Customer Reviews


30 Reviews
5 star:
 (24)
4 star:
 (4)
3 star:
 (2)
2 star:    (0)
1 star:    (0)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favourable review
The most helpful critical review


39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars AL SAUD'S LAW
This is a disturbing book. Robert Lacey's "Inside the Kingdom" paints a compelling picture of a key ally of the West that is also the breeding ground for our most impassioned enemies. The Kingdom is held together by a skilled and ruthless balancing act by the ruling Al Saud clan. How long can it last? Is it desirable that it should last? What is the alternative...
Published on 8 Dec 2009 by Diacha

versus
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An objective and credible assessment of Saudi Arabia
This is a fairly balanced and objective book about modern Saudi Arabia. Lacey provides a succinct and perceptive assessment of how the country's religious conservatism spawned Osama bin Laden and a generation of nihilists and how the Saudi establishment had to wake up and smell the coffee after 9/11. He is particularly good on the duplicity and intrigue associated with...
Published on 25 Jan 2011 by Neil Kernohan


‹ Previous | 1 2 3 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars AL SAUD'S LAW, 8 Dec 2009
By 
This review is from: Inside the Kingdom (Hardcover)
This is a disturbing book. Robert Lacey's "Inside the Kingdom" paints a compelling picture of a key ally of the West that is also the breeding ground for our most impassioned enemies. The Kingdom is held together by a skilled and ruthless balancing act by the ruling Al Saud clan. How long can it last? Is it desirable that it should last? What is the alternative?

Lacey describes Saudi Arabia through a series of loosely linked journalistic vignettes and case studies (" think tanks and foreign affairs societies can offer statistics and analyses aplenty," he observes). He introduces us to terrorists, holy men, secret policemen, reformers both male and female, a former Guantanamo inmate, a rape victim (who suffers more perhaps in the social aftermath than in the crime itself) and even princes and kings, both corrupt and benign. Lacey has penetrated deep into the psyche of the Kingdom, and he takes us with him. His overall tone is respectful and even empathic. This makes his picture all the more unsettling.

The central strand of Lacey's episodic narrative is the tight alliance of convenience between the Al Saud and the Wahhabi clerisy (named after the eighteenth century cleric, Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab). The terms were straightforward: in return for supporting the dynasty's temporal rule (and disportionate access to the nation's wealth), the Wahhabis would be given supreme authority in matters spiritual, a sphere to which they gave a broad and in some regards an arguably un-Islamic definition. This deal was first struck at the formation of the first Kingdom in 1774 and was reasserted on the formation of the modern state in 1932 by King Abdul Aziz. It was turbo-charged in 1979 following the invasion of the Grand Mosque in Mecca by fundamentalist terrorists led by Juhayman Al-Otaybi. The ruling family's response to this atrocity - following the bloody recapture of the Mosque, with which Lacey chooses to begin his story, riveting the reader's attention from the outset- was to attempt to defang the radicals by outmatching them at their own game.

Under King Khalid's appeasement policy, the Wahhabis and their fearsome agents the Mutawwa (the notorious Religious Police) were given a free hand. The result was a sustained campaign against innovations ("bidah"), increased oppression of women, suppression of the Shia minority which is especially prominent in the oil rich Eastern Province, and of anyone showing even the most incipient signs of liberal thinking or secularism (secularism became a synonym for apostasy, for which the penalty is death and accusations of secularism became the common weapon of a spiteful and well-populated class of petty informers). Education became principally religious in nature, heavily skewed to rote learning of the Koran and other texts, virtually guaranteeing the emergence of a radicalized (not to mention sexually frustrated) generation ill-equipped to play any functional role in a modern economy. The philosophy was exported too, through generous grants to madrassas, mosques and other Moslem causes throughout the world. All this took place while the government was overtly and covertly collaborating with the USA on its foreign policy agenda (the Contras, Afghanistan, the First Gulf War etc). In Saudi Arabia, as in other Islamic nations, there was widespread glee when a predominantly Saudi squad of terrorists took down the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.

Somewhat belatedly, the current King Abdullah, who succeeded in2005 after almost a decade as Crown Prince, started to reverse some of these trends. He did so partly in line with his longstanding beliefs and partly in response to specific provocations. He imposed restrictions on the clerics and Mutawwa, he introduced educational reform, notably including education for girls, he moved towards greater inclusiveness for the Shia, greater toleration for (mild) dissidents and increased transparency in government. Externally, he promoted inter-faith understanding and led progressive, though unfortunately stillborn, Arab initiatives towards peace in Palestine. He also moved to diversify Saudi Arabia's foreign policy away from dependence on the USA. Many would argue that all this is too little, too late. However, the de Tocquevillian dilemma he faces is well illustrated by the results of his small step toward democratic representation. As his predecessor, King Fahd, had wryly predicted, the victors were those who were organized - the religious extremists. A dangerous moment indeed. This initiative has been quietly allowed to go dark. The survival of the regime depends perhaps on the awareness among "ordinary" Saudis that their lifestyles are at risk if it fails.

