On Saudi Arabia

Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines--and Future

House, Karen Elliot

Book - 2012
Average Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.
On Saudi Arabia
Random House, Inc.

From the Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter who has spent the last thirty years writing about Saudi Arabia—as diplomatic correspondent, foreign editor, and then publisher ofThe Wall Street Journal—an important and timely book that explores all facets of life in this shrouded Kingdom: its tribal past, its complicated present, its precarious future.

Through observation, anecdote, extensive interviews, and analysis Karen Elliot House navigates the maze in which Saudi citizens find themselves trapped and reveals the mysterious nation that is the world’s largest exporter of oil, critical to global stability, and a source of Islamic terrorists.

In her probing and sharp-eyed portrait, we see Saudi Arabia, one of the last absolute monarchies in the world, considered to be the final bulwark against revolution in the region, as threatened by multiple fissures and forces, its levers of power controlled by a handful of elderly Al Saud princes with an average age of 77 years and an extended family of some 7,000 princes. Yet at least 60 percent of the increasingly restive population they rule is under the age of 20.

The author writes that oil-rich Saudi Arabia has become a rundown welfare state. The public pays no taxes; gets free education and health care; and receives subsidized water, electricity, and energy (a gallon of gasoline is cheaper in the Kingdom than a bottle of water), with its petrodollars buying less and less loyalty. House makes clear that the royal family also uses Islam’s requirement of obedience to Allah—and by extension to earthly rulers—to perpetuate Al Saud rule.

Behind the Saudi facade of order and obedience, today’s Saudi youth, frustrated by social conformity, are reaching out to one another and to a wider world beyond their cloistered country. Some 50 percent of Saudi youth is on the Internet; 5.1 million Saudis are on Facebook.

To write this book, the author interviewed most of the key members of the very private royal family. She writes about King Abdullah’s modest efforts to relax some of the kingdom’s most oppressive social restrictions; women are now allowed to acquire photo ID cards, finally giving them an identity independent from their male guardians, and are newly able to register their own businesses but are still forbidden to drive and are barred from most jobs.

With extraordinary access to Saudis—from key religious leaders and dissident imams to women at university and impoverished widows, from government officials and political dissidents to young successful Saudis and those who chose the path of terrorism—House argues that most Saudis do not want democracy but seek change nevertheless; they want a government that provides basic services without subjecting citizens to the indignity of begging princes for handouts; a government less corrupt and more transparent in how it spends hundreds of billions of annual oil revenue; a kingdom ruled by law, not royal whim.

In House’s assessment of Saudi Arabia’s future, she compares the country today to the Soviet Union before Mikhail Gorbachev arrived with reform policies that proved too little too late after decades of stagnation under one aged and infirm Soviet leader after another. She discusses what the next generation of royal princes might bring and the choices the kingdom faces: continued economic and social stultification with growing risk of instability, or an opening of society to individual initiative and enterprise with the risk that this, too, undermines the Al Saud hold on power.

A riveting book—informed, authoritative, illuminating—about a country that could well be on the brink, and an in-depth examination of what all this portends for Saudi Arabia’s future, and for our own.

Baker & Taylor
A journalist draws on three decades of firsthand experience to profile contemporary Saudi Arabia, offering insight into its leaders, citizens, cultural complexities, and international prospects.

& Taylor

A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist from The Wall Street Journal draws on three decades of firsthand experience to profile the Saudi Arabia of today, offering insight into its leaders, citizens, cultural complexities and international prospects.

Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2012
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780307272164
Branch Call Number: 953.8 H
Characteristics: x, 308 p. : ill., map ; 25 cm.


From Library Staff

Tuesday, December 3.

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Jul 18, 2013
  • SEBoiko rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

One who beleives in God sees this life is short and he must live for the next life. Some others think this is the only life so they are corrupt and greedy.

Jul 18, 2013
  • SEBoiko rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

Draw the sword in their face and they will obey: sheath the sword and they will ask for more pay.

Jul 18, 2013
  • SEBoiko rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

Knowing when to yeild and when to fight is a survival instinct the founding ruler perfected - and passed to his sons.

Apr 05, 2013
  • SEBoiko rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

In oil-rich Saudi Arabia, good education is one thing money can not buy.

Apr 05, 2013
  • SEBoiko rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

The whole core premise of Wahhabi Islam - that men obey Allah and women obey men.

Apr 05, 2013
  • SEBoiko rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

Today's Saudi Arabia thus is less a unified nation state than a collection of tribes, regions, and Islamic factions that coexist in mutual suspicion and fear.

Apr 03, 2013
  • SEBoiko rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

When elephants fight, we gnats get crushed.

Apr 03, 2013
  • SEBoiko rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

"Ask not what you can do for your country but what your country can do for you", is the mentality of most Saudi youth.


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Jan 20, 2013
  • JCS3F rated this: 2.5 stars out of 5.

House makes a compelling case for a stagnant Saudi Arabia, calcified into a structure totally incompatible with modern times. Nothing about the monarchy, government, or religious establishment suggests that Saudi Arabia possesses the ingenuity to progress beyond the bounty of natural resources. That said, House's conclusion equating Saudi Arabia to the Soviet Union of the 1980's is premature and under developed. Aged leadership, a centrally managed economy, and bureaucracy is not enough of a parallel to suggest a shared fate. Saudi Arabia's energy abundance isn't likely to flag anytime soon, despite House's suggestion of 'peak oil', a theory regularly contradicted by new discoveries and improved production techniques. In a country built on the concepts of subservience and defense of the status quo, the fuel of petro-dollars should be plenty sufficient to keep Al Saud in power for years to come.


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