"The Arab World Unbound: Tapping Into the Power of 350 Million Consumers" opens in a Hezbollah-controlled grocery shop in south Beirut, where people are drinking Red Bull. From there on, it just gets better and better.
Most of us know the Middle East and North Africa only from what we see on our television screens and read in the newspapers. The daily tale of riots and protests, bombs and bullets can leave us feeling profoundly depressed about the entire region and its prospects.
The author, Vijay Mahajan, professor of marketing at the University of Texas at Austin, opens the door into an entirely different Arab world, a vibrant, bustling place full of commerce and consumers hungry for goods of almost every kind. His Arab world is full of challenges but also of vast opportunities.
The book, published by Jossey-Bass, is aimed at a professional audience, though scholars might find it useful too. First comes an overview of the Arab world, including a discussion of the diversity within many of the region's countries.
Then we get a detailed discussion of the effect Islam has on consumer and commercial behavior, and Mahajan argues that western companies will prosper only if they understand the principles of Islam and accept the role that faith plays in everyday life.
The second part of the book describes opportunities, starting with the shabab, the youth market. Young people are a growing force in Arab society. The shabab are influenced by global cultural trends and aspire to be global citizens. Many of them are affluent and many are hungry for change.
In Morocco, Coca-Cola came up with the strapline "L'Mouv" (the movement) to appeal to this restlessness and hunger for the new. Young, affluent married couples are also a large market and Procter & Gamble's "Loved You Before You Were Born" marketing campaign for Pampers diapers aims to build relationships with mothers-to-be.
Another chapter concerns women as consumers. Mahajan throws the stereotypes out of the window and portrays women as real people with hopes, dreams and wants of their own. In Saudi Arabia, L'Oreal realized that different religious and cultural values meant its previous assumptions about its female customers no longer held true. Its marketers created a new segmentation based on lifestyles and personal values.
There follow chapters on media and technology, including the rise of Arab film and the emergence of technology hot spots in countries such as Jordan.
The final chapter takes its cue from a word that the author heard in every country he visited: yalla, or "let's go!" Yalla, he says, could be the motto of the new spirit in the Arab world, which he sees as full of energy, enthusiasm and can-do spirit.
That enthusiasm was clearly infectious, and Mahajan's excitement about the Arab world is almost palpable. He is a fine writer and he presents factual details, statistics and concepts in a breezy, easy-to-read manner.
But what really makes the book is its immediacy. The author is not afraid to get his boots dirty. His research took him to 18 countries, including areas where foreigners do not normally go, such as south Beirut. He spoke not only to business leaders but also to ordinary people in the streets and shops.
There is one niggle about this otherwise fascinating book. Despite a lengthy chapter discussing the diversity of Arab society, there is a tendency at times to treat the Arab world as an homogenous whole. That aside, even if you are not planning to do business in the region but simply want to know more about the markets and its peoples, this is a book worth buying.
Morgen Witzel is a frequent contributor to the Financial Times of London, in which this review first appeared.