Jones uses quotes by famous Western writers to introduce his chapters, people such as T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), Wilfrid Thesiger, and Gertrude Bell. The quotes function as points of reference and distinction, historical markers of sorts, laying bare past prejudices. He notes, after a Lawrence quote, what "a profound unease" the modern reader should experience from some of their writing, especially their "casual assessment of the racial characteristics of another people." He is looking through very different eyes, of course, but in examining how others before him viewed and treated this particular Other, he gives us a bit more perspective on the inevitable rise of opposition and hatred. "All these observers," he writes, "with their impressions of Arabia, sliced and diced."
Over the course of almost 25 years Jones observes remarkable changes in Saudi Arabia. He witnesses the profound and rapid transformation of Riyadh, initially a small frontier town with only a couple of traffic lights, into a bustling, modern city. He witnesses the hybridization and modernization, in many cases for the worse, of the Bedouin. Most of the Bedouin people, over the course of about 20 years, abandoned their nomadic lifestyles in favor of a sedentary one, and, as with indigenous populations in other parts of the world, ended up with various problems, including an epidemic of diabetes.
A much more subtle transformation Jones witnesses and describes, one that is both timely and vital for us understand in these troubled times, is on the cultural/religious front. Over time, not only are the changes in the hospital administration great, but the presence of the mutawaa, the religious police, becomes ever more pronounced and intrusive. Jones describes the subtle but noticeable changes from "the gentler days of the mid-80s" when men and women freely cohabited in the housing units surrounding the hospital, and when professional chamber music concerts held at the International Hotel "were open to the public where men and women, Saudi and non-Saudi, would sit together and enjoy." Later, approaching and entering the new millennium, the mutawaa roamed the streets policing public morality, and open hostility and violence towards Westerners emerged.
Describing the changes, Jones provides a number of examples of underlying aspects of Western (but particularly American) attitudes and behavior that have fomented the hatred of America and the West among those now labeled terrorists. There's the negative portrayal of the Arab in a children's book (Children of the World) in an Atlanta school library, leading Jones to think to himself, "this is what the Arabs are complaining about." There's the fact that, in 21 months of living in Atlanta and reading the Wall Street Journal daily to find and "save any article that was not totally negative, that had just one sentence which hinted at something positive in the country," he found not even one. And there was that subset of Americans in Saudi Arabia - perhaps no more than ten percent - who carried with them "that insufferable, smug attitude that measures another person, or another country, by the degree to which they conform to American norms."