The Unthinkable Revolution in Iran / Edition 1

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Overview

The shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, would remain on the throne for the foreseeable future: This was the firm conclusion of a top-secret CIA analysis issued in October 1978. One hundred days later the shah--despite his massive military, fearsome security police, and superpower support was overthrown by a popular and largely peaceful revolution. But the CIA was not alone in its myopia, as Charles Kurzman reveals in this penetrating work; Iranians themselves, except for a tiny minority, considered a revolution inconceivable until it actually occurred. Revisiting the circumstances surrounding the fall of the shah, Kurzman offers rare insight into the nature and evolution of the Iranian revolution and into the ultimate unpredictability of protest movements in general.

As one Iranian recalls, "The future was up in the air." Through interviews and eyewitness accounts, declassified security documents and underground pamphlets, Kurzman documents the overwhelming sense of confusion that gripped pre-revolutionary Iran, and that characterizes major protest movements. His book provides a striking picture of the chaotic conditions under which Iranians acted, participating in protest only when they expected others to do so too, the process approaching critical mass in unforeseen and unforeseeable ways. Only when large numbers of Iranians began to "think the unthinkable," in the words of the U.S. ambassador, did revolutionary expectations become a self-fulfilling prophecy. A corrective to 20-20 hindsight, this book reveals shortcomings of analyses that make the Iranian revolution or any major protest movement seem inevitable in retrospect.

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Editorial Reviews

Booklist

Sociologist Kurzman addresses five familiar sets of explanations about why the Iranian revolution took place—political, organizational, cultural, economic, and military arguments—and finds each valuable but flawed, offering instead an 'anti-explanation' that foregrounds anomaly and characterizes the revolutionary moment as confusing, unstable, and as unpredictable for participants as it is for outside observers. Despite this, optimism is in order; there is, after all, exciting potential in moments in which the unthinkable suddenly becomes thinkable.
— Brendan Driscoll

Times Higher Education Supplement

[Kurzman's] book examines the Islamic revolution in the light of social sciences. It is a valuable insight into what he considers one of the most far-reaching events of the 20th century.
— Shusha Guppy

Journal of Third Word Studies

Charles Kurzman has presented a meticulous anatomy of the Iranian revolution and has dexterously treated the anomalies usually inherent in revolutions...The author shifts through revolution theories and shows with pages and pages of documentation and references how they related to the Iranian revolution or missed it. Kurzman's opus is certainly a valuable contribution to the historiography and sociological analysis of an important revolution of our age that led to a large scale politicization of Islam in those parts of the world where this religion prevailed.
— Syfi Tashan

Middle East Quarterly
Charles Kurzman has produced the definitive account of the Islamic Revolution. No serious historian can write about these events without consulting his 10-page essay on available source material in The Unthinkable Revolution in Iran.
Gary Sick
In the world of politics, a true revolution is the perfect storm--rare and uniquely destructive. Can the social scientist comprehend and perhaps even predict the course of such a complex phenomenon? Charles Kurzman takes a cool, dispassionate look at the many explanations of the Iranian revolution and finds them inadequate. Drawing on an impressive range of original research, he argues that mass revolutionary movements become viable suddenly--and unpredictably--as perceptions of potential success acquire popular acceptance. This book is a major addition to the literature on the Iranian revolution--and revolution in general.
Booklist - Brendan Driscoll
Sociologist Kurzman addresses five familiar sets of explanations about why the Iranian revolution took place--political, organizational, cultural, economic, and military arguments--and finds each valuable but flawed, offering instead an 'anti-explanation' that foregrounds anomaly and characterizes the revolutionary moment as confusing, unstable, and as unpredictable for participants as it is for outside observers. Despite this, optimism is in order; there is, after all, exciting potential in moments in which the unthinkable suddenly becomes thinkable.
Times Higher Education Supplement - Shusha Guppy
[Kurzman's] book examines the Islamic revolution in the light of social sciences. It is a valuable insight into what he considers one of the most far-reaching events of the 20th century.
Journal of Third Word Studies - Syfi Tashan
Charles Kurzman has presented a meticulous anatomy of the Iranian revolution and has dexterously treated the anomalies usually inherent in revolutions...The author shifts through revolution theories and shows with pages and pages of documentation and references how they related to the Iranian revolution or missed it. Kurzman's opus is certainly a valuable contribution to the historiography and sociological analysis of an important revolution of our age that led to a large scale politicization of Islam in those parts of the world where this religion prevailed.
Library Journal
The Iranian revolution not only transformed the country's sociopolitical structures; it rewrote the geopolitical map of the Middle East. In many respects, the trajectory of events that culminated in the mass uprising against the Iranian monarchy was difficult to predict. In this well-researched and informative study, sociologist Kurzman (Univ. of North Carolina) revisits the events that led to the Iranian revolution, explaining how the mosque networks were organized and how the various forces opposing the monarchical regime interacted with each other. After analyzing the prevailing political, cultural, organizational, and military explanations for the Iranian revolution, he finds major gaps in most of them and proposes an "anti-explanation," which means to abandon "the project of retroactive prediction in favor of recognizing and reconstructing the lived experiences of the moment." Appealing to both specialists and informed readers, this engaging study is highly recommended for academic and large public libraries.-Nader Entessar, Spring Hill Coll., Mobile, AL Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674018433
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 9/6/2005
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 789,121
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles Kurzman is Professor of Sociology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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Table of Contents

Preface
1 Introduction 1
2 The Emergence of Protest: Political Explanations: 1977 12
3 Mobilization of the Mosque Network: Organizational Explanations: Early 1978 33
4 Shi'i Appeals: Cultural Explanations: Mid-1978 50
5 General Strike: Economic Explanations: Fall 1978 77
6 Failure of the Fist: Military Explanations: Winter 1978-1979 105
7 A Viable Movement: Anti-Explanation: Winter 1978-1979 125
8 Conclusion 163
About the Sources 175
Notes 187
References 239
Acknowledgments 281
Index 283
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