Dubai: The Story of the World's Fastest City by Jim Krane
|Dubai: The Story of the World's Fastest City by Jim Krane|
|Reviewer: Robert James|
|Summary: Fascinating account of Dubai's rapid rise which also looks into the problems faced by the city.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 320||Date: March 2010|
|Publisher: Atlantic Books|
In the 1950's, Dubai contained just a few thousand inhabitants scraping a living. By 1985, it had grown, but Sheikh Mohammed was still laughed at when he said that he wanted to make it a popular destination for tourists. With the addition of artificial islands, the world's tallest building, an indoor ski slope, and much more, it's now one of the world's foremost cities - but as headlines showed last year, the stellar growth may have been extremely costly, in terms of finances, environmental problems, and the quality of life for some of its inhabitants.
This impressive history of Dubai is subtitled The Story of the World's Fastest City, and that pace is mirrored by the speed which Jim Krane throws information at readers here. I was hugely impressed by the number of things I learned about the Emirate, but I was also surprised by how much I was enjoying it. Krane has a real gift for bringing people to life - notably the two Sheiks, Rashid and Mohammed.
Both come across as benevolent rulers, but it's far from being a hagiography of either - after spending the first two thirds of the book talking about the rise of the city, Krane devotes the last hundred pages to talking about its problems and the challenges it faces in the future. These include the foreign workers trapped in debt, the sex industry, and the massive environmental problems caused by a lack of planning when the massive buildings were built. He also talks about the international politics involved, detailing Dubai's uneasy position as a key ally of the United States which also has strong ties with Iran.
Krane's writing style, as I mentioned earlier, is both informative and entertaining, and he sets the book out by splitting it into subsections within each chapter. The longest of these subsections is about ten pages, with many weighing in at around two, and that means it's technically possible to pick it up and read one in five minutes or so – I say technically, as I can count on one hand the number of times I actually managed to do that. Far more often, I picked it up intending to do so, only to end up getting drawn in and an hour or so slipping away without me realising it! A special mention goes to the photographs in the middle of the book. Although there's only an 8 page insert, two in particular, the first showing the Dubai – Abu Dhabi Highway with barely any buildings on it in 1990, the second showing the same view in 2009 as the road is surrounded by skyscrapers, do an amazing job of illustrating the pace of the city's growth.
Definite recommendation here for anyone with an interest in the Middle East in general or Dubai in particular – or indeed anyone who enjoys reading entertaining non-fiction.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
Further reading suggestion: For another fascinating account of a major city – or at least part of it – Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire: A Confidential Report by Iain Sinclair comes highly recommended. Back in Asia, I also really enjoyed Lawrence Osborne's Bangkok Days.
You can read more book reviews or buy Dubai: The Story of the World's Fastest City by Jim Krane at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Dubai: The Story of the World's Fastest City by Jim Krane at Amazon.com.
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