Thursday, April 26, 2007

Reviewing ‘The Secret River’ by Kate Grenville

This historical novel is set at the end of the eighteenth century and tells the story of William Thornhill who is sentenced in London to the penal colony of New South Wales, Australia.

Behind the lines there is substantial research into eighteenth century London, with its shipping culture along the Thames, life in the Newgate Prison and court proceedings in the Old Bailey. As the plot moves across the sea to Sydney there are detailed pictures of life for men and women in the early days of New South Wales as well as insights into the cultural ways of Australia’s original inhabitants.

The book has an easy style that flows like a river current with a poetic rhythm that is pleasing to the ear. Of their new base in the antipodes, Grenville writes, “It was a sad, scrabbling place, this town of Sydney.

It is a delight to read a book that emerges from the southern hemisphere with its description of the ‘vast, unpredictable sky’, the fierce landscape and the raw Aussie expressions of ‘bugger’, nicknames such as ‘Smasher’ and the frank assessment of the I.Q. of two labourers who were “a few bricks short of a load.”

The Secret River is a sad book that sets a husband and wife against the grinding poverty of early England and amid the violent relationships between the English settlers and the first inhabitants of Australia. Having escaped the hangman’s noose, William Thornhill is to experience further hardship in the strange and unfamiliar city of Sydney. Grenville writes: “There were things worse than dying: life had taught him that. Being here in New South Wales might be one of them.” But the experience of slipping from the noose had given to William and Sal a sense of hope to work at creating a new life. Despite their considerable hardship, readers get glimpses into life’s simple pleasures such as when lying in bed together, William and Sal know they have “got each other.”

This story about two ordinary, inarticulate people is about communication. Standing with his life in the balance at the Old Bailey, where lawyers are making claims and witnesses are giving testimonies, William is “struck by the power of words.” As the book traces the developing relationship between Sal and William their partnership is nurtured by words, yet in difficult periods they struggle to find and say the right words. The absence of words and language with which to communicate with the aborigines becomes a barrier to understanding. The power of words becomes as evident as it was when back in the dock Thornhill received his ‘sentence’.

In this book that was listed for the Man Booker Prize, Kate Grenville explores the themes of nakedness and concealment, scars and secrets. The title of the book suggests there might be a river that is deeper and more secluded than the Hawkesbury cutting through Australia, upon which navigation is extremely difficult.

Tracing the voyage from the Thames in London to Thornhill’s Place in New South Wales, this book examines the concept of place and what makes the difference between outsiders and insiders, strangers and settlers. It explores the dynamics when one is forced from one’s home and the longings and dreams to arrive at an existence where one can say this is ‘my own’ or ‘my place’. But even if one has the receipt for the land and a certificate of ownership in the drawer and a villa surrounded by poplars and rose gardens within a protective wall, does this fill the emptiness or is it another prison? What is the remedy for homesickness? What does it mean to be ‘at home’? How does one make a life for oneself?

Geoff Pound

Book Details: Kate Grenville, The Secret River (Edinburgh: Canongate, 2006).

Image: Front Cover of The Secret River.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Reviewing ‘Tomorrow’ by Graham Swift

This book contains the reflections of a wife and a mother the night before an event which is likely to reframe the lives of this family.

The title and the plot from the outset create a suspense that arouses curiosity and motivates the reader to turn the pages. Each chapter alludes to the big event of ‘tomorrow’ and sometimes these repeated reminders are annoying or are they indicators of the anxiety of the storyteller that is being magnified by the darkness of the night?

Gradually the fragments of information are dropped between the lines to disclose the secret and on the way many other family secrets are shared by the mother who is setting the record straight for her children.

This nocturnal stream of consciousness is an intriguing ‘leafing through of the mental almanac’ and is an appreciation of the twists, the turns and the treasures that have gone into the making of this family. These memories that ‘float into the head’ are personal ones but readers will find questions raised and thoughts expressed that will mirror many of their own deep wonderings.

This is a good book because it is about children and cats, family and friends, feelings and fears, the things in family life that stir the appreciation and those which cause one to be afraid.

The storyteller is “pillow-talking to herself.” Some adults will find it gripping while others will feel that the intimate reflections should be left in the bedroom. While the mother tells the story to her teenage children it would be interesting to see how young readers respond to a parent revealing such heart-to-heart and behind the scenes details.

Graham Swift has an easy style and is a wordsmith who plays with phrases and admires the beauty of words.

How do each of the family members and the readers respond to the great events tomorrow?

