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The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran Hardcover – September 23, 2008


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1 edition (September 23, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385523343
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385523349
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #698,645 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this critical but affectionate portrait of Iranian politics and culture, Majd, the Western-educated grandson of an ayatollah, delves into the very core of Iranian society, closely examining social mores and Farsi phrases to identify the Persian sensibility, which, Majd determines, cherishes privacy, praise and poetry. Nothing is too small or too sweeping for Majd to consider, and although he announces his allegiance to the former president Khatami, he remains scrupulously even-handed in assessing his successor Ahmadinejad, shedding light on the Iranian president's obsession with the Holocaust and penchant for windbreakers and why the two are (surprisingly) intertwined. The author's brisk, conversational prose is appealing; his book reads as if he is chatting with a smart friend, while strolling around Tehran, engaged in ta'arouf (an exaggerated form of self-deprecation key to understanding Persian society). Although Majd seems to gloss too quickly over realities that don't engage his interest—women's voices are only intermittently included—this failing scarcely mars this remarkable ride through what is often uncharted territory. (Oct.)
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Review

Praise for The Ayatollah Begs to Differ

“In this delightful book, Hooman Majd, a gifted storyteller, takes us on a tour of his own private Persia, which is also the Iran of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The results are illuminating, humorous, sobering, and ultimately reassuring.”
—Jon Lee Anderson, author of The Fall of Baghdad

“Hooman Majd is a stylish and engaging guide through the by-ways of Iranian life. Leading us from seminary to opium den to the presidential compound, his wry sense of humor makes this book a pleasure to read.” —Gary Sick, Ph.D., senior research scholar at Columbia University and member of the National Security Council staff under Presidents Ford, Carter, and Reagan

“A witty, timely perspective on the nation posing the greatest challenge to our next President.”
—Bill White, mayor of Houston and U.S. secretary of energy under President Clinton

More About the Author

Hooman Majd is an Iranian-American writer and journalist based in New York. He has written for Newsweek, The New Yorker, The New York Observer, The New York Times, The New Republic, The Los Angeles Times, The Financial Times, GQ, Interview Magazine, Salon, Foreign Policy, Politico, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Foreign Affairs among others. His first book, "The Ayatollah Begs to Differ", was published by Doubleday in the Fall of 2008. His second book on Iran, "The Ayatollahs' Democracy" was published by WW. Norton in the Fall of 2010, and his latest, "The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay was published in the fall of 2013. Majd is also a contributor to NBC News.

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Customer Reviews

I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to understand Iran today.
A. Simons
Mr. Majd has written a very timely book to help us understand the paradoxes of current Iranian social and political existence.
Afarin Neyssari
More, the book suffers inexorably from long-winded sentences that test the reader's patience to the limit.
Smarth Bali

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

100 of 107 people found the following review helpful By Lisa Teasley on October 2, 2008
Format: Hardcover
In the preface, writer Hooman Majd is described in oxymoron as the only person in the life of this particular friend as 100 percent American and 100 percent Iranian. In quoting a Sufi poet Sanai, Majd notes: "Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,/there is a field. I'll meet you there." This is precisely what he does. This is not a book that attempts to justify the atrocities of any government, but is rather an examination of a country, its views, and how it got there. Though ideologically the Islamic Republic is to have done away with class-- just as Democracy is to have ideally done away with the constrains of the same-- Hooman Majd explores the complex psyche of modern Iran, at once Muslim, Shiite and Persian, all of which Majd defines with great detail, historic significance, personal reference, wit and depth in understanding. While taking us through South Tehran, once the city's roughest neighborhood known as "Texas," onto the government's utilitarian style compound in downtown Tehran, to the privileged homes of former royalists, ambassadors, and artists in North Tehran, to Qom, the desert town and home of Ayatollahs and Shia learning. In introducing us to the complicated personalities in these homes and offices, showing us how and why they got to their particular points of political views and lifestyles, we get an empathetic analysis-- and I stress empathetic as opposed to sympathetic-- in what it means to be Iranian today, and in this climate of what appears to be world tumult, crisis, and confusion. There is a calm centeredness to THE AYATOLLAH BEGS TO DIFFER, which is the manner in which I like to receive information on any highly controversial, timely and topical subject, as opposed to the kind of shrill analyses we find in abundance. I highly recommend Hooman Majd's book for readers who prefer their political and cultural literature written with a masterful sense of balance and wisdom, rather than justification, finger-pointing, and reactionary doctrine.
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47 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Book Maven on November 30, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Hooman Majd has done a fantastic job of describing Iranian cultural nuances to non Iranians.

