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ON SAUDI ARABIA by Karen Elliott House

ON SAUDI ARABIA

Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines--and Future

By Karen Elliott House

Pub Date: Sept. 18th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-307-27216-4
Publisher: Knopf

Former Wall Street Journal reporter and publisher House delivers a well-researched, informative book about Saudi Arabian society and where she believes it is headed.

The author interviewed a wide variety of Saudi Arabians, including rich and poor, Muslim fundamentalist and modern. Among the subjects is a devout Muslim woman who hosted House for several days in hopes of converting her to Islam. House was not allowed to speak to the woman’s husband and was covered from head to toe the one time she was in close quarters with him. On the other end of the spectrum, a young Saudi Arabian female journalist runs an all-girls soccer team, goes to private beaches and has dinner with male friends. She leads a life resembling that of any young woman in the West. House also interviewed reformed terrorists whom the Saudi Arabian government provided with jobs and homes in exchange for repenting. She follows developments in women’s rights, such as efforts to change the court system, which favors males. House succeeds in capturing the diversity of Saudi society, painting a more complex picture than the caricature of oil wells and extreme wealth, but a smug authorial tone occasionally creeps in. She references the “passivity” of Saudi people in relation to their government, as if overthrowing a dictator who has no qualms about cutting off people’s limbs is an easy task. House claims that the country demonstrates Marx’s statement about religion being the opium of the masses, a contention that disregards how a ruthless religious dictatorship can enforce religious practices. Fortunately, for most of the book, House sticks to the facts.

Good reading for readers interested in learning about the Saudi Arabia that lies beyond the image of a wealthy country with unlimited money from oil, but some of the author’s opinions should be taken with a grain of salt.