Books on Iran & Iranian Culture
One of the few English language guide books to Iran currently on the market, Lonely Planet: Iran, now in a new and revised second edition, deserves to be in the luggage of any traveler to this fascinating and varied country. Accurately describes the delights and possible pitfalls (Tehran pollution etc) of a visit to this fascinating and friendly country.
Lonely Planet's Farsi (Persian) Phrasebook packs a wealth of handy phrases, grammar notes and cultural tips, all at a reasonable price. Also useful as a Farsi primer for those studying the language outside Iran.
Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran, embarks on an ill-considered push towards modernization, fuelled by oil wealth and driven by a greed for admiration. Kapuscinski recalls photographs, using them as cross-sections of history's great worm through time. Here, Reza Pahlavi, the Shah father, is pictured with his young son. They wear identical uniforms. The symbolism is powerful and entirely intended.
Lacking entirely the iron resolve of the first Shah, Mohammad Reza could only inhabit indolently the high life of palace and ski slope. Kapuscinski, in his mind, interviews the young Shah for Hello! magazine. "The most difficult thing to do while living in a palace is to imagine a different life for instance, your own life, but outside of and minus the palace." And so further and further he detached himself from the people he ruled over, though never forgetting to lash out at them from afar, consciously or unconsciously aping his paternal role model.
Iran too has its own psyche and hang-ups. The unconscious rural poor are irreconcilable with the Pahlavi ego, keen to strive forward. And the rebellious streak in Shiism means that Iranians are never sad to see their Shah's heads fall. One of the most delightful moments in this book is when the author conjures up the first Shiites teaching Iranians that "you can be a Muslim without being an establishment Muslim you can be an opposition Muslim! And that makes you an even better Muslim!" "Shiism", he later defines is "a form of national survival" but he does not face head-on the brooding spectre of Ayatollah Khomeini in his reckonings. The rise of the Islamic Republic only proves that "it is not always the best of men who emerge from hiding."
In one of the longest sections of the book, Kapuscinski turns novelist and tells of the first tentative words of opposition in the fashion of a Dostoevsky, but instead of a murderer as a subject/protagonist, he follows a returned émigré intellectual who witnesses the beginnings of unrest but remains in denial, running in fear from SAVAK. Then from the novel to the theatre. Kapuscinski goes on to portray the Shah as an incompetent director using vast amounts of "imported scenery" for his play, "The Great Civilisation" an absurdist piece in which, against his wishes, the extras tear down the stage at the end.
A veteran of political unrest (by his own count, Iran was his 27th revolution) journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski leads us on an impressionistic journey through the roots in history and psychology of the players right up to the tipping point "when the policeman shouts but the man doesnt run." His observations weave the mundane with the profound to achieve drama, involvement and even comedy. Clearly appreciating the Python-esque surrealism, he includes, from an Iranian newspaper, an interview with a professional "wrecker of the Shahs monuments" who unwittingly tells the story of the last Pahlavi monarch through that of his own travails with rope and hook.
"-- Does that mean you would pull down, he would set up, then you would pull down what he set up, and it kept going like this?
-- Thats right. Many times we nearly threw in the towel. If we pulled one down, he set up three."
by Amir Taheri
(Adler & Adler)
Part biography and part political history, Amir Taheris "The Spirit of Allah" (a direct translation of Khomeinis given name, "Ruhollah") is at once a detailed examination of the revolution in Iran and a three-dimensional portrait of the man whose almost gravitational centrality to it made him one of the most important and controversial figures of the late twentieth century. Beginning with his ancestry and birth and continuing to within months of his death in 1989, the book documents Khomeinis early struggles to establish himself as a religious teacher and his life in exile and growing influence over Iranian politics from abroad, culminating with his return to Iran and the first troubled years of the Islamic Republic.
Insights into the early life and private world of the self-proclaimed Imam paint a three dimensional picture of a religious leader who himself saw little more than black and white. Apart from a sensitivity to poetry, two of his own works being reprinted as an appendix, the bleakness of the Ayatollahs personal life and the volcanic anger he directed against a world he saw as corrupted fed his single-minded ambition to oust the Shah. His intolerance of politicians and ignorance of economics were to be great strengths in justifying his uncompromising pursuit of this goal.
For Khomeini, establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth was to be the aim and the responsibility of the sanctified institution of the Mullahs, in particular, those who, like him, could claim a direct line of descent from the Prophet Mohammed himself. Obedience to the law of Islam, as interpreted by his pessimistic pietism, was to be imposed from above since it was essential that the spark of the Devil, which he believed to reside in all men, be tamed.
We find in Khomeini one who was not power hungry but yet refused to allow the momentum of the multifaceted revolutionary movement to be directed by any ideology other than the radical morality that he advocated. This grim, single-minded determination was to justify acts ranging from the telling of knowing half-truths to divert his enemies to the execution of young girls.
