GULF STATES-The Gulf States: A Modern History

By Barnwell, Kristi N. | The Middle East Journal, Winter 2013 | Go to article overview

GULF STATES-The Gulf States: A Modern History


Barnwell, Kristi N., The Middle East Journal


GULF STATES

The Gulf States: A Modern History, by David Commins. London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2012. 331 pages. £40.

Commins offers up a much needed comprehensive overview of the states surrounding the Persian Gulf. Despite rising interest in the region for its strategic, economic, and cultural significance, there is a surprising dearth of studies that integrate the states of supthis sub-region within the wider historical context of the Middle East. Those wishing to study the Gulf States instead must cobble together disparate works on Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman in early, medieval, and modern periods to obtain a broader understanding of very intricately connected states. To this end, The Gulf States answers many needs, but ultimately suffers from an unclear sense of its goal audience.

Commins approaches the Persian Gulf states chronologically, with a brief overview of the early medieval, but focusing on the early modern and modern periods from 1500 CE through the present. Located on the "edge of empires" throughout history, the Persian Gulf is better approached from the "durable rhythms of economy and society that persisted" no matter which power, Arab, Persian, or European, dominated the region (p. 2). Thus, the chapters' eras are defined by the rise and fall of empires, while sub-sections within the chapters examine local circumstances in Persia, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the smaller Gulf States. Within the chapters, Commins' writing is clear and accessible, making it easy for specialists and non-specialists alike to follow the intricacies of shifting political and cultural changes in the region.

The work's real strengths lie in the author's explanations of Saudi Arabia's history in the region - Commins' personal area of expertise. He provides detailed accounts of the growth of the house of Saud into a full-fledged kingdom, its rivalries with smaller local powers, and its rise to a position of international oil power competing with Iran for regional domination. Commins does this without losing sight of the wider intersection of Saudi growth with that of other states in the Persian Gulf that balanced national self-interest with region-wide goals of Arab cooperation.

Experts in Persian Gulf and Arabian Peninsula studies will find Commins' integrative approach in this work valuable - particularly as a teaching tool. They will be frustrated, though, by some of the ways in which The Gulf States glosses over cultural and social developments and does not fully develop themes the author intro duces. …

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