A refreshing, insightful portrait of the Arab people, by a reporter with a flair for his craft. Lamb (The Africans) uses his personal experiences as a Middle Eastern correspondent for the Los Angeles Times as a background for this fascinating study of a region torn between regressive religious fundamentalism and the inescapable pull of the modern world. In the tradition of Hedrick Smith's The Russians, the book is really an anecdotal travel narrative with historical, social and political analyses thrown in; it is well-written, intelligent, often amusing, and hard to put down. The Islamic religion and the Arabic language are the only real unifiers of this huge region whose per capita income ranges from $42,000 (Qatar--oil) to $310 (South Yemen--cotton) and where attitudes toward change range from cautiously enthusiastic (Oman) to openly negative (Libya). Most Arabs, Lamb says, are not extremists, but feel caught in the middle of conflicting views, and are hurt by the ethnic stereotyping they often receive in the Western press; they are hospitable and friendly to individual travelers, and have an infectious sense of humor. Lamb does, too, and in detailing the ironies of Middle Eastern life--the behaviour of Egyptians in traffic jams, the difficulty of bringing western women into Saudi restaurants where signs read ""women must behave in a modest and bashful manner at all times""--he manages to present his subject with both sympathy and quiet criticism. He discusses politics and international relations with sultans, visits peasants in their roofless homes, and devotes many pages to the Palestinian view of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Still, even for a reporter as well-traveled as Lamb, the culture remains very difficult for non-Arabs to penetrate. ""The Middle East,"" he writes at one point, ""was the most inherently alien place I ever encountered. . .to survive the Arab world, you have to yield. Fight it and you lose. Move with its rhythms or be jarred into mental exhaustion."" An enlightening and enjoyable book--a must for anybody with an interest in the Middle East.