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A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind Paperback – March 9, 2010

4.0 out of 5 stars 52 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The peoples of the Iranian plateau have a written history of at least 2,500 years. The Persian Empire extended from Egypt to northern India, and the influence of the Persian language, literature, and architectural styles is still evident across western and central Asia. Unfortunately, most Americans view Iran today through the prism of staged anti-American demonstrations and the rantings of their current president. Axworthy, Honorary Fellow at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter in England, has provided a valuable counterpoint to those distorted impressions. He has written a compact but still inclusive narrative account that conveys both the diversity and richness of the various empires and cultural forces that have shaped the Iranian people. He offers fascinating insights into the political developments in the Achaemenid, Parthian, and Sassanid empires, and his efforts to illustrate how Iranians adopted Islam while resisting the “Arabization” of their culture is provocative. This is an excellent examination of the forging of a people who are poised to, once again, play a prominent role in world affairs. --Jay Freeman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"His account of modern Iranian politics and culture is more gripping than most novels.... Consistently intelligent, notably up to date and lucidly written."

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Reprint edition (March 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 046501920X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465019205
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #533,291 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I thought this is going to be another typical book on history of Iran when I picked it up but I admit I was wrong. This book is fair, evenhanded and factual in dealing with the history of Iran. It's very brief and concise and in that context, Mr. Axworthy has done a good job explaining in simple language the history of a very complicated nation. It has little or no political agenda. It credits Iran/Persia with things it has done and more importantly it sheds light on some unknown and un-touched corners of the modern Iranian history such as the 1953 coup against PM Mossadegh and the ascend of Reza Shah the great to power in early 20th century. I'd recommend this book to the students of middle-eastern history and those interested in knowing more about Iran.
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Format: Hardcover
A plethora of recent books chronicle recent Iranian history (with a particular focus on 1953-today). This book discusses that period, but it does a lot more. The vast majority of the book deals with ancient Iranian history - including tales of epic Persian leaders (Xerxes, Darius) and the wars that shaped Iranian history (fighting against the Greeks, Romans, Arab Muslims, Afghans, Russians, and the British). If you want to know about ancient Iran, this is your book. It's very easy to read for a "history" book.

That said, if you are looking for real detail on more recent events, such as the 1953 Mossadeq coup, the 1979 Revolution, or today's affairs, I'd look elsewhere (Persian Puzzle is really good at narrating the recent events, as are focused books such as "All the Shah's Men" and "Ahmadinejad."

Having read a lot about recent Iranian history, I enjoyed the voyage into ancient history - but know the predominantly ancient focus before buying.

As noted, the author's style is easy to follow and enjoyable. He even tells a few jokes. The book is generally even-handed, though he did seem to soft-pedal British mistakes in the region (understandable given his nationality). My only beef with the author was his 20+ page expose on Iranian poetry. It comes from nowhere, and it was boring (though, admittedly, I am not a fan of poetry). The book is cruising along finely, all of a suddent takes a detour into poetry, and then corrects itself.

Overall, this is a great book and a must-read for someone interested in ancient Iranian history and the events/people that shaped a country sure to be in the news for a while.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book can be considered a starting point for any newcomer to Iranian history. It is, without a doubt, a major contribution to the popular history genre. While Iran/Persia is one of the great empires, Axworthy implies that it is also an empire of the mind, a virtual empire that transcends the western concept of the geopolitical state.

The book follows Iran's chronological history from pre-Achaemenid times to the present. It is well researched and has extensive footnotes and references allowing the reader to delve into details of any event or subject. Yet, it is eminently readable and has the tone of a lively and informative lecture rather than an erudite tome.

The book binds all the varied elements of Iranian culture (a multi-lingual, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religion mélange of peoples) into a single story line. It provides a factual, but simplified, picture of a multiplicity of societies who consider themselves Iranian regardless of the proclivity of their present governments. The reader is forced to re-evaluate the common notions of Iran as a homogeneous entity and recognize it as a hodgepodge of different groups who are bound by a common belief in the uniqueness of their civilization, culture and history.

Perhaps the greatest contribution of the book is the portrayal of Iranian minorities. It is no small feat to trace their histories in the Iranian context. Yet, as Axworthy implies, it is their historical contributions and continued existence that make Iranian culture unique. It would be a sad day if any government forced uniformity on such a great and diverse culture.

The book does not cover everything (that would require an encyclopedia) but it misses some points.
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Format: Paperback
This short history covers over three thousand years of history of the Iranian people, and other groups that now inhabit the modern nation of Iran. Naturally, that means it is extremely short on detail. But for the reader who only wants an overview, or an introduction before a more serious study, I recommend this book.

Axworthy speads his focus evenly throughout the various phases of history (as opposed to breezing quickly through ancient empires to get us to the present). I agree with his decision to do so. Many Iranians have a sense of history that makes it necessary to have at least a passing understanding of Iran's pre-Islamic heritage in order to understand modern attitudes. I also believe that pre- and early-Islamic history are interesting in their own right. But for readers who are mainly interested in the modern world, this might not be the best book; Axworthy doesn't start discussing the Pahlavi period until page 221, and spends about 65 pages on the last 100 years. The only other caveat is that the narrative during the early-Islamic period is a little confused. The text on the Umayyad, Abbassid and Seljuk periods is not as clear as what comes before or after.

Regardless, the book is very well written overall. It is accessible to the casual reader. The several maps help create a coherent picture of the ever-shifting historical boundaries.

I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Iran who has little or no background in the country, but it will be an easier read if you have some knowledge of Islamic history. I also recommend following this book up with something more detailed.
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