It will be cheering, one of these days, to read about the effect of oil wealth on its newly-rich Middle Eastern owners without hearing tales of Arabs defecating in Kensington flats or building white elephants in Abu Dhabi. After a slew of such random tidbits, Duncan, a British journalist, moves on to Iran where, following some thumbnail history, he records his interviews with the Shah (lordly in '76, ""chastened"" in late '78), the Empress (impressively discreet), the Shah's powerful twin sister (question: ""Are you powerful?""), the head of the dread secret police, SAVAK--the allegations against which he perfunctorily dismisses (though without reference to Reza Baraheni's damning The Crowned Cannibals which is listed in his bibliography). Most of this, of course, is beside the point now: Duncan has superficially updated his long section on Iran to take note of the Shah's ouster, but in confining himself--here as elsewhere--to skimming the scum from the surface, he has learned nothing that would explain it. And, as he proceeds, Tehran's chaotic traffic and erratic officialdom is matched by Saudi Arabia's hypocrisy about sex and liquor and its ""medieval"" punishments; by sloth and snobbishness in tiny, contemptuously rich Kuwait--with, everywhere, extravagance, corruption, waste, debauchery in evidence to a greater or lesser degree and greedy, callous Western businessmen in equally unattractive attendance. About the total impact Duncan can only conclude (apropos of Oman): ""The money rush builds expectations which it can never satisfy and creates a demand for freedom incompatible with the Sultan's autocracy."" But even that facile assumption is questionable.