Inside The Kingdom

Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists
and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia

Robert Lacey

Saudi Arabia is a country defined by paradox: it sits atop some of the richest oil deposits in the world, and yet the country’s roiling disaffection produced sixteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers. It is a modern state, driven by contemporary technology, and yet its powerful religious establishment would have its customs and practices rolled back to match those of the Prophet Muhammed over a thousand years ago. In a world where events in the Middle East continue to have geopolitical consequences far beyond the region’s boundaries, an understanding of this complex nation is essential.

With Inside the Kingdom, British journalist and bestselling author Robert Lacey has given us one of the most penetrating and insightful looks at Saudi Arabia ever produced. More than twenty years after he first moved to the country to write about the Saudis at the end of the oil boom, Lacey has returned to find out how the consequences of the boom produced a society at war with itself.

Filled with stories told by a broad range of Saudis, from high princes and ambassadors to men and women on the street, Inside the Kingdom is in many ways the story of the Saudis in their own words. It is a story of oil money that opened the door to Western ways, and produced a conservative backlash with effects that are still being felt today. It is a story of kings and princes who worried more about keeping power than the dangerous consequences of empowering radical clerics. It is a story of men who challenged orthodoxy and risked prison or death in the name of furthering open society, and of women who defied laws saying they should not write, drive, or play sports. And, at its heart, it is a story of a people attempting to reconcile the religious separatism of the past and the rapidly changing world with which they are increasingly intertwined. Their success – or failure – will have powerful reverberations in their own country, and across the globe.

First published by Hutchinson (Penguin Random House, UK) in 2009.


  • Winner of the Rawabi Award (for individuals who, in the opinion of the Saudi British Society Selection Committee, have contributed significantly to furthering Saudi British relations)

‘Robert Lacey has returned to the Kingdom to provide an insightful and intimate portrait of a country – and a family – chained to tradition and challenged by the remorseless march of modernity. Lacey provides many startling and often delicious details that make this history fresh, surprising, and essential’
Lawrence Wright, Pulitzer-winning author of The Looming Tower

‘Beautifully written and thought-provoking… Robert Lacey has written a highly accomplished book which should go into the bags of anyone who has to travel to the Kingdom.’
Literary Review

‘…a highly readable book that goes far beyond the campaigning, caricature, envy, over-simplification and racism that characterize so much writing about and Western media coverage of the Kingdom.’

‘A page-turning account of a country with a power to affect all of us, but which the rest of the world seems reluctant to know.’

‘This is essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in Saudi Arabia’.
The Observer

‘Eminently readable . . . a compelling guide to the psychology of Saudi Arabia.’

‘Fascinating and authoritative.’
Mail on Sunday

‘A book of startling insights . . . Lacey’s sympathetic engagement with the struggles, triumphs and defeats of average Saudi men and women makes “Inside the Kingdom” both compelling reading and an important contribution to building greater understanding between Saudi Arabia and the west.’
Financial Times

‘An insider’s view…the women who saw female GIs driving trucks and decided to give driving a try . . . victims of injustice and millionaires; dissidents and the princes who jail them.’
Daily Telegraph

‘Lacey depicts a society painfully adapting to ideals it once rejected and ideas that are not wholly consistent with its traditions.’
The Times

‘The real triumph of this book…is the way is peels away the layers of mystery that shroud a civil society of which we have almost no knowledge . . . His background as a reporter allows him to bring to life the remarkable material he has amassed by living there for the past three years.’
Sunday Times

‘[I] know of no book that captures so convincingly the intimate connection between the Kingdom and the rise of al-Qaeda and its jihadist ideology…What distinguishes Mr Lacey’s account is his use of Saudi voices – many of them, even in this most reticent of cultures, on the record – to anatomise a deeply rooted culture of intolerance…[a] compelling book.’ Economist

‘Robert Lacey has written a brilliant book – a book which has to be read by everyone who is interested in our future . . . Only astrologers read the stars, but we should read this book carefully.’
Catholic Herald

‘Mr. Lacey speaks frankly . . . [He] is outstanding at explaining the rhythms and sequence of modernization and reaction in recent Saudi history . . . It is a pleasure to recommend this important, welcome and most timely book.’
Washington Times

‘Inside the Kingdom is an exotic, wealth-driven exercise in spooky political mystery.’
Western Daily Press

‘Robert Lacey explains one of the world’s most complicated governments and societies with sweeping, beautiful writing, intellectual brilliance and unparalleled insight. Inside the Kingdom is the most penetrating and substantial book on the Saudi state and society since September 11. Once again Lacey has proved that no outsider understands Saudi Arabia better than himself. This is a thoughtful masterpiece about a country that lies at the heart of the Muslim world’
Ahmed Rashid, author of Taliban and Descent Into Chaos 

‘Knowing very little about Saudi Arabia before I opened this remarkable book, I found myself whirled from the first page into the compelling human drama of this mysterious society whose conflicts have wreaked such a devastating impact on the West. Robert Lacey is one of our foremost contemporary historians, and with Inside the Kingdom he proves himself a master story-teller as well.’
Andrew Roberts

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