Kings, clerics, terrorists, and modernists have contended over the fate of Saudi Arabia since 1979, when Islamist radicals stormed the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Having set the scene with that traumatic event, Lacey's book continues chronologically with brisk chapters (most fewer than ten pages) organized around individuals or incidents that captured the country's changing headlines over the past three decades. Kings get the greatest play; the different approaches of King Fahd and his successor, Crown Prince Abdullah, loom large. But hardly less fully portrayed are the Saudi clerical establishment, the jihadists (from Osama bin Laden to lesser-known individuals), the Shiite minority, and those beleaguered modernizers. Lacey weaves into this ongoing account the ups and downs of U.S.-Saudi relations. What emerges is a portrait of a distinctively Saudi political culture coping with the challenge of finding a way to change in a distinctively Saudi manner.
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