Until the 19th century, Dubai was a small, mud-walled village of around a dozen streets, situated on a creek. Then, in 1833, the Al Maktoum sheikhs took over. They have ruled in an unbroken dynasty ever since, and turned Dubai into a city-state of world importance.
Unlike its neighbours, Dubai is not oil-rich; oil accounted for only three per cent of its revenues in 2006. Dubai's wealth comes from trade, transport and tourism. Thanks to a series of canny decisions by its rulers – enlarging the harbour, muscling in on the diamond trade, starting an airline, building soaring hotels – the tiny emirate's economy has mushroomed faster than any in history. It's not true about the undersea restaurant, but there is an indoor ski slope.
Krane admires Dubai's success, but also explores the downside of growth, with chapters on exploitation of migrant workers, and racial and cultural tensions. An afterword acknowledges how hard the recession has hit – Dubai's population is predicted to drop by 17 per cent. But Krane is hopeful it will recover; anyone who wants to see stability in the region, he writes, "cannot help but root for this gutsy city".