A Brief History of Saudi Arabia, by James Wynbrandt, covers the history of Saudi Arabia from 20,000 years ago, when the first inhabitants arrived near the end of the last Ice Age, to its founding as a kingdom, to present day. Wynbrandt highlights the paradoxes and problems of a kingdom originally founded on principles of tribalism and theocracy, that in the last century gained vast wealth, influence, and challenge, and became the moral leader of the Arab and Islamic world.
Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam, established by Muhammad, born in Mecca 570. Muhammad and descendants expanded the Islamic Empire from Medina to throughout Arabia, Persia, the Middle East, Egypt, Libya, and Andalusia from 750-1258. The first half of the book covers developments in the Islamic Empire, including Islamic tenets, pilgrimage, exploration and scientific discovery, the Sunni vs. Shia schism, the Crusades, and conservative vs. secular religious practice.
The second half of the book covers contemporary history, including the founding of Saudi Arabia; its relations with other Peninsula countries (Yemen, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait); its relations with other Middle East countries (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Israel, Jordan, Egypt); and its relations with western and eastern countries (United Kingdom, United States, Europe, China, Russia).
Saudi Arabia is also the birthplace of 9/11, orchestrated by Osama Bin Ladin, born a Saudi Arabian citizen in 1957, who inherited $80 million at 13 years old and, in 1980, moved to Afghanistan to start his training camps. Wynbrandt helps the reader understand the continuing tenuous position of the Kingdom: balancing expectations of Islamic religious practice between conservative vs. secular citizens, leaders, and world neighbors; dealing with its own internal terrorism plus growing youth population, lack of job opportunities, demands for more representative government, and demands for more rights for women; and evolving and maintaining status as a citizen and player in the global economy.