“Got any recommendations on books?”

We often hear this question from soon-to-be Western expats in Saudi Arabia.

After all, Saudi is a different climate than what they are used to, and they want to understand it better, so we put together the following reading list. The focus here is books and newspapers that feature good practical information on the Kingdom and give a good sense of the operational environment.

BOOKS

The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in an American Century

(Steve Coll)

An excellent book on the history of the Bin Laden family. Much of it focuses on Osama bin Laden, but just as much covers the business history of the bin Laden corporation, one of the largest firms in the Middle East. Interesting focus on how much effort senior bin Laden’s put into cultivating their relationships with the Royal Family, and the extent of their cash flow problems. The key takeaway of those two points is how important it is to develop good personal relationships with your partners when doing business in Saudi, because that – and only that – is what will protect you in the event of a dispute.

Princes, Brokers, and Bureaucrats: Oil and The State in Saudi Arabia

(Steffen Hertog)

A must read for anyone who wants to know how the Saudi bureaucracy works. The author spent a period of time working inside the Saudi government as a consultant and as a result picked up an intimate sense of how the system works. This book won’t enable you to make the system go faster – that’s likely outside of your control – but it can give you more of a sense of “why” which can provide valuable peace of mind. It can also be useful in explaining the seemingly unexpected delays to people from the corporate office back home.

Prophets and Princes: Saudi Arabia from Muhammad to the Present

(Mark Weston and Wyche Fowler)

A history of the country, from it’s beginnings in the early twentieth century, the last several chapters offer a good overview of the country’s development from a more practical bent.

Al-Waleed: Businessman, Billionaire, Prince

(Riz Khan)

A good biography of one of the top Saudi businessmen, and several of the chapters have interesting content on the Kingdom’s financial climate.

Desert Warrior: A Personal View of the Gulf War by the Joint Forces Commander

(Khalid bin Sultan and Patrick Seale)

While the direct subject of this book is the 1991 Gulf War, there is a fair amount of information about the business and power structure of the Kingdom that is of interest of international companies.

Cities of Salt

(Abdelrahman Munif)

An interesting novel about life in the Kingdom during the early part of the Oil Boom.

 

NEWSPAPERS

These two English language dailies are valuable sources of information on the Kingdom. The content is similar to what one would read in the Arabic language Saudi papers, and there are often English language translations of key Arabic articles.

Reading the op-eds will give you a feeling of current debates taking place in the Kingdom, plus the business articles frequently provide valuable information of use to expats working in fields such as engineering, law, consulting etc:

Arab News

Saudi Gazette