As the emphasis of the work moves from personal history to the momentous events of the mid-1970s, Taheri documents the social, political and economic factors that were undermining the Shahs hold on power while never losing sight of the pivotal importance of Khomeini himself. Taheri, a newspaper editor and journalist has brought together innumerable sources including speeches and documents written by Khomeini himself and numerous newspaper articles, eyewitness accounts and personal interviews to add minute detail and depth to a story which, twenty-five years on, is rapidly being distorted by discontent within Iran and ideology outside it.
(John Wiley & Sons)
Irans recent development of uranium enrichment facilities has been referred to in the official national media as an event even more significant than the nationalisation of the oil industry in 1951. But while borrowing the historical imagery of Irans first great victory against imperialism, nothing is said by the countrys leaders of the man who led the charge, Mohammad Mossadeq.
"All The Shahs Men is a pulsating account of the rise of this champion of Iranian nationalism, his nationalisation of the oil industry and his subsequent downfall at the hands of the CIA in 1953 that shows just how big a part US foreign policy played in the creation of a "rogue state. This book is essential reading for understanding the combination of reverence and injustice that many Iranians still feel having been robbed of their great nationalist hero, and why Irans current regime now has no place for him in their own national mythology.
Kinzer paints a sympathetic picture of this man who coughed blood seemingly as a direct consequence of the injustices that the British were being allowed to perpetrate in his country through the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and later still, British Petroleum). For a people raised on the idea of personal martyrdom, the fainting fits, coughing blood and involuntary tears of this highly emotional character all added to his popular appeal.
Since oil had been discovered in Iran by British engineers in 1908, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and later still, British Petroleum), had become one of the key elements of the Empire. Safeguarding oil supplies ran parallel with protecting the entire imperial ideology whose foundations in monopolising the riches of other countries had already begun to look tenuous. Thus, to arch-imperialists such as Churchill and Eden, Mossadeq was a man who might have brought down an empire.
Across the Atlantic, two radically different ideologies were doing battle over how best to approach the threat of Communism. While Truman had thought it best to ride the wave of nationalist movements and help them to stand independently against the red tide, the incoming Eisenhower administration preferred a more "hands-on approach. The British knew that the fear of Communism could drive the incoming president to extreme action and it was their encouragement that paved the way for the birth of the regime change rationale that was to characterise much of US foreign policy in the decades that followed.
Complete with its swashbuckling anti-hero, CIA agent, Kermit Roosevelt, at the helm of anti-Mossadeq operations on the ground, Kinzers book reads more like a spy thriller with political punch than it does a straightforward history. And it is indeed the good-natured ease with which he approached his job that highlights just how callous an approach to world politics his masters in Washington were taking. Covert action seemed, at the time, to be a satisfyingly direct and cost-effective device to ensure a more favourable regional situation, it is clear that with the Islamic world currently rising up in anger against US heavy-handedness, the real price of the coup is clearly still being paid.
Following the story of this national hero to its conclusion in the Mossadeq family estate where he spent his final years under house arrest, Kinzer gives touching accounts of the quiet memories that still echo around the village to which he was kind patron and generous benefactor. There is no escaping the question of what might have been if he had been allowed to lead the whole of Iran. What could have been if the British hadnt been so intransigent, if the Truman doctrine had not given way to Eisenhower. If a national hero had been allowed to rule the country that had wanted him, that needed him and who had elected him.
With the history of Persia as long as the history of mankind itself, it is no surprise that its architectural legacy should be one of the richest in the world. It is perhaps only the relative inaccessibility of Irans architectural treasures in recent years that has caused Persian architecture to be less well regarded in comparison with that of other great civilisations. However, what is clear from the rich yet concise tour offered by Arthur Popes "Introducing Persian Architecture", is that Persian architecture can be compared to that of Ancient Greece and Egypt without any hint of inferiority.
From the ziggurat of Chogha Zambil, through to the noble ruins of the pre-Islamic Persian Empire and all the way up to the mosques and palaces of Isfahan and Shiraz, Pope cuts a great sweep through 3,000 years of history without losing his focus on the finer points of construction and ornamentation that made up his lifes work. It is in itself an achievement for such a learned and passionate scholar to condense his knowledge in a volume so well-organised and accessible for the newcomer. Numerous plates, including full colour photographs and architectural plans are conveniently cross-referenced with the text throughout the book.
Now more than 35 years old, "Introducing Persian Architecture" remains one of the best companions one could possibly have on an architectural tour of Iran. For even a short visit to Isfahan and Shiraz the cost and effort of obtaining a copy would be repaid many times over. Having picked an almost mint copy of the 1976 edition in a dusty Tehran bookshop for next to nothing, it seems likely that second-hand copies are widely available.
by Nasrin Alavi
(Portobello Books Ltd )
This new book (published in 2005) by Iran-born and British-educated Nasrin Alavi (a pseudonym), and translated from the original Farsi, presents the views and musings of Irans estimated 60,000 plus web bloggers. Topics range from the private thoughts of women behind the veil, the media, music and dancing, romance and living with the religious authorities. Blogs have exploded in Iran since 2001 when Hossein Derakhshan, a young Iranian journalist, created what was then Irans first blog.
