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The Saudis: Inside the Desert Kingdom

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  187 Ratings  ·  33 Reviews
Sandra Mackey lived in Saudi Arabia for four years, and as far as the authorities knew, she was simply the wife of an American doctor. But she saw things and traveled to places rarely viewed by any outsider, let alone a Western woman, and she succeeded in smuggling out a series of crucial articles on Saudi culture and politics. The Saudis offers a fascinating portrait of S ...more
Paperback, 464 pages
Published October 17th 2002 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 1987)
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Feb 29, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lopsided depiction of life in the late 70's/early 80's Saudi Arabia written by an American woman based in Saudi for a few years. Includes many historical lessons on aspects of Saudi life, such as the influence of and history of Islam, politics, Wahabism, etc but you can't help being a bit skeptical given her profound American bias. For example, early on in the book, she says that the Saudi's hadn't yet been "forced to" learn English while mentioning that no one in her group had yet 'picked up' m ...more
Jul 29, 2007 marked it as to-read
Shelves: non-fiction
My main motivation in reading this is to better understand the country I lived in for the majority of my childhood, but to also refresh my memory on my dad's behalf as he is currently working over there.

So far, it's been incredibly accurate and also has cleared up some of my childhood memories, where as a child I did not understand the levels of secretiveness, desire to maintain tradition, and adherence to religion this country is desperately pursuing. I am happy that the author's tone is not bi
Mar 01, 2012 rated it it was ok
If it wasn't for the 300 pages of the 412 pages of the book the author spent rambling on and on, I would have given it 5 stars, but since it was far too long, not that entertaining, and full of the many sources that weren't her own, I went with 2. Who can blame her though? From her stories, it seemed like she had nothing left to do but write and write she did. A LOT.
Interesting yet dated perspective on the somewhat more modern culture I'm teaching right now with Gilgamesh.
Kashvi Lalgudi
May 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The Saudis is a fascinating novel about the development and culture of Saudi Arabia since the oil boom. I liked how descriptive Sandra Mackey was when describing the history and legacy of the leaders of Saudi Arabia, how she gave clear explanations to how women and men in Saudi Arabia are supposed to behave in society, and the role of westerners in modern Saudi Arabia. I also liked how Sandra Mackey added in information about her personal life (the reason that she and her family were living in S ...more
Jan 12, 2018 rated it liked it
When i saw this book on the shelf of a second hand book store i immediately grabbed it thinking it would be an interesting account of life in Saudi Arabia during the oil boom.

Instead it turned out to be pages and pages of rambling and unnecessary figures that would more often than not put me to sleep. The constant implication of western superiority was a bit annoying. The author did share some interesting anecdotes and gave at times a good insight into the Saudis’ life and psyche and for that i
Dec 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
An excellent examination of the role of Saudi Arabia in the modern world as well as illuminating the Saudi Arabian culture and psyche this book deals with the struggle between a quest for modernization and the conflicts it creates with the religious ideals of the Kingdom. It also highlights the attitude of other Arab nations towards Saudi Arabia.

I found myself having lots of head nodding moments as I read this book. The author lived there shortly after the period when my family and I returned fr
Feb 07, 2014 rated it liked it
When you consider what a mysterious place is, you may think of several types of lands. There is a place like Nepal or Timbuktu, where foreign and interesting things happen far from the eyes of the West. And then there are places like the old Soviet Union, where the mystery is enforced by an oppressive state determined to keep the eyes of outsiders out. Many people think that Saudi Arabia, with its oil, its royal family and its holy places would fall into the former category. In "The Saudis", San ...more
Christian Engler
Sep 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a good introductary or pulp nonfiction book, if such a thing exists. It would be a typical best-seller. What this book does, however, is introduce readers and help them to understand the complexities of Saudi Arabian politics, economics and society at large. Sandra Mackey gives fine minute details of how women are treated, the norms of culture and traditions and the country's most powerful and lucrative export: oil. In terms of global economy -- especially for the United States -- a lot ...more
Mar 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
Though the book was published in the mid 1980s, most of the material is still very relevant today. That is a testament to the lack of social, political, and economic progress in Saudi Arabia and the region. Today, oil, as it was back then, still makes up almost 90% of government revenue, there is still an underclass of South Asian workers doing all the hard work, and woman still don't enjoy full rights.

Mackey detects and reports on a rising Islamic fundamentalism emerging in the country in the
Nov 17, 2014 rated it did not like it
I found this book when I was bored and looking for something to read. It actually belongs to my mom (she brought it ages ago and forgot about it on a shelf) so, after getting her permission to borrow it, I began to read it. I found it fascinating at first, but in later chapters I grew to dislike the author. There was an entire chapter about how oppressed women were in Islam, and how men forced their wives to cover up and stuff (as a Muslim, I can tell you that this is NOT true!). I mean, honestl ...more
Jacob Hess
May 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
Saudi Arabia boasts the largest reserve of crude oil in the world. If there is any country that an oil investor would like to peek into, it would be the Desert Kingdom. As the monarchy revolves between blood relative kings, its people remain captivated by the culture of Islam that has maintained a traditional society governed by theological laws based on the Quran. Sandra Mackey's account of her temporary station in Saudi Arabia during the years of the oil glut surveys a society standing atop on ...more
A really good take on Saudi Arabia written from a westerner's perspective. It does an especially good job illustrating the differences between western and Saudi world views and the clash that occurs as the two cultures meet. Although Saudi Arabia continues to gradually become more and more open to the west, it is still largely an unknown country. This may not be the definitive summary of that country, but it has a fairly large breadth and still manages to convey much of the complexity of the peo ...more
Gil Burket
Nov 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: middle-east
It has been awhile since I read this, and yes, it was a long book.