Lacey ends his book quite touchingly with the 86 year old, ailing king praying by the seashore. He does not venture a prognosis for the Kingdom. The reader is left to speculate. Will the future bring more of the same, a perpetuation of the balancing act? Will Saudi Arabia go like Iran, transforming relatively non-violently from monarchial autocracy to theocratic authoritarianism? Or will it collapse like Iraq into violent anarchy? Will the next king - surely from a new generation - make it or break it? A peaceful transition to a Western-style democracy seems to be the least likely of outcomes. If ever a book made the case for "Arab Exceptionalism, " this is it.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The big question is what next?, 10 Nov 2009
By 
This review is from: Inside the Kingdom (Hardcover)
Saudi Arabia is not one country but a series of conflicting economic and political tectonic plates that slip and slide, emerge and subsume as groups such the young and the old, the merchant class and the unemployed,the empowered princely class and the unempowered population at large,and the religious and technical classes all compete. The House of Saud has since the Kingdom's foundation managed to ease the symptoms of tension between the plates but is generally unfitted to cope with the underlying causal economic pressures.

Robert Lacey's book "Inside the Kingdom" follows on his earlier book "The Kingdom". As a director of a number of Middle East programmes, working for a major United Kingdom company I made his earlier book compulsary reading for anybody joining my organisation.As ever Lacey has done an excellent job capturing the mood of the Kingdom as it sleepwalked itself into the current crisis.The investments in infrastructure in health care,roads,electrification but most of all clean water and sanitation, made in the 1970's and 1980's, slashed infant and particularly neo natal mortality.In the early 1960's two out of three children died before they were five. By the end of the eighties this number had fallen to Western European levels. This outbreak of children brought in its wake another burst of infrastructure investment as schools had to be built. In the mid eighties there were twice as many children in nursery education as there were in primary education who in turn were twice as many as in secondary education. A fearful symetry grew. Opening the Kingdom's first public Occupational Psychology practice we advised clients on methods of effective Saudisation - the real trick was to start with good candidates - but first we had to find good candidates. Wasta -(influence)was the only reliable method of getting a job leading to widespread corruption and incompetence. Saudis without wasta were reduced for going from door to door in office blocks trying to find a job. The Saudi secondary education system was at that time split into technical and religious streams and without saying it employers systematically discriminated against those in the religious stream. The situation was not helped by the Saudi Merchant classes overwhelming preference for biddable and cheap South Asian Labour. Entry level jobs were usually filled by Filipino,Indian,Pakistani and Bangladeshi labour, known as TCNs ( third country nationals) making that critical first job hard to find. Saudis also found the choice of working in the private sector difficult as opposed to a government job. The latter worked a five day one shift week with many other benefits whereas private companies routinely worked six days. Most Saudis were, in estate agents parlance, SILKIs - single income lots of kids imminent. Because their wives could neither work nor drive any family illness or school commitment meant that the father had to have more time off work as compared to the TCN who needed the job (Usually to support a large extended family at home together with repaying a repacious recruitment agent).With the vast majority of Saudi commerce being service based - Employers knew that no employee behind the counter meant no business. The failings of the education system have been well rehearsed and Robert Lacey illustrates the point again.

The House of Saud is similar to those cabaret artists who spin plates on canes - it takes a sharp eye and a lot of practice to keep everything going.

The Kingdom was not helped by many of the cadre of Western expatriates who worked in the Kingdom - many found that having left their home market places they rapidly became unemployable back home - the so called "expatriate trap" - and whilst they may not have intended to work in the region for the rest of their careers that became their only option. Because expatriate employment was often a precarious event depending on the whim of the Saudi owner - many expatriates became well versed in saying what the owner wanted to hear not what he needed to hear - encouraging a culture of denial of the increasing heat from the street.

The big question is what next. The oil based economy will intrinsically make the Saudi Riyal a hard currency which in turn makes the creation of jobs difficult. The large capital intensive oil and bulk petrochemical businesses look and are impressive but as modern plants they are managed and maintained by a handful of employees,they can and will do nothing for the employment prospects of many Saudis. The House of Saud needs to address more directly the fact that a larger Saudi public means that there is more public opinion.The Kingdom is more porous to outside media and traditional censorship is just putting their finger in a dyke that is bound to break. Forbidden media, such as the mosque cassettes have a temptation factor all of their own for youths for whom teenage rebellion is a natural part of growing up. The House of Saud is also going to have to address the Merchant class's needs to build their businesses on cheap South Asian Labour - renewal of workpermits now needs to set a strict term for each expatriate's stay in the Kingdom reinforced by economic sanctions - the longer they stay the more they cost. Finally the House of Saud will have to make the transition from the sons of Abdul Aziz to the next generation - in itself a process fraught with internal tensions. The House of Saud is going to have to be brave.

