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A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind Paperback – March 9, 2010
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"His account of modern Iranian politics and culture is more gripping than most novels.... Consistently intelligent, notably up to date and lucidly written."
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Top Customer Reviews
That said, if you are looking for real detail on more recent events, such as the 1953 Mossadeq coup, the 1979 Revolution, or today's affairs, I'd look elsewhere (Persian Puzzle is really good at narrating the recent events, as are focused books such as "All the Shah's Men" and "Ahmadinejad."
Having read a lot about recent Iranian history, I enjoyed the voyage into ancient history - but know the predominantly ancient focus before buying.
As noted, the author's style is easy to follow and enjoyable. He even tells a few jokes. The book is generally even-handed, though he did seem to soft-pedal British mistakes in the region (understandable given his nationality). My only beef with the author was his 20+ page expose on Iranian poetry. It comes from nowhere, and it was boring (though, admittedly, I am not a fan of poetry). The book is cruising along finely, all of a suddent takes a detour into poetry, and then corrects itself.
Overall, this is a great book and a must-read for someone interested in ancient Iranian history and the events/people that shaped a country sure to be in the news for a while.
The book follows Iran's chronological history from pre-Achaemenid times to the present. It is well researched and has extensive footnotes and references allowing the reader to delve into details of any event or subject. Yet, it is eminently readable and has the tone of a lively and informative lecture rather than an erudite tome.
The book binds all the varied elements of Iranian culture (a multi-lingual, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religion mélange of peoples) into a single story line. It provides a factual, but simplified, picture of a multiplicity of societies who consider themselves Iranian regardless of the proclivity of their present governments. The reader is forced to re-evaluate the common notions of Iran as a homogeneous entity and recognize it as a hodgepodge of different groups who are bound by a common belief in the uniqueness of their civilization, culture and history.
Perhaps the greatest contribution of the book is the portrayal of Iranian minorities. It is no small feat to trace their histories in the Iranian context. Yet, as Axworthy implies, it is their historical contributions and continued existence that make Iranian culture unique. It would be a sad day if any government forced uniformity on such a great and diverse culture.
The book does not cover everything (that would require an encyclopedia) but it misses some points.Read more ›
Axworthy speads his focus evenly throughout the various phases of history (as opposed to breezing quickly through ancient empires to get us to the present). I agree with his decision to do so. Many Iranians have a sense of history that makes it necessary to have at least a passing understanding of Iran's pre-Islamic heritage in order to understand modern attitudes. I also believe that pre- and early-Islamic history are interesting in their own right. But for readers who are mainly interested in the modern world, this might not be the best book; Axworthy doesn't start discussing the Pahlavi period until page 221, and spends about 65 pages on the last 100 years. The only other caveat is that the narrative during the early-Islamic period is a little confused. The text on the Umayyad, Abbassid and Seljuk periods is not as clear as what comes before or after.
Regardless, the book is very well written overall. It is accessible to the casual reader. The several maps help create a coherent picture of the ever-shifting historical boundaries.
I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Iran who has little or no background in the country, but it will be an easier read if you have some knowledge of Islamic history. I also recommend following this book up with something more detailed.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This guy is one of the best authors on the planet. I highly recommend all of his books.Published 1 month ago by Mike Rak
I like Axworthy's conversational manner of covering history, with somewhat informal digressions that put things in a bigger perspective. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Brian Griffith
Very easy to read unlike most academic history, and unlike many pop history books, the book is factual. An excellent introduction into Iranian history.Published 2 months ago by Mark Twain
I have read a fairly large number of books about Iranian history, including several overviews of that country's history, and I think this one is reasonably well-done. Read morePublished 4 months ago by James R. Maclean
As the title might indicate, the author specializes in Iranian culture and development of religion. A good historical synopsis is incorporated for readers who want more. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Gderf
A nice, easy to read, sweeping narrative of the History of Iran from ancient history to the present. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Magnitogorsk
There has to be a better account of the history of Iran. Weak in ancient history and in the middle ages, it gets a little more interesting when we get to 19th centuryPublished 7 months ago by JoeyP2
The first half of the book seems like a repetitive cycle with the invasions, ruthlessness, building up and destruction of empires. Read morePublished 8 months ago by TX consumer