Graham Swift, Tomorrow (London: Picador, 2007). This book is available from McGrudy’s Bookstores in the United Arab Emirates where it costs Dh 102.00.

Geoff Pound

Image: Graham Swift.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Reviewing ‘Leaving Microsoft to Change the World' by John Wood

Leaving Microsoft to Change the World is the inspiring story of how one of Bill Gate’s right hand men went to the Himalayas to ‘get away from it all’ and discovered a consuming new passion for his life.

Visiting a Nepalese school full of kids hungry to learn but with a library that was empty, led John Wood to establish, ‘Room to Read’, an organization that is now operating in Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Sri Lanka and several African countries.

The book does not describe a religious experience with blinding lights and voices from the sky, however, it does suggest the importance of taking time out from the treadmill and scheduling opportunities to evaluate our lives and reestablish our priorities in accordance with those things that are truly important. When a Nepalese headmaster said to Wood, “Perhaps, sir, you will someday come back with books,” this sentence was to change John Wood forever.

Trained in banking and with a top class MBA, John Wood is no educationalist. The thing he does bring is a voracious appetite for reading that was nurtured by his parents from a young age. Standing in the empty School library near the top of the world John Wood said, “It is hard to imagine a world in which something as random as where you were born could result in lifelong illiteracy.”

This book surveys the gradual rearrangement of priorities as Wood weighs up the wisdom of accumulating more wealth while thousands of children around the world cannot read or write.

For anyone establishing a not-for-profit organization and needing to learn how to cast a vision and get people on board, this story is an ideal text book and case study.

John Wood in ‘leaving Microsoft’ does not repudiate all that he learned in the corporate world. On the contrary, he draws upon the rich bank of experience he received in the management culture and demonstrates how the principles and practices might be translated into the non-profit sector. As the author reflects on his time with Microsoft he gives some inside glimpses into the lives of Bill Gates and other leaders.

Leaving Microsoft to Change the World records the journey of how John Wood learned about aid and development. He recognized the futility of merely giving handouts to the passive poor as he embraces a principle that he calls ‘coinvestment’, in which both parties are contributing what they are able, to attain a common goal.

Readers will be inspired by this story and will learn practical tips about how to ask for money, how to motivate people to participate and how to build an organization from nothing. Wood gives important insights into how to employ the right people and he stresses the importance of developing the loyalty of staff and the huge brigade of volunteers.

Leaving Microsoft is not all 'beer and skittles'. John Wood records the painful process of leaving a successful career, informing his boss, breaking the news to his partner and walking away from the trappings of success. He relates that the best advice in going public with the leaving process came from an Aussie mate who said to him: “There are two ways to remove a Band Aid: slowly and painfully, or quickly and painfully. Your choice.”

‘To Change the World’ required significant personal change for the author in readjusting to his new vocation in which he had no important title, no office, no steady income and no plush house provided by the company. He writes engagingly of standing in front of the mirror to practice the answer when somebody was going to ask the inevitable question, “So, what do you do?”

In the period of ‘starting over’ there are some things that do not change—Wood’s enormous capacity for work, his attention to detail, the importance of perceiving the trends, his tenacious approach to asking people for money and his commitment to ‘know the numbers’.

Leaving Microsoft is not written to encourage everyone to ditch their job or become a ‘corporate refugee’. In his promotional speeches John Wood does, however, seek to encourage people to devote some time and money to helping those in the world who have few resources. The book is a challenge to evaluate your life, to become entrepreneurial and to have the courage to do what you believe is right for you regardless of how it looks in the eyes of others.

This book is aimed at a general readership. It is interesting and moves at a lively pace, like its author.

John Wood, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World: An entrepreneur’s Odyssey to Educate the World’s Children (New York: Collins, 2006).

Image: Front Cover.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Reviewing 'Michael Palin Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years'

This book is a disappointment. As a fan of Michael Palin’s acting and writing I was lulled into thinking this book would be like his plays and programmes—a laugh a minute. However, this collection of diary entries is like eating a plum pudding that is lacking in plums.

This 650 page tome spanning only a decade is according to Palin, “a record of how I fill my days. Nothing more complicated that that.” It is a catalogue of events, not a confessional. It concentrates on recording the diarist’s activities rather than reflecting upon them.

