For a generation, the word Iran has conjured up a variety of images and thoughts here in the west some filled with hope and others of a more pejorative nature. As a college senior, this reviewer remembers the frustration, futility, and anger, of America and the West, during the events of 1979 and 1980 when the United States embassy in the capital of Tehran was overrun and the staff taken hostage for over a year.
Since then, Iran, as an Islamic Republic, has been much maligned and disregarded by the America and the West in the forty years since the fall of perhaps the last of Pahlavi Shah. It has also brought turmoil to the American political scene since the late 1970’s (the Iran-Contra scandal, aka Irangate, of the mid-1980’s for instance).
But when the opportunity to review Abbas Amanat’s new history of his native country Iran: A Modern History (2017, Yale University Press) was made available to this reviewer, I eagerly began to read it with the hopes of understand the events of 1979 and the history of the nation and people who were behind them.
I was not disappointed. What I found was the history of a proud and resilient people with a dynamic and turbulent past and present.
Amanat’s book begins in 1501 with the Safavid Dynasty and ends with an insightful analysis of why the nation of Iran has been able to exist. But there is more to this book than the historical narrative of the seven dynasties through which Iran has passed to the current Islamic Republic. This is a book in which the cultural history of Iran is also told – architecture, literature, music, and from the mid-20th century to today – film. It is also book in which the depth and tenacity of the Shia branch of Islam is shown and has been a major part, according Amanat, of Iran’s survival, thriving, and identity.
Iran: A Modern History, is a history that has depth and breadth to it. If you are a first time reader of Iranian history, this book will challenge you, as it did this reviewer, with a scholar’s, and a native son’s, understanding and analysis of Iran. But you will discover a perspective, a very long perspective, on a nation who has sat astride history of both the east, and since the 18th and 19th centuries (and before, really) the west. A position that created external tensions with Russia and England and internal tensions between the Muslim clerics, the progressive element seeking democratic forms of government, and the deeply rooted supporters of monarchy.
I really enjoyed this book. I helped me to understand the turbulent nature of contemporary Iran as well as the reasons behind much of what has happened since 1979.
It is a book that would be great for book clubs, as well as probably upper class history classes as well as graduate level history and perhaps in Christian seminaries as part of the study of Islam and the Muslim world.
I gave this book a five-star rating on Goodreads!
Note: I received a kindle copy of this book from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.