Michael’s book is, in my mind, similar to Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, with Abu Dhabi instead of Madrid, bulldozers instead of bulls, and workaholism instead of alcoholism. Indeed, at the heading of its epilogue, he quotes the same Bible book that gave the title to Hemingway’s novel, to describe the same theme: vanity.
The book will not make you fall in love with Abu Dhabi, but is a must-read for those who are already in love with the UAE’s capital. The title continues to be misleading, between literalness and irony, until the very end, as only one example of its suspensefulness: whether the Arab oil boomtown is a standing miracle that has stemmed from its own land, or whether it’s a civilization that does not belong to it—a civilization that, like the peace in Baghdad, needs to be continuously funded and is not expected to be established, is for the reader to speculate. Michael had hope that I do not share, even after he chose to leave the UAE and go to Afghanistan, but his hope did not compromise his professional vision and suggestions.
I do not know, as I’m sitting locked in my hotel room in Grants Pass, OR, waiting for a tornado alert to pass, what tempted me to read the book, in one sitting, to the very end. I worked as an engineer for eight years, and I have read numerous engineering studies on urban planning, but hardly any of them had the linguistic beauty that matched, for example, Riis’s How the Other Half Lives on New York City, and Michael’s book is only another proof that the rich vocabulary, the search for the soul of the site, the personal touch, and the heart for the career and the cause, can make such a study a literary reading. – Wissam Al-Ithawi