From Publishers Weekly
Over the course of almost 40 years, Mohammad Reza Shah was a colossus in Iran, the one constant in a swirl of changing loyalties, political fortunes, and pressures both domestic and international; by the end of his reign, virtually no state decision could be taken, save by him. But as this biography reveals, this accumulation of authority was more a function of the Shah's lifelong distrust of all around him than it was any indication of skill in governing, or of genuine control. Milani (Eminent Persians) paints a richly detailed picture of a complex man plagued by demons and paranoia (much of it well-founded), at once insecure and megalomaniacal. Yet the thicket of biographical detail can leaves the reader longing for more analysis. Milani regularly mentions the Shah's flights of mysticism, for instance, but doesn't place them in any context: was the Shah delusional, or is talk of divine inspiration common in Iranian political discourse? Or both? Milani's book is a good source on the life of one of the 20th century's more enigmatic figures--good enough to pique the reader's frustration that it isn't great. (Jan.)
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A deeply researched portrait of Mohammad Reza Pahlevi, this biography extracts the personality of the last shah of Iran from the royal grandiosity in which he lived. Milani describes him as timid, prone to vacillation, and prey to conspiracy theories, perhaps not ideal traits in an absolute monarch who initiated a modernizing revolution from above, only to be dethroned in 1979 by social forces his authoritarian policies had unleashed. Recounting the shah’s childhood, Milani underscores how closely he was supervised by his father, a military officer who had seized the throne in 1925. In a 1941 political crisis that resulted in young Mohammad’s ascension, the 1953 coup against the Mossadegh government, and the 1978–79 revolution, Milani depicts the shah as fretful, indecisive, and obsessed with detail, extensively citing British and American diplomatic reports about him. The shah’s private life, which included three wives, alleged mistresses, and extravagances in palaces and other riches, is effectively depicted. With sympathy born of a compassion for someone in over his head, Milani’s meticulous amassing of facts establishes a base for readers to form their own opinions. --Gilbert Taylor