THE HOUSE OF SAUD: The Rise and Rule of the Most Powerful Dynasty in the Arab World by David & Richard Johns Holden

THE HOUSE OF SAUD: The Rise and Rule of the Most Powerful Dynasty in the Arab World

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Only in size and British authorship does this resemble Robert Lacey's leviathan on the House of Saud and its domain, The Kingdom (1981, p. 1563)--and the differences give it independent value. From immersion in the milieu, Lacey has captured the Saudi outlook--whereas Holden, a London Sunday Times Middle East specialist (""mysteriously murdered while writing this book in Cairo""), and Johns, a Financial Times expert on oil dealings, write as knowledgeable onlookers. Lacey has produced an episodic, cross-cut drama--with an eye on the general reader; this is an interpretive history, in the classic mold. It also, importantly, gives proportionately much less attention to progenitor Abdul Aziz (King Ibn Saud) and his consolidation of the Kingdom--and devotes half its space to events since 1970. More of the book, altogether, is diplomatic history--the dealings of the Saudis with other nations. For the earlier period, this material tends to reflect--responsibly--what inchoate Arabia, and later the Kingdom, meant to others; we hear considerable, for instance, about American displacement of the British--but also, in detail, about Saudi Arabia's relations with its radical neighbors, with the oil sheikdoms, with the Hashamite kingdoms. On the religious component and the bedouins, the text is briefer but sound; and its judgments of Abdul Aziz' successors, the ill-equipped Saud and the sternly reformist Feisal, are wall-balanced. But it's the emergence of Saudi Arabia as a world force that's illuminatingly detailed here. One of the authors was apparently at each of the OPEC confabs (the periodic ""I"" is unidentifiable): there are numerous illustrations of Yamani's acumen, as well as particulars on the Vienna kidnapping of Yamani (and others) by radical terrorist Carlos. But there is also a precise explanation of each price adjustment. One or the other was in Saudi Arabia during the 1974-76 bonanza: there are examples of ""the squalor deriving from such opulence."" But note is also taken of the paradox of a nation administered by Ph.D.s--and dependent on immigrant skilled labor. We also see--more clearly than in Lacey's circumspect account--the conflict within the House of Saud between the ""progressives"" and the ""fundamentalists."" And much more is made here of the terrorist seizure of Mecca's Grand Mosque--to the point that divisive elements threaten the regime. Intelligent, lucid, informative--albeit narrower in appeal than Lacey's book.

Pub Date: Feb. 12th, 1982
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston