On Saudi Arabia

On Saudi Arabia

Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines – and Future

Vintage Books, 2013 more...

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative


Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Karen Elliott House, a former Wall Street Journal reporter and foreign editor, presents a detailed analysis of the changes inside Saudi Arabia. The nation is the world’s largest oil producer and an absolute monarchy known for strict adherence to Islam, strong traditions, and sharply defined roles for male and female citizens. House discusses the role of the Saudi king as head of the ruling family, head of state and the protector of Islam. Her book was published before King Abdullah, 90, died on January 22, 2015, and his half-brother King Salman became his successor, so the discussion of succession is now more complex. Saudi Arabia suffers internal dissent, corruption, prejudice and palace intrigues. It also has many poor people, millions of imported menial workers and a youthful population frustrated by unemployment and inequality. getAbstract recommends this highly readable analysis to investors, NGOs, policy makers and anyone interested in Middle East geopolitics. House offers a sharp snapshot of how this complicated nation tries to balance the competing interests of oil, religion, royal entitlements, subjugated women, disenfranchised poor and a mostly passive population.


King and Country

Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy that strictly adheres to Islam, tradition and the separation of the sexes. The Al Saud family has ruled the country for a long time, and it is the most successful family business in modern history. The Saudi king is head of state and styles himself “custodian of the two holy mosques,” Islam’s holiest sites.

Al Saud royalty dominates Saudi Arabia, as it has since the 1940s. It uses a divide-and-conquer strategy, complemented by the selective use of bribes and religion, to maintain control over an increasingly restless population.

During the Arab Spring in 2011, protests threatened the monarch of Bahrain, which borders Saudi Arabia. The Saudis deployed troops to buttress the Bahraini royal family. This sent a clear message to 19 million Saudis that the Arab Spring would not be allowed to unseat the Al Saud monarchy.

Saudi Arabia’s political stability is a great concern for the US, which has been a major ally since President Roosevelt struck an oil-for-security bargain with the Saudi King in 1945.

“The once monogamous Saudi-US marriage has become a polygamous Muslim one as the Saudis build bonds with...

About the Author

Former publisher of the The Wall Street Journal, Karen Elliott House won a Pulitzer Prize in international reporting for her work in the Middle East. She spent 30 years traveling to Saudi Arabia meeting hundreds of princes, paupers, women, men, modernizers and conservatives to write this book.

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