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Democracy in Iran: History and the Quest for Liberty 1st Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195189674
ISBN-10: 0195189671
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Few countries today appear so erratic and unknowable as Iran, where Islamist president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's increasingly militant pronouncements keep leaders awake at night from Washington to Paris. Despite President Bush's assertion that the spread of democracy will sweep away intolerance in the Muslim world, Ahmadinejad's ascent represented a sharp popular rebuke to the republic's clerical establishment. Gheissari, a history professor, and Nasr, a professor of Middle East and South Asian politics, both of whom have written widely about Iran, attempt to determine the boundaries of Tehran's democratic culture and institutions in this political and intellectual history. Their project is only partly successful, however, given the authors' persistent blind spots. They assert that "in many regards, there is more progress toward democracy in Iran than in any other country in the Middle East, perhaps with the exception of Turkey," which would be highly suspect even if one accepted the Iranian position that Israel does not exist. In their detailed dissection of Ahmadinejad's election, they make little of the fact that reformers and liberals largely boycotted the vote. Despite its flaws, Gheissari and Nasr's book offers a revealing glimpse into the paths that democratic ideas have traveled there both before and after the 1979 revolution. (June)
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"A clear and readable account of politics in the Islamic Republic."--The Washington Post

"A comprehensive overview of Iran's history on its way towards democracy...shed[s] new light on already well-known facts, recombining them into an unfamiliar but conclusive shape; and on top of that is an impressive read."--Iranian Studies

"Democracy in Iran unravels the jumble of paradoxes that have marked Iranian politics over the last century. The country has experienced considerable success in state-building and development but has periodically undermined both by failing to consolidate democracy. Presently, it has many of the elements of a lively democracy but, somehow, is not a democracy at all. Iranians have successfully challenged candidates supported by the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic but have failed to weaken clerical control of the state. Vali Nasr and Ali Gheissari do an outstanding job of explaining how Iran keeps flirting with democratic governance, more than practically any other Islamic country in the Middle East, yet somehow always seems to fall short of sealing the marriage."--Joel Migdal, Professor of International Studies, University of Washington, and author of State in Society

"A comprehensive account of political developments in Iran in the last century, theoretically sophisticated and yet very accessible. Easily the best book in a decade on Iran's bumpy road to democracy through two revolutions and much anti-democratic state-building."--Said Amir Arjomand, author of The Turban for the Crown

"Democracy in Iran is a bold and sweeping survey of the past century of Iranian political history, an absorbing drama of contending ideologies, social classes, revolutionary movements, international pressures, political factions, and charismatic leaders. Nasr and Gheissari vividly expose Iran's ongoing struggle between democratic principles of freedom and accountability, the authoritarian-modernist quest for order and development, and revolutionary idealism, both secular and religious. In the process, they show once again the folly of all forms of utopianism and the necessity of constitutional and representative government. This is not just a book about Iran, but an insightful study of how regimes rise, evolve, stagnate, fragment, and fall." --Larry Diamond, author of Squandered Victory

"Iran is often portrayed in the West as 'despotic,' 'autocratic,' and 'totalitarian.' This lucid and succinct book is an excellent antidote to the conventional view. It narrates eloquently the history of modern Iran through the prism of democracy--its birth, growth, trials and tribulations, and, despite recent setbacks, its continued vibrancy and extensive social roots. Those interested in modern Iran would do well to read this highly informative book." --Ervand Abrahamian, author of Tortured Confessions


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (June 15, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195189671
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195189674
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 1 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,583,782 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jay Poppenhusen on September 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I went to the eye doctor years ago and told him I had problem with my right eye. He began to look at my left eye. I said to him . . . no that is not the one giving me the problem. The eye doctor became frustrated and said to me "How can I possibly know what is wrong with your right eye without looking at both . . . do you not understand that they are connected."

The authors demonstrate that Iran has had something to do with democracy at least as far back as 1906. Even if you are not interested in Iran you should read this book to more fully understand Western democracy . . . and to understand how global democracy is taking shape.
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Format: Hardcover
I have read many books on Iran. I liked this one. It is readable and very insightful. There are many new facts in it, and it interprets Iran's history from a new perspective and at times with views that are different from those commonly held. I found it to be balanced, and when it comes to democracy to provide a deep and historical view that goes beyond simple answers in media today. I recommend to anyone who wants to understand Iran.
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Format: Hardcover
The heart of this short book is a precis of modern Iranian history with an accompanying analysis of the social and political phenomena responsible for important events. While the authors go back to the early 20th century, most of the discussion focuses on the birth of the Iranian revolution and its aftermath, leading right up to recent events. This is very well done with insightful analysis of the major trends in recent Iranian history. The authors, however, try to present their interpretation with the major theme of efforts to build a democratic Iran. This interpretation is belied by their own narrative which seems to present the recurrent theme of trying to build a modern state under considerable external pressure. Nonetheless, this book deserves wide readership because it displays an objective view of Iranian history uncontaminated by popular cliches and with a lot of interesting detail. Gheissari and Nasr argue that the residuum of historic efforts to democratize Iran and unexpected consequences of the Iranian revolution has resulted in a state with a strong democratic movement and a number of democratic practices. Unfortunately, this book probably won't reach a broad audience because in the interests of concision, the authors have had to leave out a fair amount of relevant historical background. For example, it will be hard to understand the authors' discussion of 1930s Iran unless you know what "Kemalist" means. The quality of writing is generally good but the authors sometimes fall back to academic cliches. It has an excellent bibliography.

While Geissari and Nasr make a very good case for the potential strength of democractic practice in Iran and opportunities for conversion to real democracy, they don't discuss a real danger of this situation. Authoritarian regimes under domestic challenge from strong domestic democratic pressures have a tendency to resort to reckless foreign policies to distract domestic attention and to build domestic legitimacy.
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Format: Paperback
The two Iranian-American scholars argue that quest for democracy began in Iran over a century ago and there are structural reasons why it has not succeeded. They argue to develop Iran has invested in building a powerful state which has then made democracy impossible. Recent suppression of election riots show that the state is still suppressing democracy. The book is also a very good historical survey of modern Iran.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Democracy in Iran provides a good base to dive deeper into understanding the political history of Iran. The book covers the major events in Iran's past, focusing more on the last two centuries. If you are interested in Iran this book is a great place to start and quite a complement to Polk's, Understanding Iran.
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