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Showing 1-10 of 125 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 164 reviews
on March 30, 2015
Apparently the author is a Wall Street Journal editor or used to be and was stationed in Saudi Arabia, and she came to my attention when she did an op-ed in the WSJ after the King died. The Middle East is in such flux, and obviously Saudi Arabia is a big player, and I really didn't know much about it, because, although it's in the news a lot, most of that is shallow or worse. The book was actually kind of eye-opening. Assuming what she says is true, Saudi Arabia is a mess from a Western perspective. As a Westerner, it's almost hard to believe how different its society and politics are. It's non-fiction, so it's not a page-turner, but she writes well, and it seems to me that she does a good job doing what the book was meant to do.
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This is a most important and timely book for all of us to read. It is amazing how little we knew about the countries so important in the world today.

House has long experience of the kingdom, and she paints it in very negative terms. She describes it as a theocratic dictatorship in which the rulers are only interested in maintaining their power while the population twists in the wind.

According to her, the young population is unhappy and struggling to modernize, while the rulers traditionally trade goodies for the populace in return for obedience at home. As far as the USA goes, we give security while they supply oil.

It's truly terrible that we support such an evil regime without even understanding what we do.
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on May 5, 2017
Thorough, thoughtful and pretty fairly balanced look at what has happened in Saudi since the al Saud family has ruled since the 1930s. The conflict between modernizers and religious conservatives is stalling reforms. Can a new, energetic leader emerge or will one geriatric Prince after another die on the job before solidifying reforms.the book is well written and engaging
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on August 14, 2013
Karen Eliott House's analysis of the Saudi Kingdom is colorful, authoritative, and startling in its conclusions. Among the strengths of House's examination of this troubled American Ally is the experience she gained from living in Saudi Arabia for several years over two decades, and in her use of interviews to lend depth and interest to her theses. The variety of those interviews, from Saudi Princes to the poorest of citizens lends support to her belief that, as a western woman, she has greater access to Saudi Society than a western man would. Many Saudi men met her, for while she is a woman, she is not a muslim woman, which made a great difference, And, of course, as a woman, she had access to Saudi women, who are forbidden to have contact with any unrelated male.

Eliott presents many issues that may surprise her readers. Poverty is widespread in the Saudi population, and the Royal Family maintains power through handouts, but these handouts discourage ambition and promote a sense of entitlement. At the same time, the Saudi Royals keep the lid on religious fundamentalists by accommodation and bribery. Another ominous problem is the aging of the first generation of Saudi Princes, the youngest of whom is now over 60 years old. Unlike many monarchies, the Saudi royal family has arranged succession among the approximately 37 sons of the Saudi founder, Ibn Saud. As the end of the line approaches for this generation of brothers and half-brothers, succession will soon fall to the third generation. But which branch? An inter-family conflict is almost guaranteed. Eliott continues to delineate threat after threat--oil reserves are exaggerated, attempting to broaden the base of the economy has failed, citizens and clerics simmer with anger and resentment. Eliott explains each issue clearly, marshals numerous facts, excerpts appropriate interviews, and supplies interesting personal anecdotes. While I would wish for better editing to more tightly organize the many subjects and to eliminate repetition, this is a quick read. Eliott told me much that I did not know. The conclusion that Saudi Arabia is teetering on the edge of becoming a failed state is both startling and frightening. One can only dread the consequences of such a failure. This is an important book which will help us to accept and to prepare for this eventuality.
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on December 13, 2012
Karen Elliott House has all the qualifications - and then some - to write the authoritative book on present day Saudi Arabia. She has reported on the Near East for more than 30 years. She won a Pulitzer Prize for it. She was Foreign Editor of the Wall Street Journal for years and its Publisher for more than ten. After her retirement in 2006 she spent the next five years visiting Saudi Arabia, observing, talking, and analyzing what she saw, what she heard and what she had learned - all in preparation for this book. She has huge demonstrated journalistic talent, years of experience and she writes with all the intelligence, authority, and clarity of someone with all those qualifications; and, the wise guys who have belittled her to the contrary notwithstanding, what she says deserves our attention; and she says it beautifully in this book, which is recommended to you with highest praise.

This is not the place to try to tell you what she saw and what she has concluded. There's too much to tell. You should read it yourself. . There are, however, some things to mention.

First is the Al Saud, the Royal family descended from Abdul Assiz ibn Saud who had conquered Arabia in the early twentieth century, sold essential drilling rights for $250,000 to Standard Oil of California in 1932, then oversaw the rise of the Kingdom to supremacy in the oil markets of the world, and with time fathered 44 sons by several wives and now has left more than 700 male heirs - sons, grandsons, great grandsons, great, great grandsons, all of whom basically "own" the whole country - what's on the surface and what's below - and who keep things under some kind of control through throwing money at problems, pitting elements of opposition against each other and subsidizing and supporting a strict Wahhabi form of Islam which keeps women shrouded and veiled, uneducated and at home, and forbids alcohol, music, representation of the human form in pictures (no movies!), and insists on all men praying five times a day - in the mosque if possible - the first call to prayer being at dawn.

Then there are the workers - those who do the janitorial work, pick up the garbage (whenever), clean the toilets etc. They are foreigners - from other Muslim countries, from Bangladesh, the Philippines, India. One third of all workers in Arabia are from out of country.