Palin states that his daily diary writing does not strive to be perfectly written and highly polished prose but he writes well, nevertheless, with snatches of wit. The book is replete with references to how Palin slept overnight, his early morning vows to stop drinking alcohol, the ‘depressing pattern of the grey [English] skies’, his detailed descriptions of ordinary lunches and ‘truly epic’ meals, the trips to the pool with his children, the visits to care for his ageing parents and Palin’s long reading sessions while soaking in the bath. One learns prosaic things, including the payment of his phone bills, the series of gingivectomies in the dental chair, his bowel problems (these are given an entry in the index) and getting his waterworks sorted out in France (thankfully these escape the index unless they’re under ‘pee-pee’ or ‘l’urine’.)

However, the diaries do give a fascinating insight into the irregular life of a writer and actor with no fixed daily timetable. It plots the rollercoaster of emotions in response to the publication of reviews or the standard of his performances. The Michael Palin Diaries offer glimpses into the Monty Python team dynamics with the management of individual egos, the urge to aspire to individual success, the pressures of making a quid, the tussles with the censors and the behind-the-scenes spats.

The picture we get of Michael Palin is a person who is often troubled though growing in confidence as his performances are lauded by the public and hailed by heroes such as Spike Milligan. His decision to accept work is often made in accordance with how it will impact on his family. The rejection of high paying commercials because the products are dubious or the scripts are second rate, reveals a person who is committed to honesty and integrity.

This book and the fine photographs will be savoured by Python aficionados, about whom Palin wrote in 1975, “There are a great many people out there who want to know all about Monty Python.” For people whose interest in Python and Palin is not as intense, a short book describing the Python years would be preferable to this huge volume that is a touch self-indulgent.

There is gold within the leaves of this book but it only comes with much dredging. Most readers will want to ‘adjust their set’ or reach for the fast forward button. The retrospective footnotes often achieve what Saul Bellow said about the clever or wicked footnote “redeeming many a text.” The book quickens towards the end of the decade when the Python team is hitting its straps but it suffers from what Palin said about his stage performance: “If it starts well, then there is great laughter all through, but if something goes wrong at the beginning (God knows why) it can go in silence.”

Michael Palin Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2006 is available here in the United Arab Emirates from Magrudy’s bookshops at a cost of Dh140.00.

Geoff Pound

Image: Front Cover.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Reviewing ‘Palestine Peace Not Apartheid’ by Jimmy Carter

Whatever one thinks about Jimmy Carter’s prescription for remedying the situation in Palestine there is no doubting his commitment to working for peace in the Middle East.

A major part of his latest book is a survey of the settlement and peace processes, with a chronology of events going back thousands of years and a more specific account of developments from the UN partition in the late 1940s up to the present day.

The partitioning of the land and subsequent reoccupations, with further accords has made for a complex picture but Jimmy Carter has marshaled his facts clearly. This is a useful book for readers wanting to get a clearer understanding of the situation. The inclusion of maps and appendices that record the various UN resolutions and peace treaties also provide a good handle on the subject.

Carter weaves his own story into the account from the time of his first visit to the Holy Land in 1973, through his Presidential years from 1977-1981 and his important post-Presidential involvement especially through the Carter Centre which has monitored elections in the country and made visits for peace. His story is laced with fascinating anecdotes from his encounters with the key players in the region. Readers get a glimpse of the many behind the scenes conversations, as when Carter confronts former Israeli Prime Minister, Menachem Begin about the breaking of his earlier promises.

Writing about a country that has experienced long term conflict and submitting a blueprint for peace where prejudices are so ingrained, it was inevitable that Carter’s solution was bound to be controversial. To discount this book because one doesn’t agree with the author’s prescription is to have missed the point. The book and his recommendations come out of long conversations over many years with leaders and ordinary citizens on both sides of the conflict. Carter has modeled the genuine understanding and commitment to sustained listening which is a prerequisite for any process that might bring peace.

As Jimmy Carter tells his story one can detect his early bias toward Israel that has come from a lifetime of nurture within the evangelical Christian ethos of the USA. Later, as he listens to Palestinians and discovers the way that the divided settlements, the restrictions on travel, the detainment without trial and imprisonments have all contributed to robbing them of their basic human rights, one can see Carter’s views changing. He denounces the ‘imprisonment wall’ which the Israelis have built, leading him to declare, perhaps emotively the presence of ‘apartheid’ separating Muslim and Christian citizens of the occupied territories. Carter is also critical of the reaction by some Palestinians in honoring suicide bombers as martyrs and considering the killing of Israelis as victories.

