This book contains nearly 140 black and white photographs of the United Arab Emirates taken during the decade when oil revenues fueled the first rapid phase of the emirates' economic and infrastructural transformation. Thus it offers a fascinating glimpse of a nation in accelerated transition from its traditional material surroundings and mode of life to those of a modernized, if not modem, society. The pictures are arranged by year and each of these sections is preceded by a brief account of the year's events. Each photograph is accompanied by a caption that provides a significant commentary on its subject.
It is the pictures, however, that are the book. Numerous pictures of rulers and a variety of other Emirians are of particular interest. In one of these, Sheikh Rashid Al Maktoum, late ruler of the emirate of Dubai, and Sheikh Zayed Al Nahayyan, ruler of Abu Dhabi and president of the UAE, the two dominant figures at the nation's birth and through its early independence, are caught delightfully in an animated conversation, entirely unaware of the camera (p. 47). They are also pictured together (p. 92) on December 2, 1971, as Zayed signs the independence agreement with the United Kingdom, his calm, serious mien reflecting the importance of the moment, while Rashid stares past him, his expression seeming to convey a vague sense of unease as he contemplates an uncertain future. Another photograph (p. 102) captures Rashid at his desk, where, with correspondence in disarray, telephone to his ear, pen poised to write, he appears to be on the point of consummating a large deal. The portrait of an old man wrapped against the winter chill (p. 97) is one of a number of well-wrought character studies of anonymous Emirians.
Equally evocative are scenes of everyday life such as the livestock market in Dubai (p. 98) and the crowd gathered in that emirate to mourn the death of Egyptian president Gamal Abdul Nasser in 1970 (p. 90). Several photographs, notably those on pages 118 and 119, are charming marine studies of the graceful traditional craft of various sizes, known collectively as dhows. While these preserve images of the pre-modem era, other pictures, like that on page 112 showing the heart of Abu Dhabi's commercial district in 1972 as it began its rough-edged transformation to gleaming modernity, help to document the process by which the UAE has embraced the contemporary world.
It should be noted that the book's title is a bit misleading inasmuch as nearly two thirds of the photographs presented here are of people and places in Dubai, the emirate where Shukla established his photographic studio. Scarely an eighth of them feature subjects in Abu Dhabi, the largest and most populous emirate, whose wealth has played the largest role in transforming the UAE. One small factual error may also be noted. The reference to a branch of the "Ha'im" tribe in al-Ain (p. 2) is evidently a misspelling of "Na'im." These cavils apart, the book is commended as much more than a coffee table collection of interesting photographs. In documenting the changes wrought by the first decade of fast-paced, oil-driven development in the UAE, Shukla has been guided by a sure sense of the significance of what was happening and an eye for the telling detail by which it could be dramatically captured on film.