The Middle East seen vividly through the eyes of Western expatriates drawn to the area for reasons that range from moneymaking to husband-hunting, from humanitarianism to scholarship. Dickey, Newsweek's Paris Bureau Chief, sketches splendid portraits of such colorful personalities as the aged Wilfred Thesiger, who, after years spent exploring Arabia's Empty Quarter, now occupies a musty flat in London's Chelsea district. Thesiger recounts his experiences living with the Bedouin nomads, discusses T.E. Lawrence's sexuality, and excoriates modern science. Dickey devotes several chapters to life aboard the oil tankers that plow through the mined waters of the Persian Gulf as the Iran-Iraq War rages about them. He also describes the vaguely surreal world of life ashore, where a CBS news producer lounges beside the hotel swimming pool while listening to reports of naval sinkings on headphones connected to her office several floors above. In addition, he visits refugee camps in the famine-stricken Sudan, where he runs into Diana Vreeland's granddaughters, a pair of Southern California coeds dedicated to saving the starving children. In Cairo, he spends time with Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz, who, like Salman Rushdie, has been threatened with death by Islamic fundamentalists. The old novelist is unafraid: ""There's nothing left for death to devour,"" he says stoically. Dickey also describes his experiences in Teheran in 1988, when he was sent to cover the funerals of the victims of the downing of Iran Air Flight 655 by the USS Vincennes. An offbeat, stylish report that reveals the author's familiarity with the area--he was formerly Cairo Bureau Chief--as well as his eye for the significant, the strange, and the sinister.