In This Review

MBS: The Rise to Power of Mohammed bin Salman
MBS: The Rise to Power of Mohammed bin Salman
By Ben Hubbard
384 pp, Tim Duggan Books, 2020

This is a fascinating, well-reported, and compellingly recounted story of the rise of Saudi Arabia’s impatient young crown prince and his increasingly brazen concentration of power. Hubbard wears his familiarity with the Middle East lightly and shares it generously, conveying how Mohammed bin Salman (known universally as MBS) has efficiently sidelined his rivals, weakened his opponents, and destroyed his detractors, all while styling himself as the reforming savior of a sclerotic regime. The book is a revealing look at the drawbacks of unaccountable government in an oil kingdom—vast corruption, widespread incompetence, and almost infinite entitlement—as well as a chilling account of how those limitations can nurture ambition unconstrained by honesty, expertise, or loyalty. Hubbard adds disturbing detail to the well-known story of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a regime critic, at the hands of regime enforcers close to MBS. The portrait of MBS that emerges from the book resembles no one so much as the brash young man who took power in Libya in 1969: Muammar al-Qaddafi, who initially presented himself as an ambitious modernizer but who went on to spend the next 40 years destroying his own country and spreading mayhem throughout the world.