on 20 October 2011
After a short visit to Dubai last Christmas I couldn't believe how strange and peculiar it was and I needed to find out what was underneath all the glitz. First I read Dubai Dreams by Raymond Barrett but it did not provide the historical depth or detail. Jim Krane's book is excellent and beautifully written, forgive me for saying this, I know there are many great American writers out there but I really thought the book had been written by an Englishman as it was so smoothly crafted. This book answered many of my questions and has provided me with more understanding of the Middle East and a thirst to learn more and travel to that region again but to areas with greater authenticity like Oman.
on 19 October 2009
In the 60s, long before Dubai became what it is now - a gold encrusted Monopoly board of skyscrapers and traffic jams - the man who later became the UAE's first president would pop into a newly opened department store. He'd peer into a child's View-Master and marvel at 3D images of the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. Then he'd turn to the store's owner and say, "One day, you will see. The tall buildings will be here."
The above anecdote is taken from Jim Krane's excellent new book on Dubai and, to an extent, it sums up everything that's wonderful and disappointing about how an insignificant fishing village has taken just a few decades to turn itself into one of the most prominent spots on the planet. On the one hand, it shows that the city's rise is the stuff of youthful dreams, the product of an irrepressible exuberance and lust for change. On the other, it suggests that maybe the process which has resulted in - amongst other ostentations - the world's tallest building might've benefited from at least a little more maturity and a little less impetuousness.
Starting with thoroughly engrossing accounts of the region's past - full of stories of pearl divers and trigger-happy British imperialists - Krane outlines the rise to power of Dubai's ruling family, moves on to the current political climate and concludes with a series of chapters which adopt an admirably non-judgemental tone to examine what are commonly considered to be the city's main vices, from prostitution to the treatment of expatriate labourers. Along the way, he includes evidence from fascinating historical sources as well as first-hand interviews to create a sophisticated portrait of a place which has all too-often either been unquestionably lauded by fans or summarily rubbished by detractors. Finally, he looks to the future and puts forward several intriguing ideas about where the Emirate might go in the next few years, including one possibility that it might gain independence from the rest of the UAE before too long. Perhaps Krane's ultimate message is that, love it or loathe it, Dubai has now become a city as complex and multi-layered as any other, and that it deserves to be appraised on its own terms.
For people who've lived in Dubai, `The Story of The World's Fastest City' is essential reading, certain to stir emotions and challenge long-held prejudices. For others, it provides a balanced insight into the region, with all its idiosyncrasies and seemingly incomprehensible paradoxes. Although you may not agree with every point it makes, you can't deny the power and neatness of Krane's prose and, of course, the allure of his subject. Dubai tells a story that you just can't put down. The only question is: can you keep up with it?
on 14 October 2009
We've seen several books on Dubai in recent years and this is, by some way, the best. It wins on two fronts: first, its an interesting and accurate history of the emirate and second, its beautifully written.
Previous books, such as Chris Davidson's Dubai: The Vulnerability of Success, have certainly added to the reader's undestanding of Khaleeji culture and the development of the emirate of Dubai. However, many lack the pace of Crane's book which rattles along at a fine pace, yet still covering what is known of Dubai with depth and breadth.
Davidson's book also has annoying mistakes which to readers who really know Dubai are at best annoying and, at worst, make one doubt other details in the book.
As a long term resident of Dubai, I particularly enjoyed the early chapters which, for me, put the modern Dubai into perspective. My reading of it is that the last few years of stellar growth are entirely consistent with the plans of its earliest rulers and that the current economic woes are just one more challenge for the brave and hardy people of Dubai to overcome.
Dubai is a fascinating city of contrasts. It makes up one small part of an amazing, young, growing country. This book comes as close as possible to explaining the feeling, the facts and the sheer wonder of the place.
on 14 March 2010
Just put down Dubai - Worlds Fastest City. I visited Dubai in 2006 and 2007 and was captivated by its development but also by the social issues which were evident while I was there. It is a city with no centre, the decline of the local population and its voracious appetite for energy. I also wanted to discover the Arabian past beyond the themed reception areas of hotels. Jim discussed all of these points and I now feel I have a broader base in my understanding of this flawed but brilliant Mid-Eastern city. If Dubai makes you wonder...read this!!
on 24 October 2009
Reading American journalist Jim Krane's book `Dubai: Story of the World's Fastest City' is a must for anybody who wants to gain a perspective on what is happening in this emirate today, for to understand the past is to better comprehend the present.
He tells the story of Dubai with a clarity and simplicity that is a joy to follow. I particularly liked the evocation of Dubai in the 1950s before the electric light and abolition of slavery (which only came in 1963).
At night the city was so dark that ships and aircraft could not see it. Without air-conditioning residents slept on the roof for cool in the summer. Dubai was as backward as any coastal town in Africa today.
It reminded me of when I went back to the UK as an expatriate for the first time in 1996 and met an old family friend (Bob Williams, the architect who designed our family home) and he recalled being stationed in Dubai during the Second World War.
`What on earth are you doing in Dubai,' asked an incredulous eighty year old. `There is nothing there.'
His recollection was accurate. Dubai in the Second World War was down to 7,000 residents, the majority living in huts made out of palm leaves. People were eating lizards, locusts and leaves, and some actually starved.
Square that with `The Story of the World's Fastest Growing City' that Mr. Kane so admirably describes. It is progress of a kind seldom seen in human history and at a speed beyond belief.
