As the world waits for answers about Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance, we asked our international correspondent David Kirkpatrick, who wrote “Into the Hands of the Soldiers: Freedom and Chaos in Egypt and the Middle East,” to suggest three books to help us understand Saudi Arabia and United States relations with that country. Here are his recommendations.
Arabia and the House of Sa’ud
By Robert Lacey
630 pp. Hutchinson. (1981)
Kirkpatrick calls this book a “readable history” of how Saudi Arabia was formed in the early 1900s by a man named Abd al-Aziz ibn Abd ar-Rahman ibn Faisal as-Saud (often known in the West as Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud), who reclaimed power over the region after his family had lost it in the 1700s. Lacey, who is a friend of Khashoggi’s, the disappeared journalist, threads together the story of how Abd al-Aziz built a kingdom “with a sword of steel and a sword of flesh,” taking advantage of his right to have four wives at a time to marry around 300 women and father dozens of sons. “He used marriage as a diplomatic instrument, making his own bed the focus of efforts to bind the territories he conquered,” wrote our reviewer.
KINGS AND PRESIDENTS
Saudi Arabia and the United States Since FDR
By Bruce Riedel
272 pp. Brookings Institution Press. (2017)
Riedel, formerly of the C.I.A., “is a terrific expert on Saudi Arabia and a sharp critic of its current leaders,” said Kirkpatrick, calling this book “excellent.” This insider account draws from declassified documents and eyewitness accounts to explore the historical relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia, which has been fraught from the start, as it is put to the test by recent events.
The Dilemmas of a New Era in Saudi Arabia
By Madawi Al-Rasheed
320 pp. Oxford University Press. (2018)
The editor of this recent title is “an important Saudi intellectual in exile,” said Kirkpatrick, and in this book, she brings together historians and social scientists who are experts on Saudi Arabia to reflect on the country under the rule of King Salman, who came into power in 2015. It contains essays on religion, feminism and more.