I am an Iranian myself and I've never seen anyone describing the subtleties of my culture with this level of eloquence and clarity. Ta'arouf is very complex to explain and in my opinion Hooman has nailed it brilliantly.

Note to Mr Majd, time to write about America and American culture for Iranian people. Let's keep the dialogue going; let's disappoint the warmongers.
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58 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Francis Meyer on October 2, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Not a book for the cherishers of preconceived notions, or the gaggle of aggrieved partisans who live in nostalgic reveries of the despicable Shah, Majd knows what's happening, makes his biases clear -- he is both a capital D American Democrat and an Iranian supporter of the reformist Khatami -- and happens to be a damn fine reporter. He gives the reader a tangible sense of why Iran is as it is, why the Iranians prefer to work with their imperfect Islamic Republic than seek a revolution to replace it, and how the nation's history, religion, food, poetry, and taxi drivers helped it become what it is. It's concrete and mystical, funny and beautiful, and constantly surprising -- I mean both this fantastically readable book and the country it describes.
Oh yes, and it will also tell you exactly what's really going on with that crazy president of theirs and the nuclear enrichment business.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By CyTab on December 14, 2010
Format: Paperback
Mr. Majd's book is, at times, funny, insightful and overall, a pleasant, if biased view of today's Iran. Despite being marketed as a different look into Iranian politics and society, there are an increasing number of books reaching Western audiences today which dispel the stereotypes of Iranian politics and society as often depicted in the media. This book makes a reasonable attempt to paint a multilayered picture of Iranian society and culture, and, to a lesser extent, its political life. Majd does an admirable job in explaining, often in amusing anecdotes, various aspects of the Iranian mentality and presenting reasonable explanations of how these idiosyncrasies came about. At only 250 pages, though, the book is more an introduction rather than a full expose of these subjects, and Majd may be criticized for spending too much time on, say, Iranian manners (ta'arof) and love of gardens and privacy at the expense of other, equally relevant matters.

Politically, Majd's deep biases are evident throughout the book, which is not surprising given that he is connected with numerous high ranking Iranian political figures, is related to, and worked for, former President Khatami and has acted as a translator for Pres Ahmadinejad. Thus, not surprisingly, the author is clearly in the pro-Islamic Republic camp, if with minor reservations (without explicitly saying so, he portrays himself as a "reformist"). In this light, the book is replete with constant denigration of the monarchy and the former Shah and his supporters, yet very little, if minor, criticism of Khomeini or the ISI. Readers, not to mention a few historians, may be somewhat surprised to hear him refer to the monarchy as a "totalitarian dictatorship" whereas he considers the IRI an "islamic democracy.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Herbert L Calhoun on October 28, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a deeply informed but disarmingly relaxed analysis of Iranian culture. It is free of Western props, wishful thinking and hopes of cajoling Iran into another Western Middle Eastern proxy in geopolitics. Thus the author's advice does not play into expected Western stereotypes or pro-Western prejudices (as did an earlier book reviewed by me about Iran called "The Iran Threat," by Alireza Jafarzadeh). This author used his own considerable political and intellectual skills, high level access, knowledge and deep insights of Iranian culture to again try to reinitialize and reset the table about Iran for Western eyes and minds. For that, I am very grateful to him.

The results, as so accurately noted in the cover leaf, are part memoir, part cultural criticism, and part travelogue. But more than this, almost everything comes as a surprise to the Western mind and eyes: the openness of the society despite the religious hold on the culture by the conservative forces (who consider themselves as the only legitimate stakeholders); the yearning for democracy (despite its many contradictions and its trigger like volatility), and both the vibrancy as well as the inherent tension and deep layers of hypocrisy inherent in the culture, itself.

The results of the author's analysis and his suggestions for a way ahead are as surprising as is the picturesque tour of Iranian culture itself: There is little room left for, or basis in, our anti-Iranian prejudices and bullying geopolitics as the sole guide for our thinking about Iran: The 1979 revolution is over, and another one is far along in the making.
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