Unlike the think tankers from Washington and London who like to roll into Riyadh for a couple of days, have a few briefings with royal aides, then leave to pontificate about the Saudi vision for the Middle East, Hubbard gets stuck into the deep societal shifts that the changes are wreaking. In a visit to the conservative city of Buraidah he finds clerics who disagree with MBS’s vision — but know they are powerless to stop it.
Hubbard, a Middle East correspondent for The New York Times, is well acquainted with American and Saudi dignitaries. He has spent more time in the kingdom than most other working western journalists and his book reminds me of the British historian Robert Lacey’s two studies, The Kingdom (1981) and Inside the Kingdom (2009). Like Lacey, Hubbard arrives in a country that has a reputation for isolation and extremism, which is both well merited and misleading. He peppers his text with personal anecdotes to demonstrate the contradictions.
Hubbard delivers a highly informed portrait, leavening his narrative with well-deserved skepticism, and leaves the reader wondering what lies ahead for the prince and his kingdom. This does not purport to be a comprehensive biography. Rather, Hubbard focuses on the prince’s rise, his accretion and exercise of power, and weaves past reporting into a readily readable package. As to be expected, the prince declined to be interviewed. Hubbard paints the early years with a broad brush.