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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At least a B+, if not an A-,, 16 Dec 2010
By 
John P. Jones III (Albuquerque, NM, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Kingdom: Arabia and the House of SA'Ud (Paperback)
At the beginning of Mr. Lacey's monumental work he relates a conversation he had with a Georgetown educated member of the House of Saud: "I have lived in the Kingdom over 30 years, yet if I was to put down on paper how my family and this country worked, I would be lucky if I got a B+ mark. You have spent four years with us. The best you can hope for is a C." Lacey clearly did his homework, as the large bibliography indicates. Moreover, he actually lived in the Kingdom, unlike so many "Saudi experts." And while there, he conducted numerous interviews with key individuals, who entrusted him with versions of historical reality not often seen in other works. He mastered his source materials, and wrote an immensely readable history of the Kingdom until the ascension of King Fahd to the throne in 1982.

A full 40% of the book relates to events prior to the actual proclamation of the Kingdom in 1932. This portion covers the ancient political alliance of the Al-Saud's with the conservative preacher, Abdul Wahab, and his family. Also, Ibrahim Pasha's 1819 destruction of Diriyah, the Saud's home village, for defying the sultan-caliph in Constantinople. But the main thrust of this section is the exile, and return of the Al Saud family in the late 1800's, culminating in the capture of the fort in Riyadh from the Al Rashed clan in January, 1902. Thereafter is a 25 year consolidation of power for the Al Saud's over most of "Al Jazeera," the peninsula. The first significant conflict was at Dilam, when Abdul Aziz only had enough ammunition for one mighty fusillade. After taking Al Hasa in 1913, he made a fateful alliance with the Ikhwan, "the Brotherhood," of fanatical conservatives who were indomitable in battle. This alliance was key to the conquest of the rest of what would become the Kingdom, including the ouster of the Hashemites from the Hijaz. Alliances are also broken, often after success, and at the end of the 20's, Abdul Aziz used some modern British weaponry to eliminate his former allies at Sabillah. Lacey says that the "big man" version of history is now passé, with the historical schools which emphasis social forces and the common man, yet he clearly credits the drive and energy of Abdul Aziz for accomplishing something never done before: the unification of most of the Arabian peninsula.

Not long after the Kingdom's formation, "black gold," the oil for which the country is now famous, was discovered in the Eastern province. The principals involved in the oil exploration are covered well in a couple of chapters, as is the impact of the subsequent wealth on what was one of the poorer countries of the world. Less well remembered, at least in the West, was the conflict between Nasser of Egypt, and the Al Sauds, with the former proclaiming that "To liberate all Jerusalem, the Arab people must first liberate Riyadh." The two sides supported the opposing parties in the Yemen Civil War in the early `60's, and only the intervention of the American Air Force prevented Egypt from bombing the Kingdom. Lacey also covered the weak, sorry rule of Abdul Aziz's first successor, Saud, and his eventual replacement with Faisal. The later was a true leader who tried to edge the Kingdom into modernization, while retaining traditional values, but eventually paid with his life for his efforts, assassinated in 1975 by a deranged nephew over the events associated with the introduction of television. The Kingdom's place in the larger world is also addressed, from inter-Arab conflicts, to the creation of the State of Israel, to the formation of OPEC. From the perspective of a quarter century, there is dissonance in Lacey assigning a full chapter's worth of importance to the movie "A Death of a Princess," an arms wheeler-dealer, Mr. Khashoggi, and the taking of the mosque in Mecca, in 1979, by the "expected Mahdi." It was only the later that had truly lasting importance, since the Al Saud's had to tact to the more conservative social side, thwarting social reforms.

Lacey tells his story well, and has a charming habit of illustrating points via "tales," identified as such, much like the Saudis themselves do. At the book's end, he wisely eschews predictions as to the future direction of the country. He does make the wise point: "Westerners assume that life in the Kingdom will, one day, be very much like life everywhere else. No Saudi will accept that assumption." (p517). The book contains some excellent historical pictures, as well as vital maps to further the reader's understanding.

