Robert Vitalis

Robert Vitalis is the author of America’s Kingdom: Mythmaking on the Saudi Oil Frontier.

Past Its Peak: The Oil Curse

Robert Vitalis, 17 December 2009

In 1905 a British journalist called James Dodds Henry travelled to Baku, an enclave on the southern frontier of the Russian Empire that had recently become the centre of the world oil industry. ‘If oil is king, Baku is its throne,’ he wrote in Baku: An Eventful History. But the Russian industry was even then beginning a precipitous decline following a series of crippling strikes...

Steve Coll’s book tells two stories: a big one about how the bin Laden family cashed in on the oil bonanza in Saudi Arabia, and a smaller one about Osama’s role in the family business before he turned to holy warfare. Although well written, lucid and packed with useful detail, The Bin Ladens doesn’t establish much of a connection between the family firm in Saudi Arabia and Osama bin Laden’s jihad in Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan and America, except that oil wealth funded both. The bin Laden group isn’t among the world’s largest engineering businesses, although readers might finish this book believing that it is: Coll calls it Saudi Arabia’s Halliburton, even though the latter is an oil services firm, not a construction company. He is at his best excavating details from the mountain of documents generated by various bin Laden brothers in the lawsuits and divorce settlements that have followed on several decades of deals gone sour.

Destined to Disappear: ‘Race Studies’

Susan Pedersen, 20 October 2016

At the moment of its American birth, ‘international relations meant race relations.’ Races, not states or nations, were considered humanity’s foundational political units; ‘race war’ – not...

Read more reviews

In Princes’ Pockets: Saudi Oil

Tariq Ali, 19 July 2007

The day after the attacks on New York and Washington in 2001, a Saudi woman resident in London, a member of a wealthy family, rang her sister in Riyadh to discuss the crisis affecting the...

Read more reviews

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences