Top Five Books on Modern Iran

28th Mar 2012


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With the world’s media in a state of perpetual hysteria about Ahmadinejad, atom bombs and ayatollahs, it can be hard to get a clear picture of the country behind the news.  

Indeed, reading the papers today, you could be forgiven for forgetting the vibrant culture behind the headlines, so Sugar Street Review has come up with a short reading list designed to help you get to grips with modern Iran. 

Although it goes without saying dozens more books should be on the list, we hope the following five will act as a useful primer to Iranian politics and current affairs. 


Iran: Empire of the Mind: A History from Zoroaster to the Present Day, by Michael Axworthy
This short history was first published in 2008 and is still a fantastic introduction to Iranian history. Starting back with Iran’s glorious age of empire, Axworthy effortlessly brings the lay reader up to speed with the country’s political culture. And he’s fantastically readable to boot. 


The Persians: Ancient, Mediaeval and Modern Iran, by Homa Katouzian
Homa Katouzian is one of the most accomplished scholars of Iran past and present, and his history of the country goes into more detail than Axworthy and provides some brilliant insights into Iran’s political landscape today. 


All The Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the roots of Middle East Terror, by Stephen Kinzer
In 1953 the UK and the US conspired to overthrow Muhammad Mossadegh, Iran’s democratically inclined leader, in order to guard their interests in the country. The effects were disastrous, and the resentment caused by western involvement in the coup echoes down to this very day. Essential reading for understanding Iran’s relations with the west. 


The Mantle of the Prophet: Religion and Politics in Iran, by Roy Mottahedeh
Iran’s theocracy is both one of the most talked about and most misunderstood topics in the news today. Luckily, Roy Mottahedeh explains the byzantine nature of the relationship between religion and politics magnificently in this account, based on his lifetime’s research on the subject. 


The Ayatollahs’ Democracy: An Iranian Challenge, by Hooman Majd
Majd’s background is in the record industry, making him an unlikely author for this  compact analysis of democracy in Iran today. Nevertheless, in the light of the 2009 protests, he interviews members of the government and clergy in Iran to deliver a brilliant and candid look at the intricacies and contradictions of the country as it is today. 


Get in touch to let us know who you think should, or should not, have made the cut. What glaring omissions have we made? We want to hear from you…

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One Comment

  1. Posted 30th May 2012 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    I would add Roxanne Varzi’s Warring Souls or Pardis Mahdavi’s Passionate Uprisings for a look at modern Iran today. They’re both ethnographies but very readable and give a real insight into how young people in Iran see the regime, though they do both focus on middle and upper classes. While Mahdavi focuses on what she calls the sexual revolution in Iran, or the young people’s response to the regime’s gender segregations and limitations on the normal pursuits of youth, Varzi looks at the history and the effect of the Iran-Iraq war on modern life.

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