But it was published at a time when there was far too little written about Saudi Arabia, given their amount of influence on American oil politics.

I was struck at the time about the level of access that the author had inside the Saudi bureaucracy; most likely this access has since been closed to other Westerners.

I think it is a good introduction to this culture, and quite revealing on just how different they are in terms of outlook
Apr 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I learned that knowing a lot about Palestine, Israel, and the area known as Bilad al-Sham doesn't mean that you know anything at all about Saudi Arabia. I chose this book specifically to learn more about Arabia and Wahhabiism, and I did both, very handily. The book is not an in-depth discussion of Wahhabiism, but it does touch on the subject, and the author's discussion of Islam and a number of other aspects of Saudi culture that I didn't understand specifically in the Saudi context was very use ...more
Aug 05, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: governance

A highly-accessible perspective of the forces at work in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Written prior to September 11, 2001, the book includes a short afterward that misses the boat regarding the predominance of Saudi men involved in the attacks. While Mackey's experience in-country provides a wealth of insight into the political, economic and religious agendas of the leadership, she does seem to run out of fresh observations to make roughly fifty pages prior to calling it quits. A fair read, and
Jun 02, 2012 rated it liked it
Would have been four stars but last 25% was a little slow and seemed to repeat some of the political issues. But if you are interested in life inside Saudi, this is a great book. I live in the UAE (which although much more open and liberal, still as a lot of the same challenges of incorporating Western technology, reliance on expat workers, roles of women, etc.). Even though this was written in the 80s, the issues are still very, very relevant today. I particularly liked the chapters on women an ...more
Jul 31, 2008 rated it really liked it
A very intriguing sociocultural study of Saudi Arabia, from an objective but not opinion-free perspective. The writing gets a little dense around the discussion of natural resources and commodities trading, but it's a tough topic. Otherwise, the writing is excellent and engaging. This book, while a little old, is excellent preparation for understanding current political interactions between Saudi Arabia and the West.
Jan 10, 2013 rated it did not like it
This was not a good book. Mackey gives a picture of Saudi Arabia completely lacking in nuance and instead awash in her smug sense of Western superiority. For example, she refers to "dwarfish," "cunning Yemenis" out to cheat everyone out of their money. I cut her a fair amount of slack, as she is not an expert with any training in the field of Mid-East Studies, but she delivers a crude caricature of modern Saudi Arabia that frankly isn't worth any reader's time.
Aug 05, 2015 rated it it was ok
I bought this book in the history section of Kino's which is very misleading because it's not a history book it's a memoir with oil statistics, politics, and minimum real history thrown in. The author is banned from Saudi for writing this book and rightfully so since she misquotes the Quran, uses her opinion instead of facts, and boasts about the illegal things she did while living in Saudi.
Jan 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
A great introduction to the medieval kingdom that is Saudi Arabia. Much of the notes and articles from which it was drawn were written during the oil booms in the 1970s. Best is Mackays's account of a public beheading and the unpredictable energy that builds up in the crowd as the execution is conducted.
Diane C.
Feb 28, 2013 rated it liked it
This is an updated version of a book written in the early 90's by a woman who lived and worked in Saudi Arabia in the 70's and 80's while her husband was some kind of petroleum engineer there.

It can be pedantic with detail, it's more of a book to buy and delve into periodically than to read cover to cover. But very interesting and from a woman's perspective about life in the Kingdom.
Aug 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
Good book as tells a lot about the culture, history, and complexities of their society both past and present to 1990. I learned a lot! It helps to gain more understanding of the people and whys and wherefores. Don't know what the answers would be to getting along better though. Sandra did a great job.
Jul 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Good primer for those who don't how a medieval nation in 1945 could get catapulted to the Modern Era in a span of 30 years...and how the House of Saud by backing a purtanical sect of Islam called Wahabiism will always need the support of the US....or they'll be alot of Princelings with their heads on Pikes....
Erik Graff
Aug 11, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Saudi fans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
While nested in a broader overview of Saudi history and culture, this book is primarily about women in Saudi Arabia. The author, incognito there as a journalist, explores the ostensible as opposed to the actual practices of women in the culture. The picture is not pretty.

I read this book at the Ennui Cafe on Lunt and Sheridan in Chicago, then passed it on to a female Bosnian friend.
Oct 15, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Accounts of life inside closed societies like prisons, religious cults/sects and dictatorships are fascinating to me, and hey, Saudi Arabia's a two-fer! A good look at day-to-day life inside the kingdom and the appalling social conditions within.
Sep 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I read the original version back in the 80's when it first came out and we were living in "The Kingdom". She gets it right on every aspect. An excellent look at the inner workings of "the magic kingdom".
Ollie Eubany
Sep 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
Lots of information about Saudi Arabia - customs and local laws - historical
Mar 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
One woman's account of being in Saudi Arabia during the boom years in 1970. At that time the country had to build an infrastructure which required the expertise of Western companies.
Agustinus Wibowo
Jan 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arab
broadened my perspective on this mysterious kingdom
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