In brief: a history of the relationship between the Aali Shaykh family and the Al-Su'ood family. At the time George Washington was crossing the Delaware, another nation was being formed on the other side of the world. Muhammad ibn AbdulWahhab, a scholar of Islam from a family of scholars, was preaching pure Islamic monotheism in the Arabian peninsula. He met with a lot of scorn and rejection until he fell into the path of the Su'ood family. Muhammad ibn Su'ood was a tribal leader and the two united and agreed to support one another and spread the creed of Muhammad ibn AbdulWahhab (his descendants being known as "Aali Shaykh" or "Family of the Shaykh") while spreading the "kingdom" at the same time. Commins covers all three phases of the Saudi dynasty and covers the major political and economic and technological developments of Saudi Arabia, but all in the context of how it affected the relationship between the ruling family or government and the descendants of Muhammad ibn AbdulWahhab as well as their students and contemporary scholars.
From the real highlights of the book is the fact that Commins is aware that there is a large difference between the Ikhwan al-Muslimoon movement which started in Egypt, founded by Hasan al-Banna and the Salafis. As for the Ikhwan, their methodology is to gather all Muslims, regardless of creedal differences and fight for an Islamic society. And much of their literature parallel's the ideals of Marx and Engels. The Salafis on the other hand are willing to patiently endure a despotic government while striving for creedal unity amongst the populace with the idea that this will lead to a greater communal rectification.
The only criticism that I have of Commins' work, but not enough to take it down to 4 stars, are two things: Firstly, although this is something that very few orientalists know because it is only mentioned rarely amid the writings of the Islamic Imams, is that when any scholar says "whoever does/says such and such is a disbeliever" and statements of this caliber, those scholars do not cast that judgment upon any *specific* individuals without knowing that specific individual's reason for saying/doing what they have been accused of and explaining to them that it casts one outside the pale of Islam. Natana De long Bas got this point correct: that ibn AbdulWahhab verified that one who does or say apostasy does not immediately become an apostate until the evidence has been presented to them and they continue upon that act/statement/belief of apostasy. However, she erred with respect to ibn Taymiyyah in this matter. The second point was a lack of mention that many other scholars during the time of Muhammad ibn AbdulWahhab and before him since the time of Islam's birth agreed with him fully in his creed. It is important to mention this fact so that the reader does not have the impression that ibn AbdulWahhab's teachings were simply his own derivation. His grandson, Sulayman, has an extensive documentation of quotes from earlier Islamic scholars from all the four schools of Sunni Muslim jurisprudence which concur 100% with ibn AbdulWahhab's deductions--this is in Tayseer al-Azeez Al-Hameed (a commentary of his grandfather's work: Kitaab al-Tauheed). However, when sufism gained a strong grip and foothold in the Muslim world, the percentage of scholars who remained clinging to this orthodox view shrank and the percentage of those who were willing to speak up about it were even less. Not only that, but other contemporary scholars that may have been unaware of the specifics of ibn AbdulWahhab's teachings criticized him for what they heard about him as rumor--however, even those scholars, when commenting about invoking other than Allah, they also declared that whoever does so is not a Muslim.