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Publisher's Summary

A gripping, behind-the-scenes portrait of the rise of Saudi Arabia’s secretive and mercurial new ruler 

“Revelatory...a vivid portrait of how MBS has altered the kingdom during his half-decade of rule.” (The Washington Post)

MBS is the untold story of how a mysterious young prince emerged from Saudi Arabia’s sprawling royal family to overhaul the economy and society of the richest country in the Middle East - and gather as much power as possible into his own hands. Since his father, King Salman, ascended to the throne in 2015, Mohammed bin Salman has leveraged his influence to restructure the kingdom’s economy, loosen its strict Islamic social codes, and confront its enemies around the region, especially Iran. That vision won him fans at home and on Wall Street, in Silicon Valley, in Hollywood, and at the White House, where President Trump embraced the prince as a key player in his own vision for the Middle East. But over time, the sheen of the visionary young reformer has become tarnished, leaving many struggling to determine whether MBS is in fact a rising dictator whose inexperience and rash decisions are destabilizing the world’s most volatile region. 

Based on years of reporting and hundreds of interviews, MBS reveals the machinations behind the kingdom’s catastrophic military intervention in Yemen, the bizarre detention of princes and businessmen in the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton, and the shifting Saudi relationships with Israel and the United States. And finally, it sheds new light on the greatest scandal of the young autocrat’s rise: the brutal killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in Istanbul, a crime that shook Saudi Arabia’s relationship with Washington and left the world wondering whether MBS could get away with murder. 

MBS is a riveting, eye-opening account of how the young prince has wielded vast powers to reshape his kingdom and the world around him. 

©2020 Ben Hubbard (P)2020 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“Saudi Arabia is testing the extremes of tradition and innovation, of half-baked visions and intensifying repression. Ben Hubbard’s authoritative reporting on the inner sanctums of its society offers a perfect synthesis of journalism and area expertise: the best description we have at the moment of why things happen as they do in the kingdom.” (Robert D. Kaplan, author of The Return of Marco Polo’s World

“A devastating profile of the Saudi prince who rose rapidly to become one of the Middle East’s most powerful players—and one of the world’s most ruthless leaders... Ben Hubbard has provided a chilling and occasionally horrifying portrait of a man known worldwide simply by his initials: MBS. It’s a captivating read.” (Robin Wright, author of Rock the Casbah)

“An elegant writer, the multilingual veteran Middle East correspondent Ben Hubbard is exactly the right person to draw this portrait of the most important leader in that part of the world today. His fast-paced narrative never flags or avoids dark corners. I found it riveting.” (Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s Ghost)

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Suffers from 'Objective Journalism' Syndrome

I Came to this book after listening to Kim Ghatta's slightly superior book 'Black Wave'. The books seems to come from the same 'neo-liberal' worldview of Ghattas -and thus would be a book that I would recommend to Left Leaning friends interested in the Geopolitics of the Middle East.

That being said, the author's bias -along with the actual target of the narrative's ire is fairly apparent early on in the book -and that target is the current occupant of 1400 Penn. This should not be a surprise given the Periodical that the Author is employed by.

What I can say about MBS is this -what did you expect from a Saudi Prince?

I in no way condone his imprisonment of prominent businessmen in the Riyadh Ritz, nor his obvious hand in the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, but if you look at the history and deeds of the House of Saud -dating long before MBS' birth and you will see a long bloody trail of deceit, betrayal, violence, and murder. Family members having each other arrested or Princes having dissidents murdered has been common in the Kingdom since its inception. Despite what Khashoggi says ‘it was always like this’. In this MBS is not unique -which begs one to wonder why so many mainstream journos seem fascinated with his ruthless, despotic nature that seems in line with every Saudi who came before him.

In all honesty I do not find the Saudi security apparatus all that intimidating -at least compared to nearby rivals such as Iran and Turkey, or far more powerful nations such as China or Russia. The latter of which’s atrocities are conducted with a precise deftness that comes from decades of perfecting the art, and cannot help to be admired in a way. I am talking about how Putin’s FSB has assassinated dissidents abroad with poison, or taken over Crimea and parts Ukraine without a single airstrike or firing a shot. The Saudi’s clumsy and blustering style of international intrigue is left severely wanting. To be a bit inhumane for a moment, killing a dissident journalist by luring him into an embassy, and then hacking up his body to bits is not exactly what the Russians would call finesse.

