* 1/2 On Saudi Arabia by Karen Elliott House

On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines – and Future undertakes to lead the reader through a country and its people, and holds great promise since the author, a journalist, has spent decades reporting the kingdom. Alas, while I can understand that there are many aspects of the country that are not attractive and indeed are deplorable, I was taken aback by the almost constant criticism of its inhabitants and the apparent inability of the author to accept that world views different from our own may be valid. For instance, she repeatedly excoriates the Saudis for conforming to the rules and limitations of their families, never acknowledging that perhaps there is also comfort and kindness in families, and perhaps the American uber-individualistic approach is neither the only way to lead one’s life, nor  the perfect way. And the same judgmental view prevails in other areas. If Saudis make inconsistent statements to her — must be because they are Saudis rather than this particular individual made an inconsistent statement. The overall tone of criticism rubbed me the wrong way.

That being said, the author does a great job of showing how royal family members use religion to subdue the people when it suits them,  how fragile the regime is, and how the surge of the number of youth, often unemployed and ill-educated, may well push the kingdom over the edge.

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