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Arabia by Levison Wood: Book Review

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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

“Arabia” by Levison Wood is a captivating travelogue that takes readers on a fascinating journey through the Middle East. Wood, a British explorer and writer, spent nine months travelling through thirteen countries, from the Mediterranean coast to the Arabian Sea, covering over five thousand miles on foot, by car, and by boat. The result is a beautifully written book that offers a unique perspective on a region that is often misunderstood and misrepresented.

Wood’s writing style is engaging, descriptive, and vivid, bringing the region’s people, landscapes, and cultures to life. From the bustling cities of Beirut and Dubai to the remote deserts of Saudi Arabia and Oman, the author paints a picture of a diverse region that is often reduced to a monolithic stereotype in Western media. Wood’s love for the Middle East and its people is evident throughout the book, and his insights into the region’s history, religion, and politics are valuable for anyone interested in understanding this complex part of the world.

One of the strengths of “Arabia” is Wood’s ability to blend personal anecdotes with historical and cultural analysis. The author meets with a wide range of locals, from Bedouin tribespeople to wealthy businessmen, and provides insight into their daily lives, struggles, and aspirations. Through these conversations, Wood reveals a region that is far more diverse, nuanced, and human than the headlines would suggest. He writes:

“The Middle East is a complex place, filled with people who are just as diverse and contradictory as anywhere else in the world. Stereotypes and generalizations may make for easy headlines, but they obscure the rich and diverse reality that exists on the ground.”

In Arabia, Levison Wood’s travels also provide an opportunity to reflect on the region’s history and its impact on the present. He explores the legacy of colonialism, the rise and fall of empires, the impact of oil wealth, and the role of religion in shaping the region’s politics and society. Through his encounters with people and places, he offers a nuanced view of a region that is often reduced to a simplistic narrative of “us” versus “them.” He writes:

“Arabia is a land of contradictions, where ancient traditions and modernity clash and coexist. It is a place where history and mythology are intertwined, and where the past continues to shape the present. To truly understand the region, we need to look beyond the headlines and the stereotypes and listen to the voices of the people who call it home.”

One of the most moving chapters in the book is when Wood visits a refugee camp in Jordan and speaks with a young Syrian boy named Ibrahim, who dreams of becoming a doctor. Wood writes:

“In a world of chaos and uncertainty, it is young people like Ibrahim who give me hope for the future. Despite everything they have been through, they still believe in a better world and are determined to make it happen. It is up to us to listen to them and support them in their efforts.”

Overall, “Arabia” is a must-read for anyone interested in the Middle East and its people. Through his travels, Wood offers a message of hope and resilience, reminding us that despite the challenges facing the region, there is still much to admire and celebrate. As he writes in the final chapter of the book:

“Arabia is a land of contradictions and complexities, but it is also a place of beauty, hospitality, and resilience. It is a region that has faced countless challenges throughout its history, but it has always found a way to endure and thrive. I have been privileged to travel through this remarkable part of the world and to meet the people who call it home. I hope that this book will encourage others to do the same and to see the Middle East for what it truly is – a place of diversity, complexity, and humanity.”

While Arabia by Levison Wood is a thoroughly enjoyable and informative read, there are a few minor drawbacks to the book. At times, the pacing feels slow, and some of the chapters can be overly descriptive or repetitive. Additionally, the author’s privilege and position as a white, male, Western traveller are occasionally evident, and some of his observations can come across as naive or condescending. Nonetheless, Wood’s humility, curiosity, and openness to learning from others are admirable, and his book is a valuable contribution to the literature on the Middle East.

“Arabia” is a beautifully written and informative book that offers a unique and humanizing perspective on the Middle East. Despite its minor flaws, it is a valuable contribution to the literature on the region and a must-read for anyone interested in understanding this complex and fascinating part of the world.

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Quotes from Arabia by Levison Wood:

  • “The Middle East is a complex place, filled with people who are just as diverse and contradictory as anywhere else in the world. Stereotypes and generalizations may make for easy headlines, but they obscure the rich and diverse reality that exists on the ground.”
  • “Arabia is a land of contradictions, where ancient traditions and modernity clash and coexist. It is a place where history and mythology are intertwined, and where the past continues to shape the present. To truly understand the region, we need to look beyond the headlines and the stereotypes and listen to the voices of the people who call it home.”
  • “In a world of chaos and uncertainty, it is young people like Ibrahim who give me hope for the future. Despite everything they have been through, they still believe in a better world and are determined to make it happen. It is up to us to listen to them and support them in their efforts.”
  • “Arabia is a region of great complexity and diversity, but it is also a place of beauty and hospitality. Despite the challenges facing the region, its people remain resilient and determined to build a better future. I am grateful for the opportunity to have travelled through this remarkable part of the world and to have met the people who call it home.”