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Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the U.S., and the Twisted Path to Confrontation Paperback – January 6, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The American-Iranian relationship has been fraught for years—indeed, for far longer than most Americans realize—USA Today diplomatic correspondent Slavin shows. Interweaving history with current events, she demonstrates how decades-old American perfidy continues to color Iranian expectations, much as the 1979 hostage crisis continues to affect Americans today. Without losing sight of the brutality with which the Islamic Republic was established—and is often maintained—Slavin skillfully presents its surprisingly multifaceted culture and political establishment, where mullahs are sometimes on the side of reform, and Western-minded businessmen might support systematic corruption and repression. The driving theme, however, is one of decades of missed opportunities, on both sides, to achieve rapprochement. Providing little-known details of the various contacts and arguments both between and within the American and Iranian leaderships, Slavin argues that the Bush administration badly misjudged Iran's leadership; by the time it offered to talk with Iran about its nuclear program, Iran had been so emboldened by other U.S. policies that it felt little pressure or inclination to accept. This articulate study helps clear the fog between two nations that have long and systematically demonized each other. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“Rarely has a book been more necessary or more timely. Drawing on decades of experience in the Middle East, Barbara Slavin has produced a masterful study of today's Iran. From the dusty streets of Qum to the highest government offices, Slavin has used her finely honed reporter's instinct to gain access to every level of Iranian society. Often surprising, always accessible, it is an indispensible book for anyone concerned with the direction of United States foreign policy.” ―Geraldine Brooks, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of March

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; 1 Reprint edition (January 6, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312384912
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312384913
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,487,631 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on October 23, 2007
Format: Hardcover
How many Americans know how the Iranian system of government works? Are Americans aware that Iran's population is mostly under thirty and restless? Do Americans realize that Iran is more complex than their mere portrayal as an Islamic fascist state? One wonders if Americans have thought about the internal dynamics of Iranian society? Sadly, most Americans don't realize that a hunger for democratic reform exists in Iranian society and war will likely only rally their people to the regime which oppresses them.

Our newspapers, television, radio and online sources are busy quoting outrageous statements from the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and America's fear about their nuclear program. Jingoistic sound-bites on both sides have dwarfed sensible, thoughtful and fact based commentary.

Thankfully, Barbara Slavin has written a book that presents a holistic view we Americans are typically not exposed too. Using her remarkable access to people such as Madeline Albright, Condelezza Rice, Iranian reformers like former President Mohammad Khatami, longtime establishment figures such as Ali Rafsanjani, as well as dissidents like Akbar Ganji and everyday citizens, allows Slavin to shed sunlight on a nation most Americans know very little about. She was the first newspaper journalist to interview Iranian President Ahmadinejad.

We also learn about the tantalizing opportunities for reconciliation not seized by three successive American administrations.

Overall, Slavin's prose is anecdotal but fact based. Her book makes truth accessible and truth about Iran has been in short supply. Hopefully, her book will also make truth fashionable again.

For more information about Slavin's book and insights into Iran, listen to a podcast interview I had with her at the weblog, Intrepid Liberal Journal.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By K.S.Ziegler on December 15, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book is a timely journalistic account that provides some insight into the enigma of Iran. During the late 70s Iran rose to the top of the news in the United States when as a reaction to the Westernizing influences of the Shah, Ayatollah Khomeini rose to power, referred to the U.S. as the "Great Satan", American hostages were taken, and Iranians demonstrated in the streets chanting "death to America". There followed a period of relative silence during which Iran tried to mend itself after the ravages of the Iran-Iraq War and then actually reform itself during the Khatami presidency. Lately, it has risen again to prominence in the news, this time as the bugaboo of the Bush Administration, as part of the "axis of evil".

The author made a series of visits to Iran starting in 1996, and has structured this book principally on the basis of her observations, interviews with Iranian and American officials, and talks with ordinary Iranians. What we get here is a picture of a country that has a very tangled government - the author compares it to an American square dance - in which the ultimate arbiter is the supreme religious leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei. Though some change has occurred (notably during Khatami's presidency and as a result of globalization) and there are some democratic elements, Iran is still a very long way from having any clear separation between the state and an authoritarian religion. The Shiite form of Islam dominates and tries to extend its influence to other parts of the Middle East such as Iraq and Lebanon. The Iranian city of Qom, the "mullah factory", is along with Najaf in Iraq the center of Shiite Islam; and is described as something like a medieval enclave where religious law is rigorously taught and applied.
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Ross MS on October 22, 2007
Format: Hardcover
With all the mounting talk about a possible war with Iran, "Bitter Friends and Bosom Enemies" is a must read for anyone concerned about the misguided direction of the current Administration's foreign policies. The author has obviously spent a lot of time in Iran and she takes the reader there with her in this insightful, lively and well-written book. Much is written in the news these days about the threat Iran poses, but little if any of it explains why. This book helps to fill that gap, increasing the reader's understanding of the country, its people and, as the author puts it, the complicated "square dance" of Iranian politics. Most importantly for Americans, it shows how the clash of two faith-based foreign policies--Tehran's and Washington's--is setting our two countries on a tragic and needless path to confrontation. Highly recommended!
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Otto J. Fafoglia on November 19, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Slavin's book is very interesting. This book provides an insight to many of Iran's leaders, clerics and governmental. She does give the reader a sense of the people of Iran and their desire for peace. She points out the inner turmoil within Iran on the duality of leadership; those who are liberals with the desire for western ideas, dress and democracy and those who are hard liners with religious convictions. Ms. Slavin points out the frustration of the Clinton and Bush administration in trying to negotiate dialog and meaningful relations with Iran, however, she also points out the underlying mistrust between the U.S. and Iran. Of course, much of the mistrust goes back in history to 1979 and also the spoken words or unspoken words between the two countries. She points out that the "Axis of Evil" speech of President Bush may have done more damage to relations than some may have thought.
This book is well written, documented and a must read if understanding the middle east, Iran's role there and in the world is important.
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