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Reading History: Iran

Posted on 10th January 2020 by Mark Skinner

The second largest country in the Middle East, Iran has had a fascinating, turbulent history, from the military glories of the Ancient Persian Empires to twentieth century coups d’etat, religious revolution and regional animosity. For any reader wishing to understand the unique atmosphere of Iran there is a range of enlightening books that shed light on many areas of the country’s vexed history and its society in the twenty-first century. We highlight some of the best in the blog below.

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An intensely powerful novel set against the backdrop of the Iranian coup of 1953, Hozar’s debut brilliantly evokes the Middle East at a time of tumult and intrigue. Crafting a complex coming-of-age for the eponymous central character, Aria really gets under the skin of a society on the brink of immense change.
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A perennial powder keg of the Middle East, Iran has been at the centre of escalating tensions in the region ever since the Islamic republic was installed four decades ago. Axworthy’s mighty volume is the definitive history of this regime and the ideal book for anybody wanting to grasp the full implications of Iranian capabilities.
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One of the leading historians of the Middle East presents an authoritative yet accessible account of Iran from the ancient Persian Empires to the high-stakes politicking of the modern age. Marshalling a huge amount of information with clarity and precision, Axworthy provides a cohesive overview of a deeply fascinating nation.
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Structurally brilliant and thoroughly illuminating, Nafisi’s benchmark memoir recounts the experiences of the author and her fellow book club members who gather to read Western books forbidden by the Iranian authorities. Charming, uplifting and poignant in equal measure, Reading Lolita in Tehran remains one of the standout autobiographies of the twenty-first century.
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One of a handful of graphic novels that elevate the form into an intensely personal artistic statement, Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi’s astonishing visual memoir of growing up in Iran. Intertwining the intimate with the political and compelling drama with warm, knowing humour, Persepolis is a continual revelation.
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A masterly piece of reportage from the firestorm of the Iranian revolution, Shah of Shahs details the twilight years of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the final Shah of Iran. A blistering account of paranoia, delusion and encroaching insurrection, Kapuscinski’s fast-paced narrative tells the dramatic story of a seismic fall from grace.
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A refreshing corrective to so many of the negative stereotypes unfairly attributed to Iran, Price’s kaleidoscopic journey into the heart of the country reveals a diverse nation full of energy and wit. Whilst it does not paper over issues of authoritarianism and oppression, Revolutionary Ride provides a more nuanced, human view of the people that inhabit this extraordinary country.
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An eye-opening account of ordinary lives lived under the shadow of a repressive regime, City of Lies documents the dangerous, desperate and frequently bizarre activities of eight men and women residents of Tehran. In collating and presenting these testimonies, Navai sheds light on a society all too often hidden from Western eyes.
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Asserting that the year of 1979 was the moment that tensions began to irreversibly escalate in the Middle East, Black Wave looks at three key events – the Iranian Revolution, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the siege of the Holy Mosque in Mecca – with clarity and insight. Meticulously researched yet eminently readable, Ghattas’s involving history makes sense of the region’s myriad troubles.
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de Bellaigue’s enthralling account of the Anglo-American coup to remove Muhammad Mossadegh as prime minister of Iran is as gripping and multi-layered as the finest thriller. Detailing both Western paranoia and Iranian hubris, Patriot of Persia is an intelligent, well-balanced piece of narrative non-fiction.
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A journalist with extensive first-hand experience of the tinderbox of the Middle East, Robert Fisk’s definitive account of the internecine conflict in the region for the past thirty years has become a modern classic of analysis and reportage. Broad in scope yet intimate and immediate in detail, The Great War for Civilisation is a key text for anybody interested in the Middle East.
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