First with Financial Comment from Arabia

Book review: Dubai’s past is the key to understanding the future

with 3 comments

c3022f30-9056-11de-bc59-00144feabdc0Reading American journalist Jim Krane’s book ‘Dubai: Story of the World’s Fastest City’ is a must for anybody who wants to gain a perspective on what is happening in this emirate today, for to understand the past is to better comprehend the present (click here to order).

He tells the story of Dubai with a clarity and simplicity that is a joy to follow. I particularly liked the evocation of Dubai in the 1950s before the electric light and abolition of slavery (which only came in 1963).


At night the city was so dark that ships and aircraft could not see it. Without air-conditioning residents slept on the roof for cool in the summer. Dubai was as backward as any coastal town in Africa today.

It reminded me of when I went back to the UK as an expatriate for the first time in 1996 and met an old family friend (Bob Williams, the architect who designed our family home) and he recalled being stationed in Dubai during the Second World War.

‘What on earth are you doing in Dubai,’ asked an incredulous eighty year old. ‘There is nothing there.’

His recollection was accurate. Dubai in the Second World War was down to 7,000 residents, the majority living in huts made out of palm leaves. People were eating lizards, locusts and leaves, and some actually starved.

Square that with ‘The Story of the World’s Fastest Growing City’ that Mr. Kane so admirably describes. It is progress of a kind seldom seen in human history and at a speed beyond belief.

Transformation culture

How on earth did Dubai transform itself into a modern, multicultural metropolis of 1.5 million souls? Mr. Krane highlights visionary leadership, political stability and huge investment in infrastructure projects thought to be completely insane at the time. Friendliness, tolerance of foreigners and putting business interests first came a close second.

Of course, you have to inject oil money into that recipe for success. Dubai seems to have had just the right amount of oil money to get things going but not enough to ruin it. Modern Dubai serves an oil-rich region but is oil-poor itself.

Personally I find this ultimate rags-to-riches tale compelling and it still works, as I explain in my own book ‘Opportunity Dubai: Making a Fortune in the Middle East’.

Order online from this link


Written by Peter Cooper

October 24, 2009 at 10:45 am

3 Responses

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  1. I bought it too on, allthough with the title ‘City of Gold – Dubai and the dream of capitalism’. It’s a jewel, this book! I kept reading it with eyes as big as one ounce gold coins while pulling out my text marker to find back some awesome passages to show to my friends if they don’t believe me when telling about the vision.


    October 26, 2009 at 7:17 pm

  2. Hello Peter —

    Thanks for the fabulous review! I’m flattered that you enjoyed it so much. I especially appreciate your efforts, since US reviewers are ignoring it. Have you seen it selling in the UAE at all? I’ve yet to hear that any bookshops have stocked it.


    Ed Note: Hi Jim – Yes it is in stock now although I bought it on Amazon as it was not previously available here. But it will have a good shelf life and revised editions could keep it up-to-date. Just a shame the subject is going through such hard times, though we are not eating lizards again just yet!

    Jim Krane

    October 25, 2009 at 9:21 pm

  3. Peter:

    No doubt, Dubai is a fascinating place. Some day, I may go there… but my next trip is to Istanbul.


    October 24, 2009 at 7:42 pm

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