Its title implies a more ambitious book than is actually the case; Middle East Patterns is really less the case than Middle East Facts. Held's survey covers ancient history, water, topography, climate, flora, fauna, soil, ethnicities, religions, agriculture, fishing, oil, manufacturing, transportation, urban patterns, and regional conflicts, as well as a substantial report on every state in the region (including Turkey and Iran, but excluding North Africa). The chapter on petroleum, with sections on reserves, marketing, and production, is a stand-out, providing one of the best, up-to-date surveys around. The chapter on the region's many conflicts is also valuable; Held's balanced, unbiased, and judicious voice is refreshing.
In fact, the book is reminiscent of a college textbook. With two columns to a page, sixty-five different maps, more than 100 black and white photos and about a dozen tables and graphs, one may experience flashbacks of studying for exams in a dorm room with a large pot of coffee.
And strong coffee is a near-prerequisite if one aims to stay awake while reading Middle East Patterns from cover to cover. While informative and instructive about a fascinating region, Held holds to a rigid and dulling chapter structure. While a fine volume for point-of-reference purposes and a useful addition to any library, it was not designed to be read straight through.
It should be noted that the author miraculously produced this third edition while battling lung cancer. With that illness now in remission, his readers can now look forward to further updated versions in the years ahead.