How on earth did Dubai transform itself into a modern, multicultural metropolis of 1.5 million souls? Mr. Krane highlights visionary leadership, political stability and huge investment in infrastructure projects thought to be completely insane at the time. Friendliness, tolerance of foreigners and putting business interest first came a close second.
Of course, you have to inject oil money into that recipe for success. Dubai seems to have had just the right amount of oil money to get things going but not enough to ruin it. Today Dubai serves an oil-rich region but is oil-poor itself.
Personally I find this ultimate rags-to-riches tale compelling and it still works, as I explain in my own book `Opportunity Dubai: Making a Fortune in the Middle East' which is also available on Amazon.
Dubai conjures up many images. For some it is the epitome of tacky bling, for others it is the land of Christians, pork, alcohol and prostitution; it is the new holiday destination, replacing Miami and the Costa del Sol; it is the city-state entrepôt par excellence; it is the place of the man-made palm islands; it is the place of impossibly high towers in the desert built by of thousands of imported, exploited workers; it is the place of a spectacular financial and property crash. Dubai is all these things and more but the most important thing is that everyone has heard of Dubai, and that was the original plan.
This fascinating book takes all the images of Dubai and puts them into context. It is written by a journalist who has lived in the region and knows Dubai well. As a journalist he keeps the sentences short, readable and authoritative and he relies heavily on interviews for his sources. The author keeps you interested and makes you want to turn the page.
Dubai is one of the emirates of the United Arab Emirates, née Trucial States. You have probably heard of Abu Dhabi, Dubai's much bigger neighbour and with great wealth from oil. You may have heard of Sharjah, but have you heard of Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah or Umm al-Quwain? These were once better-known than Dubai. Dubai was originally a small village on a creek on the lower Arabian Gulf coast. Some oil was found but not too much. Modern Dubai is a product of one man, his vision and his risk-taking. The reason you have heard of Dubai is because of Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum and his son Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. This is the story of the Maktoums and Dubai.
As soon as he took over Sheikh Rashid introduced electricity, piped water and built an airport even though there was one already in next-door Sharjah. Most importantly, he raised money from his local merchants and Kuwait to dredge Dubai Creek, which was silting up. This ensured the future of the re-export trade. Sharjah did not dredge its own harbour, which silted up; its airport is now a backwater in relation to that of Dubai. Sheikh Rashid's innovations continued, and the rest is history.
THE PAPERBACK is 320 pages long plus Notes (mostly references to sources quoted) and an Index. Unfortunately there is no Bibliography, although some books are repeatedly referenced in the Notes (see Comments). There is a section of 8 pages of black and white photographs. The font is readable but it is a little small, presumably to fit the entire book into the paperback format. There are also two very useful maps, one of the UAE and the surrounding countries and one of Dubai. The book's 18 chapters are grouped into 4 parts: Dubai Stirs, Dubai Emerges, Blowback: The Downside and Dubai's Challenge. Thus all aspects of Dubai are covered from the history of the early days through the recent accelerated growth, the dark underbelly of this growth and the future challenges that Dubai faces.
THE FUTURE: Dubai is a city-state outlier of globalisation, joining the small club that includes Singapore and Hong Kong. The author draws an historical comparison between modern Dubai and the former Venetian Republic. What are Dubai's limts to growth? If it stops accelerating into the future will it be unable to sustain itself and collapse? There should be another book about Dubai in 10 or 15 years so that we can find out.
on 1 June 2013
This is a very good book, which gives a good account on how Dubai developed into what it is today. The author, a former corresponsal for the whole Middle East, used (in my view abused) his journalistic background to produce a book that is lively, easy to read, very illustrative and informative, but it leaves the reader with many questions without answers. The information given in the book is well supported by references to either other books, or interviews, conducted by the author, to some already historical fugures (in the Dubai development context), academics and other comentators of the political and economic developments of the region. These last references make this book to be in between a history book and a compilation of extended newspaper articles. It is not easy to see what, of the many points made in the book, are historical facts and what is just the author or his interviewes interpretation. However, as a regular visitor to Dubai (have a relative working there), I highly recommend this book to start understanding what it has been achieved in terms of the social relations withing this city and its place within the United Arabs Emirates and the rest of the Middle East.
on 25 November 2012
This is a fantastic book- it describes the history of Dubai and then talks about how the city is today- from the immigration boom, to trafficking, to the royal family. It is a great read and interesting from start to finish. He gives a 360 degree tour of the city and it is a real eye opener. Highly recommend it to anyone interested in the region and it is better written than say a normal travel book.
on 6 November 2014
I was hoping that this book would take a fair and balanced approach to the examination of Dubai, however I was disappointed by what seemed like in depth look at its successes and whilst the downsides (in the last third of the book) are only briefly touched upon, such as the very serious matter of sex trafficking and the rights of worker's, not to mention the rampant racism.
To compare Dubai with Cordoba is laughable, but to compare it to real cities like London or Paris or even New York is dillusional. Even Singapore is ahead by leagues. Dubai may seem like a modern city on the surface, but look beyond the facade and its anything but modern. The dubai model is running on borrowed time, and it won't be long before the place is exposed for what it really is. A fake.
Pros: well laid out in easy to understand chunks.
Interesting and informative history of Dubai's origins
Clear, concise and engaging to read.
Very personable writing style and funny in places
Cons: imbalanced and a little bit to generous to Dubai and its rulers
on 5 March 2013
I found the book very informative and interesting. I have been to Dubai many times so it was nice to know the full history.
However, I found the gaps between words rather annoying. It is on most pages. I expect this is due to the justification. It did not spoil the enjoyment of the book.