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The Iranians: Persia, Islam and the Soul of a Nation Paperback – April 1, 1998

3.6 out of 5 stars 49 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The Iranians chronicles the history of the Iranian people, from the "glory days" of Persia to the overthrow of Mohammed Riza Shah and the rise of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Through many centuries, Islamic Iran fell repeatedly to invaders--Turks, Mongols, Afghans, Russians, and the British--only to spring back and reassert its cultural and spiritual autonomy while absorbing elements of other civilizations. But after the 1950s, rapid modernization disturbed every facet of Iranian life. Mackey shows how Iran's pendulum swung from nationalism to monarchism to rigid Shia fundamentalism, while also offering harsh judgment of Western attitudes and policies toward Iran. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In an engrossing blend of history and reportage, Middle East expert Mackey (The Saudis) portrays a proud, anxious people caught between two interlocking traditions competing for the nation's soul. On the one hand, there is the legacy of ancient Persia, which brought forth Zoroastrianism with its belief in a supreme God, a philosophy of tolerance and justice, and magnificent art; and on the other, there is the predominant Shiite Muslim religion, which mirrors Persian nonconformity in its schismatic break with Sunni orthodoxy, but which also galvanizes the masses with calls for an egalitarian society, retribution against the West and strict adherence to Islamic moral code. Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, in her analysis, abandoned Islamic traditions and, wrapping himself in the cloak of kingship, pushed a shallow resurrection of the glories of ancient Persia. His fall in 1979 left the U.S. adrift in the crucial Persian Gulf; and contemporary Iran, with its ongoing military buildup, its opposition to the Israel-Arab peace process and its refusal to lift the death edict for Salman Rushdie, reinforces deep-rooted authoritarian traditions. Nevertheless, Mackey strongly urges the U.S. to replace its policy of isolation and embargo with reconciliation toward President Hashemi Rafsanjani and the moderate pragmatists he supposedly represents.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Plume (April 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452275636
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452275638
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,115,144 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Format: Paperback
I started reading this book with an enormous amount of pleasure. At first I thought my God, this American woman has understood us Iranians better than we have understood ourselves. The chapter on Reza Shah I thought was spot on. Then there were a few minor mistakes, e.g. Mohammad Reza Shah dreaming Abbas Shah, should have been Hazrat Abbas, who is an entirely different character(pp254). This was not too important though and I think we can forgive a foreigner for that. As the history approached the 1979 uprisng, Khomeini's nationalism or his exploit of nationalism was mentioned too often. The book then describes his arrival and says(pp285) - 'As soon the aged Khomeini rose from his poignant act of kissing the Iranian soil...'! I can not remember him doing that but I think most Iranians would remember that he was asked on the plane by a journalist on how he feels returning back to his country after 15 years and he replied without any emotion 'Nothing' !. An important statement which is not mentioned in the book.
Other examples I can give is how Sandra Mackey in her footnote on pp(286) says 'Shapur Bakhtiar was assassinated in Paris by unknown assailants...'. At this point I had to shelf the book. Perhaps she should have visited Vakili-rad and Hendi in the French jails, before France let Hendi go back to Iran, half way through his sentence in return for a petti contract.
If I was to recommend the book, I would say read the first 200 pages or so, after that be careful of what information you are given.
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Format: Hardcover
Mackey has written an excellent book in terms of historical facts and detailed accounts of Iran's past. However, her analysis and commentary on Iranian identity leaves much to be desired. She attempts to provide a modern perspective of Iran through discussing its long past, yet it seems to me that Mackey seems bent on forming an all-inclusive idea of what being "Iranian" is. That simply is not possible. Given the long history, incredible diversity, and complexity of the subject (which the author notes), the only way that one could present formula of "Iranianism" is by making many generalizations, which abound in this book. How else could one fit some 2500 years of history into 400 or so pages? All in all, it is a great introduction to Iran and a well-written, engaging book. My advice to readers: take Mackey's conclusions about why Iranians are the way they are with a grain of salt; this is not an academic book but rather, popular reading.
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Format: Paperback
Today, with the cultural pendulum seemingly going full swing away from Islamic Iran towards Persian Iran, I thought I should spend a weekend recapping my knowledge of Persian Culture and Shia religion. What is in the first 1/3 of the book is, I believe, an accurate reflection of both.
I found fault in the second third of the book in just one area. The author has a difficulty or inability to say that Shah Mohammed Reza did any good at all! She begrudgingly acknowledges his liberal policies, though gives credit to the US government for them, and makes the last 2 decades of Pahlavi reign seem like the last 9 months, namely a regime with a dying icon and a crisis of leadership.
It all became clear reading the last third of the book. The author must have some personal relationship with the offices of Rafsanjani / Khatami, and is whistling their tune. The mood on the street at the time the book was written may have given the "farr" to the moderate Rafsanjani, but he has since been discredited for his secret murder campaigns. The mood at the time the after-word was written may have been in favor of the moderate Khatami, but that is changing also, after the cheating and duplicity (good cop, bad cop games) of all the leadership of the Islamic Republic has becomes apparent.
In promoting the Islamic Reformist camp, the author is obliged to write in a way that suggest the path taken in the Islamic revolution, being a reaction to Pahlavi rule and Western monkey business, was inevitable. This false premise leads one to think the current status-quo is inevitable and should be respected, and further assisted.
In any case it is a good book all in all.
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By A Customer on March 6, 1998
Format: Hardcover
The Iranians : Persia, Islam and the Soul of a Nation by Sandra MacKey is in the tradition of nineteenth century European orientalism at its worst. The book is so ill-informed as to be contemptable. To illustrate this let us examine McKey's attitude toward gender relations in Persian culture. Ms McKey compares ancient Iranian traditions with late twentieth century European societies and by doing so shows her ignorance of her own heritage as well as that of Iran's. Patriarchy is shown as the exclusive reserve of Persian culture, giving the impression that Europe has always been as enlightened as it reports to be. In Roman society women were little more than objects of entertainment for the amusement of males. In ancient Greece, in contrast to Persia, very few women amassed significant power as Atossa the Achaemenian queen did. In fact the Greeks had contempt for the effeminate nature of Persian culture that allowed too much power to be accrued by the female gender. The Jews also noted the 'fool-hardy' attitude of Persian women by contrasting the defiance of Queen Vashti with the placidity of Esther. In the book of Esther an offical who is versed in the tradition of the Assyro-Babylonian traditions reprimands the king for being too lax on his queen. Ms Mckey reveals her simplistic view of Persian culture in an amusing attempt to link veiling to Cyrus the great. This is partly because she is of the belief that Persian culture begins with Cyrus. The fact is Persian culture was already thousands of years old before Cyrus. She should read Yasna of seven chapters to realise that in the traditional Persian culture, as far back as 2000 BC, women were agents of choice and that the Zoroastrian faith regarded them as spiritually equal to males.Read more ›
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