Having covered the Middle East for The New York Times from 2001 to 2005, having earlier worked in the Middle East with the Associated Press, and having earlier still grown up in Libya (where his father worked for Esso), MacFarquhar ranks among the more seasoned of U.S. journalists reporting on the Middle East. In what amounts to a personal bildungsroman, he traces his encounters with the Arab world from Morocco to the Persian Gulf. The first part of the book ranges discursively over such diverse subjects as Libya's Muammar al-Qaddafi, Hezbollah, al Jazeera, satellite television, jihad, fatwas, and the Lebanese singer Fairuz. The latter part evaluates the dismal record of intelligence-controlled autocracies in Bahrain, Egypt (whose relations with the Muslim Brotherhood he addresses), Jordan (which he ranks as "the best of the worst"), Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. Drawing on information gleaned from his personal contacts with officials in those regimes and even more from his contacts with would-be reformers, MacFarquhar also examines the dubious record of U.S. democracy promotion in the Middle East.