by Karen Elliott House

Reviewer Rating:


​Karen Elliott House, a former political reporter who won the Pulitzer Prize, reported on politics in Saudi Arabia for many years. During that time, she says, she became more and more fascinated by the "ordinary" Saudis she met ​​and by their culture. It reminded her of the conservative, Christian, Texan society in which she'd been raised. Over the course of five years, she traveled throughout Saudi Arabia, talking to hundreds of people. She says she "interviewed paupers as well as princes, conservative Muslim imams as well as modern reformers, young as well as elderly, and women as well as men."

The result is an interesting book that provides diverse, personal views of Saudi Arabia​ today​​ and also includes key historical, political, and economic context to understand current situations and people's viewpoints. The last chapter covers several possible futures for Saudi, depending on what path the royal family takes to rule and address current problems. It also directly addresses the implications of those different futures for the U.S.

On Saudi Arabia seeks to understand the country on Saudis' own terms, and much of what House says about Saudi society agrees with the perspectives of Saudis I know. Yet the book is also clearly written from an American context, and this helped me better get a big picture view of how their perspectives fit into the political and cultural history of the country. There were a few times I felt House crossed the line as a writer, criticizing the culture or people in very stereotypically American terms. Overall, however, I found her respectful of her subjects and understanding of the culture.

This book was a breath of fresh air and a highly readable education on one of the U.S.'s closest allies in the Middle East. Highly recommended.


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