The House of Saud

Essay by gemini_84 July 2009

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The House of Saud is a monumental work that provides unusual insight into the rise of modern Saudi Arabia. David Holden was chief foreign correspondent of the London Sunday Times and started the book not long before he was assassinated in Cairo under mysterious circumstances. He wrote the text in the first person through chapter 10, after which Richard Johns took over. Both are to be commended for a work that reaches far beyond Saudi Arabia to consider the origins of Islam and its impact on a specific society and the impact of newly discovered wealth on a society that wants to modernize without Westernizing—a society that strongly resists losing its spiritual roots. Throughout the book, especially after chapter 3, the impact of the outside world on the House of Saud is the major theme. The last third of the work emphasizes the impact of Saudi Arabia on the world.

In keeping with the authors’ understanding of Islamic tradition and the role of the family, clan, and charismatic personalities, an enormous amount of detail and description is devoted to individuals and to the religion of Islam. No amount of detail, however, is sufficient to explain the importance of clan loyalties and personal honor to the Arab societies in the peninsula even before the rise of Islam in the seventh century. For the non-specialist, the authors provide a concise introduction to Islam and its pivotal role in all aspects of Arabian society. As the first recipients of the words of the Prophet Muhammed, or more correctly, the words of Allah revealed through Muhammed in the Koran, the Arabs have a special role in Islam, and the Arabic language, in which the Koran was written, has a holy status. Moreover, the Koran contains the only recognized and enforceable code of law in...