Robert Lacey, whose previous books have been major biographies of British notables, attempts in this volume to document the history of Saudi Arabia's emergence as a nation and a global power.
The story, as he tells it, is largely the story of one family, the House of Sa'ud, and within that family, of one man.
Abdul Aziz Ibn Sa'ud (1880-1953) was a son of a deposed noble family living in desert exile among the bedouins who dreamed of recapturing his family's seat at Riyadh, uniting all of Arabia and freeing it of the foreign occupation. His life was an actualization of that dream, and it makes fascinating reading for the drama and color of the events - and also for the nobility and charm of the man, flaws and all, which Lacey effectively conveys.
At his death, he left the management of his domain to the succession of those surviving of his 39 sons. Kings Sa'ud, Faisal, and Khalid, in concert with a ministry of brothers and cousins, have managed the Sa'udi nation and fortunes with a degree of wisdom and prudence, the estimate of which depends chiefly upon which side of the Jordan, the Iron Curtain, or the oil tank you sit. The story of their times composes the remainder of the book.
As one who grew up outside the Arab and Islamic traditions, I can only judge the book by how much it changed my perceptions and increased my appreciation of the position in which the Sa'udis find themselves. How much was that? Enormously.