(Yale University Press)
Keddie provides insightful commentary on the Iran-Iraq war, the Persian Gulf War, and the effects of 9/11 and Iran's strategic relationship with the U.S. She also discusses developments in education, health care, the arts, and the role of women in Iran.
The paradoxes, persecutions and people of post-revolutionary Iran through the discerning eyes of a former correspondent and bureau chief for Newsweek. Sciolino is one of America's foremost commentators on Iran and knows the country, its people (especially its women) intimately.
by Ali Ansari
Tracing the 20th century history of Iran this book provides an up-to-date account of modern Iran in 2002.
Islamic Art and Architecture explores and celebrates the cities of Islam, from Tabriz and Yazd to Kerman to Khiva, from Lahore to Fatehpur Sikri and Sikandra. Henri Stierlin offers a key to an intimate understanding of this immense heritage in a thorough text closely allied to crisp, full-colour illustrations.
This book presents a comprehensive overview of Islamic architectural decoration in all its diversity from a vast geographical area: not only the Middle East, but also Spain, northern Africa, Turkey, Iran, and the Indian subcontinent. Sumptuous color illustrations, accompanied by text that places each monument in its historical, artistic, and technological context, reveal the long-hidden secrets of the techniques of tile making that made this art form possible, and draw readers into a dazzling, magical world of fabulously decorated buildings.
The very word "paradise" derives from the ancient Iranian term for the Shah's royal hunting grounds. From ancient Achaemenid sites to the magnificent mirrored shrines of Shiraz, from the lush geometric gardens of Kashan to the ornate domes of Ispahan, the reader will discover the fundamental roles of water, brick, and ornamentation in the countrys unique architectural heritage. With their intricate fountains and majestic ponds, Persian oasis gardens celebrate water that is still sourced from underground aqueducts dating back to the 6th century, as do palace hammams, so central to Islamic cultures belief in purification by water. Persian gardens are meant as an escape from the harsh realities of desert life and are jealously hidden away within high brick walls. The Islamic tiles, precious metals, and glittering jewels - hidden behind the colorful facades of palace pavilions and mosques - recount the mysteries of these timeless splendors.
Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis is an exemplary autobiographical graphic novel, in the tradition of Art Spiegelmans classic Maus. Set in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, it follows the young Satrapi, six-year-old daughter of two committed and well-to-do Marxists. As she grows up, she witnesses first-hand the effects that the revolution and the war with Iraq have on her home, family and school.
A detailed, balanced analysis of the troubled relations between the US and Iran including the fall of the last Shah, the Iran-Iraq War and the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
Iran is on a seeming collision course with America and the West as it continues to move towards becoming a nuclear state.
Betty Mahmoody's story of a failed marriage to an Iran doctor and her desperate attempts to return to the United States.
Azadeh Moaveni has felt at odds with her tangled identity as an Iranian-American. In suburban America, Azadeh lived in two worlds. At home, she was the daughter of the Iranian exile community, serving tea, clinging to tradition, and dreaming of Tehran. Outside, she was a California girl who practiced yoga and listened to Madonna. For years, she ignored the tense stand-off between her two cultures. But college magnified the clash between Iran and America, and after graduating, she moved to Iran as a journalist. This is the story of her search for identity, between two cultures cleaved apart by a violent history.
by Azar Nafisi
An inspired blend of memoir and literary criticism, Reading Lolita in Tehran is a moving testament to the power of art and its ability to change and improve peoples lives. In 1995, after resigning from her job as a professor at a university in Tehran due to its repressive policies, Azar Nafisi invited seven of her best female students to attend a weekly study of great Western literature in her home. Since the books they read were officially banned by the government, the women were forced to meet in secret, often sharing photocopied pages of the illegal novels.
An insiders account of Iran. Few historians and journalists writing in English have been able to meaningfully examine post-revolutionary Iranian life. Years after his death, the shadow of Ayatollah Khomeini still looms over Shiite Islam and Iranian politics, the state of the nation fought over by conservatives and radicals. They are contending for the soul of a revolutionary Islamic government that terrified the Western establishment and took them to leadership of the Islamic world.
(W.W. Norton & Company Ltd)
Afshin Molavi, a rising young journalist born in Iran and fluent in Farsi, travelled his homeland for one year. Along the way he met a wide variety of people from a wide variety of backgrounds - students, bazaar merchants, Islamic clerics, homeless children, pro-democracy writers, Islamic hardliners, feminists, and kids hooked on anything western. They all discusses matters which were important to them: unemployment, freedom, religion, poetry, history, love, and green cards. This journey documents the real feeling of a nation, not the ones seen on camera.