The outcome is a fair-handed and prophetic book that has challenges for Israeli and Palestinian leaders and important implications for leaders of the surrounding Arab states. Carter is scathing of the current US leadership which has condoned illegal Israeli activities and rarely questioned or condemned Israeli government decisions that have contravened former agreements.

This 21st book written by the 39th President of the United State of America is focused towards one of Carter’s major goals of his life and his retirement—working to ensure a lasting peace for Israelis and others in the Middle East.

True to form, this book is a straight forward account with no frills, diversions or padding. It examines the root causes of the continuing conflict and spells out a clear path to permanent peace and justice in the Holy Land. As a statesman who has worked for peace for many decades, it is significant that this is a hopeful book that builds on the positive factors that are conducive towards establishing a peaceful and just settlement.

Geoff Pound

Details: Jimmy Carter, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006. This book is available from Magrudy’s Bookshops in the United Arab Emirates at the cost of Dh 108.00.

Image: Front cover.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Reviewing The Secret by Rhonda Byrne

It is clear to see why The Secret is running off the shelves around the world and is giving the Harry Potter books a run for their money. The book is the ink and paper version of the movie, which are products of a big, The Secret business. It has risen to prominence as the author, Rhonda Byrne, has made appearances on the Oprah Winfrey Show and Larry King Live.

The Secret is a how-to book that promotes success, wealth and attractiveness to the opposite sex. It claims to contain the key to personal excellence in one volume, however, it is a new version of Norman Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking and other books in the self-help genre.

The book is beautifully presented, easy to read and is good in parts. Its chief author (there are twenty-nine contributors) is an Australian woman who found wisdom in her darkest moments and she writes with the conviction that sharing this secret is her life’s mission. The book is helpful in the way it promotes the practice of gratitude, the gift of joy, the need to see ‘the cup half-full’ and the call for people to take responsibility for their life.

The Secret garners its support from the ancient holy books and philosophers without becoming religious or advocating one particular faith. It comes with an attractive veneer of spirituality without demanding any formal allegiance.

It is true that life is to be lived fully and enjoyed but this book communicates the view that humankind or the reader is at the centre of it all: “The earth turns on its orbit, the oceans ebb and flow for You. The birds sing for You…. You are the Master of the Universe.” (p.183) The encouragement to be ‘healthy, wealthy and wise’ (and attractive) has its end in ME—my happiness and my success—not a life lived for the service of others or other altruistic reasons.

The book advocates visualizing empty car park spaces and pasting a one hundred thousand dollar bill on your bedroom ceiling to inspire your dreams and focus your life for the day. How much more useful it would be if readers were encouraged to visualize peace in Iraq and plenty in Darfur. The themes of seeking wealth, health and happiness will always keep the cash registers ringing but The Secret fails to address life’s greatest challenge by not presenting a prescription for defeating death.

This book would be located in the Body-Mind-Spirit section of the bookshop and it rightfully presents an integration of human living. But, the truth framework is flawed. The author makes the claim that the reader is divine but provides no support for this assertion: “You are eternal life. You are God manifested in human form, made to perfection.” (p.164)

The book promotes a prosperity doctrine and rewrites the Scriptures to support the ‘everybody can be rich’ thesis. Byrne claims that Jesus was one of a number of prosperity teachers from the pages of the Hebrew and Christian Bibles who were millionaires, one of a number of prophets (this should be spelt ‘profits’) “with more affluent lifestyles than any present-day millionaires could conceive of.” (p.109) Crucified at the age of thirty-three, with no money in his bank account? Despised and rejected? Does that sound like fun? It doesn’t take a Biblical scholar to discern the falsity and absurdity of this statement.

The style of this book is warm and encouraging but it is high voltage and lacks a sense of light and shade. There is a basic structure to the book and a progression but it is mainly a platform for gurus mouthing their formulae.

The Secret is a literary Aladdin’s lamp if that is what you’re after. Read it, don’t rub it and it will bring you everything you want.

Geoff Pound

Rhonda Byrne, The Secret, London: Simon and Schuster, 2006. Available from Magrudy’s Bookshops in the UAE for Dh 70.00.

Image: The front cover of The Secret.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Reviewing The Complete Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby

The Complete Polysyllabic Spree is the title of Nick Hornby’s latest book and it is also his term for those who work at the Believer, the people who have commissioned him to write a column for their monthly magazine.

