shopping? When your work is largely meaningless, a government job that is often nothing but a welfare appointment, a title to justify paying you a wage? Where's the benefit in a house full of great stuff when you've lost your culture and identity? When you are a minority in your own country?
Krane talks to a 39 year old mother who during her lifetime saw Dubai grow from a town in which boys and girls played together each afternoon in the creek, to a heaving metropolis in which you can't safely walk across the street because of the traffic. Children spend more time indoors in schools and in houses separated by wide roads. People work longer. "Before, life had a taste. Now nothing makes you happy. Before, you could buy one mobile phone and you are happy. Now you buy five mobiles in a year and you're not happy. There is nothing making people happy now."
It's not just the Emiratis who are dissatisfied. The laborers building and maintaining the city live in crowded conditions, working long hours in often dangerous jobs for little money, the threat of deportation preventing them from organizing to improve their condition. There are of course many poor people in many countries across the world, and it is true that many laborers make better money in Dubai than they would at home. But what kind of "vision" of development ignores the suffering of so many of its residents? Before the 2009 market collapse Dubai had bank-loads of money, some of which could have been diverted from the latest vanity project to help those who make important contributions to the state and society. Where is the compassion? What kind of vision of the future is this?
If Dubai means anything at all, it's a call to start questioning our assumptions. What's wrong with less stuff and a more measured pace of development? Won't compassion for the environment, an equitable division of benefits, and a meaningful personal stake in society and in one's own life make living richer than another hotel, shopping mall, or skyscraper? For a country that's actually trying to do something different, to break out of the present and into something possibly futuristic, look to Bhutan, a small developing country with few resources which measures progress in terms of GDH - Gross Domestic Happiness.
Krane’s intention is not to write a piece of scholarship, but to dig deeper and more comprehensively into Dubai’s story than the guidebooks and television documentaries are able to. A theme throughout the book is the drive, the vision, the energy, and the demanding personality of Dubai’s ruler, along with that of his father, from whom, via his brother, he inherited the city’s rulership. (The brother, Sheikh Maktoum, actually inherited the throne, but Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler since 2006, was given more and more authority by his brother, who was less inclined by temperament to exercise the authority to which he was entitled by birthright.)
Dubai’s development, while rapid, flashy, headline-grabbing, and impressive in many ways, has not been without its problems, some of which will continue to bedevil its planners and raise questions about its sustainability. Though Dubai’s openness, tolerance, and business-friendly environment have a lot to do with its success, so does a massive population imbalance. Accurate data are hard to come by, but perhaps 90 percent of the population are expatriates, living and working in Dubai because of the wages or because it is more stable than their home countries, but not deeply rooted there. (There are exceptions, families that immigrated two or three generations ago and whose current generation knows Dubai better than their “home” country. But despite their extended residency, citizenship is out of reach.) The concentration of privilege, wealth, and authority in the hands of Emiratis, while nearly all the private-sector work is done by expats, has led to a dysfunctional relationship between work and income, which raises questions about what would happen if the ready supply of skilled and unskilled expats willing to relocate were to dry up, whether because of political turbulence in the region, improvement in wages back home, or better offers elsewhere. There is also the issue of Dubai’s carbon footprint and resource usage, which are among the highest per-capita in the world and are way out of sync with its population size or its ability to balance the resource depletion that is part of its development story. Finally, there is the tricky question of whether or not Dubai’s rise has been too one-sidedly focused on economic growth, to the detriment of development in other areas that take longer and cannot be tied so easily to a financial bottom line. As Krane puts it, Dubai “has conquered the physical realm. But it’s nowhere close to becoming a contributor to civilization and the arts. Maturity requires attending to music, art, literature, journalism, and research, along with political pluralism.” These things take time, of course. The question is, does Dubai have the patience that such developments require? And perhaps more important, are those who make the decisions interested in seeing these facets of modern culture develop without fetters? And if they do develop, if Dubai is able to truly nurture a civil society that can incorporate its richly-varied demographic profile, what will this do its top-down traditions? In contemplating the possibility of a “new golden age” reminiscent of the cultural and scientific flowering of the so-called Golden Age of Islam from the 8th to 13th centuries, Krane observes: “The sheikh’s ultimate success could reduce his family’s governing role. The human spirit he seeks to liberate will fly into politics. The new Córdoba cannot bloom without more freedoms of speech and press, so that thinkers can challenge their leader’s decision. It doesn’t mean Dubai must adopt democracy, but it calls for institutions where people can debate and criticize.”
This is the best telling of Dubai’s story that I have read. It's not quite up-to-date (2009, with a 2010 afterword), but you can't fault Krane for that. The books by Christopher Davidson, Durham University scholar and prolific author of books on the UAE, are useful in their own way, but they are dry and plodding, and his 2009 book on Dubai had other serious shortcomings as well. Krane, like Davidson, has scholarly credibility (advanced degrees from Columbia and Cambridge, and a research position at Rice University), but while Davidson’s books have the tone of a jilted lover, Krane comes across as a knowledgeable yet skeptical observer. He’s the one to start with.
Most recent customer reviews
Got the answer to a lot of unanswered questions reading this book.
Good and easy read for sure.