Recommended books on Iran

Pam Haglund suggests these books, along with the Lonely Planet and Brandt Travel guidebooks.  The reviews and •'s are taken judiciously from Amazon.

At the Wall of the Almighty (fiction) by Famoosh Moshiri
(Amazon, $16.00) •••••
At the Wall of the Almighty is a powerful story of the victim of oppressive rule,
both that of the Shah and of the Ayatollahs in Iran. The grimness of the central
story of a political prisoner is relieved by the flashbacks and memories of a
variety of scenes, some warm, some comic, some in a kind of hallucinatory
magical realism. Memorable characters abound, and even one of the villians,
a prison guard, is humanized and shown to be a victim of the ideology he has
bought into.

Democracy in Iran:  
History and the Quest for Liberty  by Ali Gheisari, Vali Nasr
(Amazon, $25.00)••••
The heart of this short book is a precis of modern Iranian history with an
accompanying analysis of the social and political phenomena responsible
 for important events. While the authors go back to the early 20th century,
most of the discussion focuses on the birth of the Iranian revolution and its

Iran: A People Interrupted   by Hamid Debashi
(Amazon, $20.48) •••
Reviews imply that this is a controversial account of modern Iranian history.

Jasmine and Stars:
Reading more than Lolita in Tehran by Fatemeh Keshavarz
(Amazon, $12.41) ••••
...The larger part of this book relates loving tales of life in modern Iran. These are
deeply personal tales taken from the author's own life, and each is told in a gently
 loving and almost magical style. These are uplifting, liberating tales of everyday
heroism, achievement, and humanity.

But other parts of the book were, for me at least, far less interesting. These parts are
written in dense, academic prose and their purpose is to refute, from every detailed
angle possible, all that the author found objectionable in Azar Nafisi's recent bestselling
book "Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books" She finds fault with much of that
book, and, personally, I sense genuine intolerance and psychological blindness in much
of her criticism...

Mirrors of the Unseen  by  Jason Elliot
(Amazon, $19.67, used $3.53) ••••
Elliot does his research well and writes with an understanding of the local culture. It
helps too that he can read Persian. I was expecting to find accounts of encounters with
oridinary Iranians and conversations with them revealing their attitudes and opinions.
Instead, I found a travelogue filled with descriptions of art in Iran. It was just as nice
to read of the history of art in Persia. He appears to be a genuine and hardworking
student of Persian art and works hard to decipher the intentions of the Persian artists
and convey their subtlties and magnificence to us.

Modern Iran
Roots and Results of Revolution by Nikki Keddie
(Amazon link to other dealers $4.90) ••••
I found this to be one of the better books about Iran. It is detailed and provides insights
many authors do not give. Nikki Keddie knows Iran better than most authors who have
recently been published and disputes many of their findings with good reason. The book
is heavy on the financial aspects of Iran and sees that as a major motivational factor
regarding the revolution. Its one fault may be that to some degree fails to see the power
of religion and tries to fit everything into a secular, rational, financial way of thinking
rather than the emotional and reactionary responses religion can bring.

Persian Mirrors  by Elaine Sciolino
(Amazon, $11.70, many used available at <$1.00) •••••
Goes far beyond what I thought it would with a totally revealing look at how Iranian society
 has been operating since the revolution that overthrew the Shah. What was really impressive
was how much access a Western female journalist was able to get once she learned how to
 manipulate the system. Plus it is interesting to learn how different Persians view the world
from Arabs and how, in a strange twist, possibly the best hope for a democratic Muslim world
is Iran (read the book and you'll understand). The great thing is Persian Mirrors reads like
a travel essay book more than some dry political or sociological analysis so your eyes never
glaze over despite occasional heavy issues.

Honeymoon in Purdah  by Alison Wearing
(Amazon, $11.70)••••
Wearing's remarkable sense of humour and love for the human race make this book a must-read. Especially
 at a time when North American's perspective of Middle Easterners is tainted by the sensationalist media,
Honeymoon in Purdah is a refreshing unbiased view of Iranian culture and life. Unlike so many ethnocentric
North Americans, Wearing views people as people, and because of this the reader is able to appreciate the
foibles and intricacies of humanity in general.

The Soul of Iran: A Nation's Journey to Freedom by Afshin Molavi (Paperback - September 26, 2005)
(Amazon, $14.35;  $5.00 used)••••
 Afsin Molavi delivers us more of his compelling and insightful narrative about his travels in Iran.
What I like most about this work is the author's ability to weave history, politics, culture, and personal
stories into a very nice narrative. He is also refreshingly honest and unbiased. His extensive interviews
with the poor and the war veterans shows that he didn't only spend his time with rich, westernized
Iranians. The new chapter -- his visit to the shrine of Dr Mossadegh -- is probably his best in the whole
 book. In fact, I was disapointed that he didn't include a Mossadegh pilgrimage in the original, but he
more than makes up for it here. This is simply a great book. As an Iranian-American who lived through
 the revolution and is frustrated by the American media's simplistic depictions of Iran, I think this book
offers a far more sophisticated analysis of Iranian life than any other work out there. But the author
doesnt take any sides. He explains things, but doesnt try to push an agenda. All those interested in
learning about the realities of an important country in the Middle East should pick up this book.
And read it twice - as I did!
- Rostam Pourzal

The author is an Iranian-American journalist who has traveled widely across Iran and writes a very
readable narrative, with considerable insight of the historical perspective, politics, life, and realities
of the Islamic Republic. I read it after we got back and wished that I had had it before I went. 

- Frances McClure, traveler to Iran in 2008

Back to Index