In the early years of the 20th century, the Arabian Peninsula was populated by loosely affiliated Bedouin tribes living as they had for millennia, with no central power and great vulnerability to the rapidly modernizing world around them. Into this desert land was born a boy the world would come to know as Ibn Saud, or King Abdulaziz, who established the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932 and whose lineage hold the throne to this day.
Performed by Brian Bascle, Michael Darlow and Barbara Bray’s engaging, thorough, and decades-in-the-making biography of this mysterious and important ruler cover Saud’s life from his early years as a desert warrior to his overseeing of the oil boom that elevated his kingdom to the powerful position it holds today.
Ibn Saud grew to manhood living the harsh traditional life of the desert nomad, a life that had changed little since the days of Abraham. Equipped with immense physical courage, he fought and won, often with weapons and tactics not unlike those employed by the ancient Assyrians, a series of astonishing military victories over a succession of enemies much more powerful than himself. Over the same period, he transformed himself from a minor sheikh into a revered king and elder statesman, courted by world leaders such as Churchill and Roosevelt. A passionate lover of women, Ibn Saud took many wives, had numerous concubines, and fathered almost one hundred children. Yet he remained an unswerving and devout Muslim, described by one who knew him well at the time of his death in 1953 as “probably the greatest Arab since the Prophet Muhammad.” Saudi Arabia, the country Ibn Saud created, is a staunch ally of the West, but it is also the birthplace of Osama bin Laden and 15 of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers. Saud’s kingdom, as it now stands, has survived the vicissitudes of time and become an invaluable player on the world’s political stage.
©2010, 2012 Michael Darlow and Barbara Bray. First published in the UK by Quartet Ltd. (P)2012 Audible, Inc.
“An entertainingly exhaustive, though imperfect, biography of an inscrutable monarch.” (Kirkus Review)
“ Darlow and Bray convey the essence of the man as well as the stark, unforgiving landscape that he mastered while forging a nation.” (Jay Freeman, Booklist)
“All in all a successful narrative, though overlong on military exploits and personal vignettes and short on analysis of the massive changes in Arabian society.” (Publishers Weekly)
This work feels like it was meant for Audible. During the several days it took me to finish listening, I never felt bogged-down by names, dates or factoids. Instead, the author gives us almost lyrical descriptions of the Arabian landscape and paints a living portrait of Ibn Saud as well as figures instrumental in his rise to power. The book is filled with entertaining anecdotes and personal details that help the reader/listener become emotionally invested in the narrative.
I was impressed by how accessible and easy to follow the narrative Was considering the vast scope of the work. Beyond covering the life of Ibn Saud, this work goes into great detail on Bedouin customs, the formation of Islam and the geopolitical climate of the era. Even though they wern't central to the story, I felt like I better understood the importance of figures such as T.E. Lawrence, Churchill and the Hashemite kings in shaping the modern Middle East after finishing this work.
This wasn't that kind of book, but if I had to pick a favorite person portrayed in the narrative it would be Captain William Shakspear. He seemed worthy of the veneration that figures such as T.E. Lawrence were later to inspire more through publicity than by actual exploits.
Yes, it was that good.
Certain passages of this work, especially of those related to Ibn Saud's personal religious beliefs and his control (or lack therof) on some of the more fanatical Wahabis in his service seemed a bit biased. But no book is perfect.
Twenty one hours of listening to this book is the shortest way to educate oneself on the history of the modern state of Saudi Arabia. Despite the fact that I had some idea of Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud's raids and conquering of territory, it wasn’t the complete story nor made much sense. Thanks to this book which not only filled the void but actually went beyond: it filled it to my delight.
This book covers in detail the entire history of the tribes, the politics, the fighting within and without which spanned the Arabian peninsula from 1890 to 1957 with Abdul Aziz (referred throughout the book as Ibn Saud) taking the central role. It covers all aspects of Ibn Saud – his soldierly spirit, his fighting strength, his political maneuvering, yet not overlooking his personal failings. It was only after reading this book that I was able to get an idea of how the oil wealth has been and is being consumed by the House of Sauds. I could hardly believe that in 1950s two-third of the income from oil went in to serving the lifestyle and needs of the self acclaimed Royals. There is also ample humour and stories to give the reader enough chuckles. Ibn Saud’s marriages and his losing account of how many wives he married: his insistence of taking sheep aboard USS Murphy (to which the US Navy relented) enroute for his meeting with President Roosevelt aboard USS Quincy provide for a fair amount of light reading.
Elsewhere I had read a comment that the narrator could not pronounce the Arabic names correctly. Indeed that is true but I had rather listen to a good English narrator and compromise listening to a few incorrect Arabic names than listen to some one pronouncing the Arabic names correctly but debar me the pleasure of smooth English listening for twenty hours. I enjoyed the narration so well that I have no hesitation rating it 5-stars.
Any Muslim or a non Muslim, an Arab or otherwise who intends serving anywhere in the Arabian peninsula would find himself enriched reading this book and better equipped in knowledge to serve in Saudi Arabia or the Emirates.
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