Oil lies at the heart of the modern history of the Middle East. For decades, the world’s largest oil reserves have enriched the region’s nations. But oil wealth has not brought with it universal prosperity. It has, though, transformed the Middle Eastern people and societies—enriching empires and engendering anarchies.
Empires and Anarchies is an unconventional history of oil in the Middle East. In Michael Quentin Morton’s account the burnt-out remains of Saddam Hussein’s armaments and the human tragedy of the Arab Spring are as much of the story as the shimmering skylines of oil-rich nations. From the first explorers trudging through the desert to the excesses of the Peacock Throne and the high stakes of OPEC, Morton lays out the history of oil in compelling detail, arguing that oil simultaneously enriched and fractured the Middle East, eroding traditional ways of life, and eventually contributing to the rise of Islamic radicalism. The book is essential reading for anyone interested in the promises and peril of the world’s oil boom.
For those who visit the United Arab Emirates (UAE), staying in its the lavish hotels and browsing in the ultra-modern shopping malls of Abu Dhabi or Dubai, the country can be a mystery, a glass and concrete creation that seems to have sprung from the desert overnight. Keepers of the Golden Shore looks behind this glossy façade, illuminating the region’s history, which stretches from the ancient Arabian tribes who controlled a desolate but economically important shoreline to the ostentatious architectural wonders—bankrolled by a massive wealth of oil—that characterize it today.
As Michael Quentin Morton recounts, the region now known as the UAE likely began as a trading post between Mesopotamia and Oman, and since that time has been the stage of important economic and cultural exchanges. It has seen the rise and fall of a thriving pearl industry, piracy, invasions and wars, and the arrival of the oil age that would make it one of the richest countries on earth. Since the early 1970s, when seven sheikhs agreed to enter into a union, it has been a sovereign nation, carrying on the resourceful spirit—with resplendent fervor—that the brutally inhospitable landscape has long demanded of the people. Ultimately, Morton shows that the country is not only rich in oil and money but in an extraordinarily deep history and culture.
Qatar is a country of spectacular contrasts: from pearl fishing, its main industry until the 1930s, to gas and oil, which generate immense wealth today; to famously being at the center of both triumph and controversy in recent years for hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Almost a lifetime since he grew up in Qatar, Michael Quentin Morton writes about the country’s colorful past and its astonishing present. The book is filled with stories about the people of this land: the tribes and the travelers, the seafarers and slaves—as much a part of Qatar’s history as its rulers and their wealth. The opaque Arabian world guards its secrets well, but Masters of the Pearl penetrates the veil to shed light on a country that until now has defied explanation.