Quibbles? He did make one prediction that turned out not to be true. He said that an Arab country would have the A-Bomb before the end of the 20th Century. And one of his pictures is labeled as a village in the Asir, but it is clearly the conical huts of the Tihama.

Oil and Islam. They are in the headlines literally everyday in the West, as the "wolf finally came," with gas prices soaring, and war without end continuing. Lacey's book is essential for understanding one of the most important countries of the world today, for "they" understand us far better than "we" understand them.

(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on July 10, 2008)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Objective modern history of Saudi Arabia, 5 Jun 2010
By 
redbigbill (bristol, uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Kingdom (Hardcover)
Well written, lots of first hand research, this is an objective history of Saudi Arabia, a country with more than it's fair share of social, moral and religous problems. What I like about Mr Lacey's account is it written without too much personal comment or attempts to sway the reader's opinion. In other words, written like history should be written - objective and without too many axes to grind.
I probably knew as much as the average joe about this somewhat inward looking country before reading this book, I was expecting to be somewhat shocked especially about the more extreme forms of Sharia law and the codes of morality laid down by the religous leaders who still have tremendous power and sway in The Kingdom. I was shocked but again the book does not preach, hey, this the way things are! Not a country to be born female or poor or worse - both - in my humble opinion.
If you are like me and have very little knowledge about the social, religious, political and moral make-up of devout Muslim countries but do have the wish to find out more, in an intelligent and forthright manner then I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
Five star reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars unbeatable, 16 July 2011
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this book together with its sequel are without a doubt the best introduction to saudi arabia. i have read several books on the kingdom and make frequent trips there and need to understand the place its people and its leaders. i wish i had not wasted time on reading other books, and had just read these two books for a second and third time. great books, a great achievement -well done robert lacey
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4.0 out of 5 stars Needs updating, 25 April 2014
By 
V. Bodington (Athens, Greece) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Kingdom: Arabia and the House of SA'Ud (Paperback)
Interesting and thorough. It needs updating now though as the House of Saud ages and the recent changes in the Middle East need to be addressed.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful introdution to the weird world of Saudi Arabia, 19 April 2013
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This is a marvellous book and gives a vivid description of the formation of Saudi Arabia. The later chapters are now slightly dated but if you want to learn how the country was formed through a sense of force of destiny by the Saud family this is a brilliant place to start - really gripping and unforgettable. Forget all the fake sheiks that park their Lambos outside Claridges - this book explains the courage and sheer willpower of their single antecedent who forged a forgotten backwater into a major country. Brilliant.
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4.0 out of 5 stars As described, 5 Jan 2012
This review is from: The Kingdom (Paperback)
If you luv books amazon is just the place for trusted used books
I've got it on time as described with out any problems , recommended it .
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5.0 out of 5 stars Still as relevant today as when it was first written, 4 Feb 2011
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This review is from: The Kingdom (Hardcover)
The book is as relevant today as it was when first written. Although the book was written during the reign of King Khaled and then Crown Prince Fahd, it gives a remarkable insight into how this fascinating country came into existence. The story of Abdul Aziz himself and how he forged a place for his family and regained their prominence is exciting and gripping. In a way the magnetism that this man is said to have exuded seems to reach us and this is in no small part due to the fluid writing style of Lacey. Interwoven with the story of the al Saud is the wider drama which took place throughout the twentieth century in the Middle East. We get an insight into the interaction of the al Saud with prominent personalities like Nasser, as well as with famous Western political leaders and diplomats.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Reads like a novel!, 26 Sep 2010
By 
Lars Stenbaek "Stenbæk" (Denmark) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Kingdom (Hardcover)
A perfect beginners book for people who - like myself - knows to little about the history of this very important country.
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The Kingdom: Arabia and the House of SA'Ud
The Kingdom: Arabia and the House of SA'Ud by Robert Lacey (Paperback - 31 Dec 1983)
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