The big question is what next? The smaller question is whether Robert Lacey's excellent book will appear on the shelves of the Kingdom's book shops unlike its predecessor?
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An objective and credible assessment of Saudi Arabia, 25 Jan 2011
This is a fairly balanced and objective book about modern Saudi Arabia. Lacey provides a succinct and perceptive assessment of how the country's religious conservatism spawned Osama bin Laden and a generation of nihilists and how the Saudi establishment had to wake up and smell the coffee after 9/11. He is particularly good on the duplicity and intrigue associated with US-Saudi relations throughout the last 30 years and how this has had a profound influence on the politics of the Greater Middle East. In places the book conveys some sense of cautious optimism about how the country is slowly edging towards greater openness and equality for its citizens, especially women, under King Abdullah's unique brand of enlightened though cautious despotism. But well publicised episodes about the sheer medieval cruelty that still pervades Saudi society are also described in chilling detail. One is left with the impression of a country still held hostage to its own failings as a society run by the Wahabist brand of Islam in spite of the wealth and influence brought about by its oil status. This country still has a long way to go before it earns the sort of respect from the free world that the Al Saud dynasty so obviously crave.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful and well written, 4 Dec 2009
This review is from: Inside the Kingdom (Paperback)
Saudi Arabia is a difficult place to understand. This book is an excellent historical narrative that gives the reader an insight as to how things work at the top levels and how the country's history has evolved it into the entity that it is today.

An excellent read, and well recommended for anyone who wants to understand the country, its Islamic traditions, and its relationship with the US.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent potryal of Saudi politics, 23 Sep 2010
This review is from: Inside the Kingdom (Hardcover)
This is a compelling read which gives you a real understanding of what life in Saudi Arabia is like. The style of writing is excellent with a flair that keeps you up all night.
I would recommend this book to anyone wanting a understanding of how Saudi Arabia entered into modernity.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening, 29 Nov 2009
By 
Peter Munn (Chambery, France) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Inside the Kingdom (Hardcover)
I learnt so much from this very knowledgeable inside story of what goes on in Saudi Arabia. The conflict between the royal rulers who want to modernise and the religious powers who would like to live as Mohammed. The love/hate relationship with USA which was the cause of 9/11.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An intriguing insight into the Kingdom, 19 May 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Lacey uses a perfect blend of storytelling and fact-giving to create an informative and rather gripping account of Saudi socio-political history. That's the long and short of it. If you've ever been even mildly interested in Middle Eastern politics or Islamic terrorism (which you should be), this book will shed a lot of light on the murky issue. Lacey charts the creation of terrorists like Bin Laden in an easily accessible form; he makes it quite clear how the move to religious fundamentalism coupled with US and Saudi funding of the mujahideen contributed heavily to the terrorist movement.

What is perhaps more interesting is the power play between the House of Saud and the religious sheikhs (ulema). King Abdullah's push for reforms certainly makes a western audience support his cause but Lacey forms a good question with his last chapters. Would we support a dictator who wants westernising reform or a democracy that would undoubtably be radical and religious? Are we supporters of democracy or rather western ideals? The case of King Abdullah (exemplified in his intervention of a rape victim being punished) makes the latter seem to take precedent over the former.

If this brief account has piqued your interest, do read the book!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Religious Extremes, 1 May 2013
This review is from: Inside the Kingdom (Paperback)
Lacey's book merits credit insomuch as his portrayal of life within Saudi Arabia avoids direct criticism of the regime albeit it does contain subliminal inferences from which one can draw their own conclusions.
Perhaps his description of the birth of the Saudi state could have been more detailed by making reference to the impact of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War and the external influences and pressures prevalent during this period.

A further criticism would be that there is little analysis of the impact of the influx of foreign skilled workers from Western Europe and the US during the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s and the reasons for the marked depletion of this workforce in the 1980s.
It is admirable that Lacey identifies the religious fanaticism that is prevalent within the state and the influence and impact it has on social and political polices however he avoids drawing the obvious conclusion that many of these problems arise from Islamic medieval doctrines and their fundamentalist interpreters.

Their restrictions of secular education and the indoctrination of their children in religious beliefs, is not dissimilar to that of the Catholic Church or the narrow minded blinkered stupidity of the Evangelical Creationists of the southern states of the US however only time will tell who proves to be the most dangerous.

This book gives a general outline of life within Saudi Arabia and the pressures within the society however it understandably fails to predict if the country will instigate reform or deteriorate into another rogue state.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating read, 6 Feb 2011
This review is from: Inside the Kingdom (Paperback)
Gives an excellent insight into the workings of modern Saudi Arabia and a good historical account of why things are as they are. I would highly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in Islam or the Middle East.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inside the Kingdom, 29 Sep 2010
This review is from: Inside the Kingdom (Paperback)
A great read. Really gets in to the heart of what is a very closed society in Saudi Arabia, and unveils the special relationship with the west. Well written and a must read.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 2 3 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

This product

Inside the Kingdom
Inside the Kingdom by Robert Lacey (Paperback - 5 Aug 2010)
6.99
In stock
Add to basket Add to wishlist
Only search this product's reviews