The book is a collection of the twenty-eight articles about the books that Hornby purchased and read over the period from September 2004 to June 2006. Each chapter begins with the designated month, his list of ‘Books Bought’ and often quite a different list of ‘Books Read’. The chapters plot the triumphs and failures as Hornby tries to move books from one list to another, for, as the sub-title explains, this is ‘The Diary of an Occasionally Exasperated But Ever Hopeful Reader’. Part of Hornby’s exasperation stems from the perceived constraints and expectations of the editorial team—‘The Spree’.

Nick Hornby is a writer but he makes it clear that this book is not primarily about writing but about reading—the how and when and why and what of this declining art. He explores the reasons why reading has lost its popularity and in the process pricks the pomposity of the elitist critics, with their lists of the classics or proper books that truly educated people should read. One problem he identifies is the misguided notion that many have got into their heads, “that books should be hard work, and that unless they’re hard work, they’re not doing us any good.”

In a confessional style Hornby admits he is easily bored so his selection of books is broad and varied. Hornby asserts, “I’m beginning to see that our appetite for books is the same as our appetite for food, that our brain tells us when we need the literary equivalent of salads, or chocolate, or meat and potatoes.”

Some of the fascinating titles on his lists include, How to Breathe Underwater, How to Stop Smoking and Stay Stopped for Good, How to be Lost and The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup. As the cover indicates, this book is a romp that not only charts Hornby’s literary interest levels but gives the permission that might liberate people from the grind of reading. “Turning pages,” the essayist says, “should not be like walking through thick mud.”

The diary installments contain references to events of the last month, from terrorist bombings to the humdrum activities in the Hornby household and the inevitable reports on the progress of Hornby’s obsession, the Arsenal Football club. The references to these ordinary and unpredictable events illustrate how our reading and responses are shaped by the stuff in our lives and the static in our minds. To support his contention about the damaging effects of domesticity Hornby quotes Cyril Connolly in his book, Enemies of Promise: “There is no more somber enemy of good art than the pram in the hall.”

Hornby’s collection of essays is written in a chatty, freewheeling style. It’s as if Hornby is doing a Google Search, moving at will from one book to the next while making comments on things that intrigued or annoyed him. He has an eye for the zany details. Often books on this paper trail have no relationship to each other although he makes some comparisons and contrasts and at one point he detects a theme and reflects, “I felt for a moment as though certain books were stalking me…” Occasionally Hornby gets serious, as when he lifts the lid on his challenge of raising an autistic child and his dismay in finding only one book on autism that cut the mustard.

The Complete Polysyllabic Spree is never ‘sludgy’. It is a rich store of amusing anecdotes, witty quotations, belly-splitting one-liners and brief tasters from some of Nick Hornby’s enjoyable reads. It is best to savor one segment at a sitting and the essays do not need to be read in sequence. It may well release people from so many ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ as it is moved by readers from BOOKS BOUGHT to BOOKS READ.

Geoff Pound

Nick Hornby, The Complete Polysyllabic Spree, London: Viking, 2006. This book is available from Magrudy’s Bookshops in the UAE at a cost of Dh 119.00.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Review of 'State of Terror' produced by Karen Women's Organisation

The subject of the newly launched book, State of Terror, is summarized in its subtitle: ‘The ongoing rape, murder, torture and forced labour suffered by women living under the Burmese Military Regime in Karen State.’

The interviewing, compilation and production of this book has been a major team effort by the Karen Women’s Organisation (KWO).

The book builds on the findings contained in the 2004 publication, Shattering Silences, that detailed the alarmingly high number of Karen women and girls who have been raped by the Burmese military during its occupation of the Karen state.

This new book, with its very recent descriptions of human rights violations, draws on over 4,000 documented cases to reveal that the atrocities committed by the Burmese Military (SPDC) are increasing in their regularity. This trend is supported by the dramatic increase in the number of displaced people in Burma as well as the steady surge of Karen who are crossing the border into Thailand seeking asylum.

A distinctive feature of this 2007 update is the way it has documented a broad range of human rights abuses especially among Karen women and children. In graphic detail, with dates and names, State of Terror records instances of forced portering, the clearing of landmines, rape, beating, torture, murder, deprivation of food and water and various combinations of these abuses, designed to terrorise, subjugate and destroy the Karen culture and communities.

This report is raw and the events described are horrific. The style is not emotive but the testimonies of the victims make for harrowing reading. If is disturbing and difficult to read, it must have been devastating for those who conducted the interviews and wrote up this research.

Blooming Night Zan, who collected information for the report emphasized that the military offensive was still going on. She said, “It was heart-breaking to hear the personal tragedies from the hundreds of people I interviewed. It is unbearable to know this hell is still going on right now, even as people are doing their best to survive. The situation is past critical. The international community must act now to stop it.”