Most importantly there is religion, the strict Islamic dogmatism of Wahhabi Islam which virtually forbids women to have any life of their own, which has strict limits on social behavior of every kind and which insists on absolute obedience to its many demands. Obedience, it asserts, opens the way to heaven. Lack of obedience means one is in effect an infidel and worth nothing.

Ms. House illustrates the point by telling the story of Lulu a Saudi woman in her early forties who lives with her eight children on the second floor of a modest two story house with her husband - half time. The first floor is occupied by her husband's other family - and older wife and older seven children - with whom he spends the other half of his time. He's a professor of Hadith, the detailed recounting of the many stories of Mohammed and his works. Lulu does her own work, almost never leaves the house (and then swaddled in black head to toe and with her husband - no other man) and strictly oversees the religious instruction of her children. There's only one TV and that's tuned to the religious channel which broadcasts religious information and bans any appearance of women in its programming. The one computer is used only for religious instruction. She's happy with this life, looking forward to heaven. She would have no other. She is a genuinely devout decent woman who wants only to do the will of Allah, what Allah demands and this is where her happiness is found. She's quite content. Her happiness is in Allah and her transit to heaven. That's all she wants; and - come to think of it - it would really be nice from to time to get away from the computer, the internet, social media, alcohol, TV, the telephone, movies, drugs, take-out, fast food, where-to-go-on-vacation, what-to-wear, and Washington doubletalk. But only from time to time, but she does it on a permanent basis and enjoys it. It's her life in Islam (The story of Lulu is better told in the book than here, but I think you get the point: The dogmatic, detailed, complicated, traditional exercise of the Saudi brand of Islam is first and foremost in the minds of a majority of Saudis. They are happy with it because they are going to Heaven and without it the rest of us are doomed - but as infidels that's our problem.)
Finally there is the problem of the future. The al Saud must agree on a modern leader from with the group of those hundreds of descendants of the old warrior and must confront the tide of modern civilization with all its non Islamic traits, its openness and its independent non-tribal ways which, despite all their efforts, laps ever higher and more insistently at the walls of their family and their civilization.

Friends, this is a thinking persons book, beautifully written, authoritative, current and very very important. Highest marks!

JBP12/1/12
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on August 26, 2016
Given her background and the number of years that Ms. House spent in Saudi Arabia, she gives us a peek at the mystery that has become one of our biggest allies in the Middle East, although sometimes a fickle one.

For any student of history and world events, On Saudi Arabia gives what is a concise look at the whole of the kingdom and the challenges that it faces. Probably as no other country in the Middle East right now, Saudi Arabia faces the greatest challenges to maintain its status quo in the days ahead.
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on May 29, 2016
This is a terrific book. As I struggle to understand the reasons for developments in the Middle East and Islam, this book provided me with some pieces for the puzzle. It explains how Saudi Arabia is different from other Arab states, how it became that way, the forces that keep it in place and how those forces are now slipping. As the author is a woman, we are fortunate to have her insights into the invisible female half of Saudi Arabian society. I strongly recommend this book for anyone with an interest in world events.
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on December 27, 2013
This is an incredible introduction to a fascinating land. I felt the first 200 pages were simply a blast, especially since I am a neophyte to the subject so it was incredibly informative. Unfortunately, later on the book it reverts from a survey of history and royal family history into a sociology and current living summary. That part I found incredibly lacking since there are plenty of other sources that show us how is life in Saudi Arabia. What I was seeking were the initial pages showing the history, the royal family, the difficult regional politics, Saudi’s relations to their neighbors, and etc.
I found part of this in another book titled Lawrance In Arabia (mostly the history part). Perhaps my rating is harsh, but this felt like two book, one 5 star book for beginners like myself, and a second half that is a one star survey on current living conditions that I found pretty worthless.
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on December 10, 2012
5 stars says I love it, but that would be too strong. It is a highly competent work on a difficult subject. It takes a lot to even understand these people, let alone to be able to relate it to a completely different culture: the West. It is difficult to comprehend how a culture can be almost completely based on a religion that was an atempt to deal with the brutal, desert, nomadic tribal warfare of the time and that is now trying to be true to that and to deal with a different reality, not to mention urban life on top of that. The author does her best to bring out the inconsistencies that the people see and how it affects them. It would be interesting to see how they work through that and come out the other end a people integrated with the rest of the world, living in peace or at least coexisting with the world and living meaningful lives, but I doubt any of us alive today will live that long. Hope seems dim at this point.
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on January 5, 2013
Perhaps the most stunning things about On Saudi Arabia is the ability the author had to really get inside the culture and provide the reader with such great detail. Most people as hard as they try will never have a chance to visit Saudi Arabia as they don't offer tourist visas. So when I saw that it made it to the NY Times 100 Notable Books of 2012, I quickly picked it up and devoured it in a day. I liked how the author gave the reader a very detailed look at the struggles women face in the Kingdom as well as the dearth of opportunities available for the 20-24 year old citizens. The Kingdom really has a lot of challenges on its hands as it continues to realize the majority of its revenues from its massive oil business led by ARAMCO. I also thought it was interesting to see how on one hand the Al Saud leaders let ARAMCO run its own show even to the extent of letting people on its compound have religious freedom and turn an eye to satellite television while the rest of the country suffers under much more stringent laws. Overall a very good overview of the country and a must read for anyone wanting to know more about this very hard to visit part of the world.
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