What I find fascinating about MBS is his desire to reform the Kingdom -despite the fact that, as the author suggests, his plans seem a bit overly ambitious with little grounding in reality. His knack for opulence, and violence, however, are dull surprises at best. To me he seems something of a Saudi version of Peter the Great - -and while some may balk at this comparison, keep in mind Peter the Great was no angel. In fact, he was quite the tyrannical and despotic ruler who tortured his own son, murdered dissidents, betrayed his own sister, deceived foreign dignitaries into false alliances, and (finally) led several catastrophic wars -all to force Russia out of the middle ages.

And today people remember him fondly as the ‘ship builder Czar’, and the ‘father of modern Russia’, his many sins all but washed away.

Will MBS be as successful as Peter the Great?
I think that is highly doubtful, as -like the author (whose opinions can be inferred by inflection in the writing) I rolled my eyes at a lot of MBS’s fantastical goals in Vision2030 as well as his NEOM scheme. That being said, I am sure plenty of people balked at Peter the Great when he proposed building St. Petersburg. Perhaps NEOM will be MBS’s St. Petersburg and he will be the one with the last laugh…Time will tell.

As for 'The Don's' "friendship" with the despotic Princeling -which the author and a few reviewers like to point out, I think is a low hanging fruit among many attempts to prove 'The Don' is the Antichrist or 'Cheeto Hitler'. We have supported far more monstrous people in the past (i.e MBS's grandfather Ibin Saud) and you do not see the author decrying FDR for having a 'close friendship with a tyrant'.

The take away from this book should be this: Saudi Arabia is an awful place (one of the few positives I can say about the author's long segues into first person accounts of his experiences reporting from the Kingdom) and a man offering to reform the place, fight radicalism, and act as an ally of the U.S. seems like a breath of fresh air. I really do not blame the Trump Administration for initially throwing their lot with MBS -given that he seems different from the typical Saudi ruling class of religious conservatives or hedonistic hypocrites.

However, with recent events the Trump Administration should view this as a splash of ice water to the face, and in the future should look to MBS and his machinations with caution. Mind you "Drumpf's" support of MBS should not be used as an indictment of his administration or his job as President -especially given the U.S.'s consistent support of Saudi Arabia for the past half century. And as for the assertion that President Obama was unique for being critical and less than trustful of the Saudis, mind you just about every Presidential Administration (*save for both Bush White Houses) looked to the Saudis with caution as a necessary evil (better than the devil you don't know) -and just like every other Administration Obama still propped them up with arms sales and securing the flow of their oil. Like Obama, I am certain that behind closed doors Trump has no real love for the House of Saud, and is probably skeptical of their sincerity to reform or fight radical Islam. Still he supports them, as Obama and all other U.S. Administrations.

So, frankly, give me a break.
Perhaps his main mistake was taking sides in the power struggle between MBS and MBN, that and giving his son in law, Kushner, his ear -which even Trump supporters are critical of. Obama was smart in refraining from that. I think many of the actual experts (Rex Tillerson, and General Mattis) were probably in agreement with that hands-off approach, Trump simply didn’t listen. Which, in my opinion seems to be his greatest failing.
People reading this book who already see Trump as the Spawn of Faschy Satan (which seems to be the author's view as well), will only see this book as a confirmation of their bias. Unfortunately, like most of the journalistic class, they continue to hide their own bias and ulterior agendas under the guise of 'objective journalism' -the same 'journalism' that is rapidly being seen as less credible and more of a joke.
The book does provide a great deal of context to current affairs and geopolitics of the Middle East, especially when looking at Saudi Arabia’s shadowy new ruler in all but name. It also gives a lot of good insight into the inner workings of the Kingdom (a corrupt, despotic, and nepotistic place I never intend to visit), with the author seeming to have an ear on the pulse of the place despite a personal and professional desire to keep with the pulse of his employers -especially when personal politics are concerned.
If you think this book, about a far away country, and its new prospective leader has nothing to do with American Politics, nor is it trying possibly sway some undecideds in the wake of the 2020 election, then -to quote Ramsey Bolton, “you haven’t been paying attention.”