State of Terror is a loud cry to the Burmese (Myanmar) government to stop the abuse and allow the Karen to live at peace in their own land. It is a plea to the Thailand government to offer greater protection and ensure that victims of abuse have access to adequate health and psycho-social support. This book is a clarion call to the international government, to world leaders and ordinary people to keep Burma on the agenda and call for the immediate ceasefire by the Burmese military regime and a cessation of all atrocities.

State of Terror should be compulsory reading for people over the age of sixteen even if it is the most painful book to read.

Details of how a hard copy of the book may be purchased are available from The Karen Women’s Organization and the Women’s League of Burma.

The full text of the report can be viewed or downloaded from State of Terror.

Stop Press: Human Rights activists are currently appealing to the United Nation’s Human Rights Council in Geneva. A written and audio report by Lisa Schlein contains an interview with Blooming Night Zan, one of the writers of State of Terror. This can be read and heard at:

Lisa Schlein, ‘Activists Accuse Burma of Mounting a State of Terror,’ Voice of America News, 28 March 2007.

Geoff Pound

Image: Front Cover of State of Terror.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Reviewing 1000 Numbers and Reasons Why Dubai

The recently published book, 1000 Numbers & Reasons Why Dubai, provides a survey of the growth of Dubai and the United Arab Emirates.

It is a promotional book compiled by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry to answer the questions: ‘Why Dubai? Why Come? Why Work? Why Invest? Why Visit? Why Stay? Why Live?’

1000 Numbers & Reasons is a list rather than literature. Propaganda not prose. Points to access by people who want to do, not read. If you were wanting to prepare a Powerpoint Presentation to convince your company that it was time to establish a branch in the UAE, this is the book you will need. It provides 1,000 readymade bullet points that will knock over any audience and even cause the skeptics to raise their hands in surrender. When you are asked, ‘What are the difficulties and downsides of penetrating the Middle Eastern market," this book will not be of any help. The book lacks balance and realism. Have all businesses that were planted in the Dubai desert grown exponentially or have any withered? It would be valuable to have a chapter on the pitfalls and pressures of doing business in the Emirates.

1000 Numbers & Reasons should be compulsory reading for economists, investors and entrepreneurs who are wanting to do business in the UAE but, for residents and tourists who are wanting to have all those world breaking records in one compendium, this is the book.

The book not only summarizes the phenomenal growth in Dubai, it also provides a snapshot of works in progress. After picking up snippets of information in news reports, this book gives the best glimpse of what Dubai and the UAE are going to be like in 2010. It contains a thumbnail sketch on the forthcoming Aqua Dunya (the gigantic water theme park), Beautyland and the Dubai Snowdome. It also offers information on lesser known industries such as maritime tourism and floriculture.

The volume, which is the first of many updates, is adorned with ‘testimonials’ and vision statements, like this one from the chief of Emirates Airlines: “We want to become number 1. Nobody cares about number 2.”

1000 Numbers & Reasons is packed with tidbits on cranes and currencies, golf and gold. It is, however, usefully divided into the various sectors of Real Estate, Financial Markets, Banks and Insurance, Islamic Finance, Travel and Tourism, Media and IT, Business and Retail, Trade and Industries and Investment Companies. An index helps locate the facts that are on the tip of your tongue.

The concluding chapters on reports referred to and website addresses are invaluable as the baldness of the points often awaken a desire for more information. For instance, the amazing growth in Islamic banking is recorded but there is little to help the uninitiated know how a bank or business become shariah compliant or what takaful, the Islamic version of insurance, actually means.

Dubai is a city of hyperbole and superlatives and this book offers new ones to mouth. For instance, Vanity Fair is quoted as saying about Dubai, “Las Vegas is a sputtering 20-watt bulb compared with this fire in the desert.”

The drive, dynamism and can-do attitude of this book are best summed up in these words by HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to whom this book is dedicated:

“Most of people talk, we do things. They plan, we achieve. They hesitate, we move ahead. We are living proof that when human beings have the courage and commitment to transform a dream into reality, there is nothing that can stop them. Dubai is a living example of that.”

Geoff Pound

1000 Numbers & Reasons Why Dubai (Beirut: BISC, First Edition, 2006) is available from Magrudy’s Bookshops at the cost of AED 75.00 or US$20.00.

Image: 1000 Numbers & Reasons Book Cover.