Barnaby Crowcroft at Literary Review:
In Arabia Through the Looking Glass, when he wasn’t comparing everything to Alice in Wonderland, Jonathan Raban likened his experiences in the Gulf States at the height of the 1970s oil boom to passing through a ‘time loop’ into Britain at the heyday of the Industrial Revolution. Today – in polite academic circles, at least – it would constitute a major faux pas to compare the societies of the Middle East with those at some earlier stage of Western historical development. Yet, forty years on, one gains a strikingly similar impression from John McManus’s picture of life in 21st-century Qatar, from the outsized ambition, the extraordinary rate of economic growth and the transformation of the urban environment to the dreadful working conditions, the open racial hierarchies and the persistence of traditional rentier elites. To venture ‘inside Qatar’ in 2022, as McManus puts it, is to get a ‘glimpse of life at the coalface of globalisation’.