13 people found this helpful

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An Important History of a Horrible Human Being

This is a fascinating memoir and history of a terrible human being. The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia has used the modernization of Saudi Arabia from a conservative Islamist monarchy as an excuse to murder innocent children in Yemen, kill, torture and imprison his rivals and those criticize him, end journalism and criticism and take the wealth and assets of those who oppose him. It is a horrible, true story excellently told by New York Times reporter Ben Hubbard who experienced much of the anti-journalistic approach of the Crown Prince, including Hubbard’s connections with the innocent, harmless reporter Jamal Khashoggi who was murdered and dismembered by Salman’s right hand man who to this day still does Salman’s bidding to the danger of Saudi citizens.
Ironically, Donald Trump does not care if Mohammed bin Salman was involved in the murder and torture of a reporter for an American paper in Istanbul. After the CIA told Trump that Mohammed bin Salman was responsible for Khashoggi’s death, Donald Trump famously said, “It could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event — maybe he did and maybe he didn't. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region.” So, go ahead and murder and dismember our reporter. That is fine to the President of the United States. Before and after the killing, Donald Trump bragged about America creating and selling enormous warplanes and bombs to Saudi Arabia even though he knew they would be dropped on innocent civilians and children in Yemen. On the eighteen-month anniversary of Khashoggi’s murder after the book was published, Donald Trump went out of his way to call Mohammed bin Salman his friend.
How ironic also that Donald Trump claims friends who are the enemies of America who kill, poison, and imprison rivals, criminalize speaking with reporters who do not support the oligarchs, murder the innocent including children and demonize our allies. Vladimir Putin is responsible for killing tens of thousand Ukrainians, interfering in our election, murdering and poisoning his rivals in Russia as well as in England and Germany, and shooting down a commercial airplane over the Ukraine killing 68 innocent people including children and students. Donald Trump’s other friend Kim Jung-un killed his half brother and tens of thousands of innocent citizens for criticizing his rule. All three have ended dissent in the media. At least Mohammed bin Salman did not kill his brother, but he virtually tortured him into giving up his Crown Princedom for Salman to reign. Salman also imprisoned his mother in her home for years.
Ben Hubbard is an excellent writer and his important book sheds light on this horrible person, Mohammed bin Salman, and his friend Donald Trump.

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Good book, dripping with bias

This is a fascinating book that sheds light on the mysterious crown prince MBS and the internal politics of Saudi Arabia. Throughout the book, the author weaves in some very dubious talking points that I found off putting. All in all a good read, with a very partisan lean.

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Brilliant Overview of Saudi Political Climate

Ben Hubbard had done a brilliant job of presenting an overview of the current political climate in Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman's rise to power and the events and circumstances that have resulted in MBS becoming Saudi Arabia de facto leader. Hubbard is the unique western reporter in that his fluency, in Arabic, has provided him with the ability not only to communicate to members of the royal family and others, within the Saudi power structure, but everyday Saudis whose perspective adds depth to Hubbard's accounts.

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almost full picture

the anther tried to be in neutrality not to be with or against MBS and he successes in covering almost all the point in MBS life, this book will give you good back ground about what is happening in KSA recently and you will understand how are Saudis are living today

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must read/listen

Remarkable journalism! Both compelling and nuanced. Page-turning history/biography, made even better when Audible is turning the pages for you. 🙂

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Hugely informative

This book doesn’t just go over the basics about MBS, but weaves it into the whole narrative of Saudi Arabia. Especially with the Ritz Carlton incident, I was baffled with that whole situation. As well the murder of khashoggi, this book puts it all into perspective.

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Would definitely hear it again

Great content, written a captivating manner and with exceptional narration. The audiobook got me hooked on day 1

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A good and interesting read, but...

... I expected a biography and this is more a chronological collection of episodes of MBS path to power viewed from a distance.

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Good overview of MBS's rise

Provides insight into how MBS has upended Saudi Arabia's traditional power sharing structure between different branches of the royal family, his ambitions to change the country, and the worrying technology-enabled crackdown on dissent.