- Paperback: 368 pages
- Publisher: Basic Books; Reprint edition (March 9, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 046501920X
- ISBN-13: 978-0465019205
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.8 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 55 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #611,478 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind Paperback – March 9, 2010
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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."
Top customer reviews
There are a few things missing that I would have liked to have seen. The maps are few, small and perfunctory. There are no illustrations "sandwiched in," which would have been especially helpful to supplement the discussion of Persian architecture. And, in histories of this type, it is nice to have a chronology included.
The author does in one instance seem to go off on a strange tangent. After pointing out how a Persian prophet, Mani, was for a time followed by one of the West's most influential thinkers (a quite appropriate point to make), the author then spends two entire pages lamenting that Augustine then foisted Manichaeism on the Western Church(!). He is entitled to his opinion, of course, but it's an odd excursion in a book on Iran.
That aside, I would certainly recommend the book. Along with Hourani's history of the Arab peoples and Kinross's book on the Ottoman Empire, it constitutes an important and even-handed account of the rise of Islamic civilization, a subject that should certainly be better known.
The sub-title, "Empire of the Mind", conveys the central narrative theme that modern Iran is a product of multiple invasions, whether of men or ideas, that have somehow been assimilated without obliterating Iran's cultural and political continuity. Its many contradictions are the product of a civilization founded by Aryan immigrants from central Asia, that was overrun by Greek, Roman, Arab and other armies, and is now the principal home of the Shia varient of Islam.
Axworthy traces the impact of the various ruling dynasties, but he also pays close attention to the finer aspects of its culture, especially its poetry. Of most interest to this reviewer was his description of the current government, with its interwoven secular and religious strands.
Axworthy, a former foreign service officer, tries to be evenhanded about the nature of the current regime. The corruption and repression revealed by the June 2009 presidential elections reinforces his idea of a regime both brutal and divided. His handling of the ongoing nuclear crisis is less sure; Axworthy probably undersells both Iran's diplomatic stonewalling and its interest in nuclear weapons.
"A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind" is highly recommended as a concise introduction to the country and its idea of its place in the world.
In my opinion, the only improvement the author could do is to explain a bit more about the places (cities, countries, etc.) and individuals when they are mentioned for the first time (or the only time).
Most recent customer reviews
One thing that really annoyed me was that the narrator was unnecessarily and almost pretentiously trying to pull off an "authentic" accent...Read more