A History of Iran

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Iran is a land of contradictions. It is an Islamic republic, but one in which only 1.4 percent of the population attend Friday prayers. Iran’s religious culture encompasses the most censorious and dogmatic Shi’a Muslim clerics in the world, and yet its poetry insistently dwells on the joys of life-wine, beauty, sex. Iranian women are subject to one of the most restrictive dress codes in the Islamic world, but make up nearly 60 percent of the university student population. In A History of Iran, a leading expert on...

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Overview

Iran is a land of contradictions. It is an Islamic republic, but one in which only 1.4 percent of the population attend Friday prayers. Iran’s religious culture encompasses the most censorious and dogmatic Shi’a Muslim clerics in the world, and yet its poetry insistently dwells on the joys of life-wine, beauty, sex. Iranian women are subject to one of the most restrictive dress codes in the Islamic world, but make up nearly 60 percent of the university student population. In A History of Iran, a leading expert on Iran chronicles the rich history of this complex nation from the Achaemenid Empire of sixth century B.C. to the present-day Islamic Republic. In accessible prose, Michael Axworthy explains the military, political, religious, and cultural forces that have shaped one of the oldest continuing civilizations in the world. Concluding with an assessment of the immense changes the nation has undergone since the revolution in 1979, A History of Iran offers general readers an essential point of entry into a troubled region.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Sweeping, sensitive and evenhanded overview of the ancient nation, from the days of the prophet Zoroaster to those of the Islamic Republic. Former British foreign-service officer and Iranian historian Axworthy (The Sword of Persia: Nader Shah, from Tribal Warrior to Conquering Tyrant, 2006) covers an enormous amount of material in elegant, upbeat fashion. Aware of the country's accomplishments without being blind to its failings, he emphasizes Iran's diversity, noting that nearly half the population is made up of ethnic Azeris, Kurds, Gilakis, Buluchis and Turkmen, and that its native tongue, Farsi, is the sole Indo-European language in the Arab-speaking Middle East. Called Persia until the Reza Shah promoted an official name change in 1935, the nation formed its identity from nomadic migrations imbued with the spirit of Zoroastrianism. This early form of monotheism offered a new concept of heaven and hell, and of the free human choice between good and evil, that exerted a huge influence on later religions, Axworthy asserts. In the sixth century BCE, tribes coalesced around the first royal house, founded by Cyrus and extended by his conquering descendants, Darius et al. The empire's magnificent capital, Persepolis, was burned by the victorious Alexander the Great in 330 BCE. Successive dynasties jockeyed for power and battled with the Roman Empire, while Persian poets created such heroic works as Ferdowsi's Shahnameh ("The Epic of Kings"), as significant to Iranian culture as Shakespeare is to the West. Islamic incursion occurred gradually, and Axworthy cogently dissects the Sunni/Shi'a schism that roils Islam today. His wide-ranging, in-depth knowledge of the Middle East enriches hisanalysis of the Pahlavi dynasty and the revolution of 1979. "The deeper, reflective, humane Iran is still there beneath the threatening media headlines," he opines, and its citizens are gearing up for a more significant role in the world community. Axworthy's reasoned survey will be especially helpful to lay readers and students of Arab history. Agent: Michael Dwyer/Hurst
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465008889
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 5/5/2008
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Axworthy is Honorary Fellow at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter in England. From 1986 to 2000, he served as a British Foreign Service officer; from 1998 to 2000 he was the Head of Iran Section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The author of The Sword of Persia, a biography of the Persian monarch Nadir Shah, Axworthy publishes widely in the field of Iranian history. He lives in Bude, England.

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Table of Contents

1 Origins: Zoroaster, the Achaemenids, and the Greeks 1

2 The Iranian Revival: Parthians and Sassanids 31

3 Islam and Invasions: The Arabs, Turks, and Mongols - The Iranian Reconquest of Islam, the Sufis, and the Poets 67

4 Shi'ism and the Safavids 123

5 The Fall of the Safavids, Nader Shah, the Eighteenth-Century Interregnum, and the Early Years of the Qajar Dynasty 145

6 The Crisis of the Qajar Monarchy, the Revolution of 1905-1911, and the Accession of the Pahlavi Dynasty 185

7 The Pahlavis and the Revolution of 1979 221

8 Iran Since the Revolution: Islamic Revival, War, and Confrontation 259

9 From Khatami to Ahmadinejad, and the Iranian Predicament 283

Notes 295

Select Bibliography 315

Index 325

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 16, 2009

    Great for history buffs and those newly interested in the middle east.

    Very informative about a country and culture that we will have to contend with for the forseeable future. Especially enlightening about the split between the Shia and Sunni sects and the events of the overthrow of the Shah.

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