A leading historian of modern Iran has crafted five excellent essays that together paint a convincing picture of Iran's recent development. Abrahamian begins by dismissing the notion that the Iranian revolution was rooted in fundamentalist Islam. On the contrary, Ayatollah Khomeini and his followers, by the time they mounted their challenge to the shah's regime, were using the language and political techniques of radical populism. This helps explain the attraction of a wide segment of the Iranian left to the Islamic revolution in its earliest phase. But Khomeini's populism was in part tactical. He had always maintained that private property should be respected, and he was very attentive to bazaar merchants. His was a middle-class revolution, which sought support among the downtrodden by promising to dispossess the wealthy aristocracy. Abrahamian, relying on original sources, traces Khomeini's intellectual trajectory from conservative mystic to outspoken radical and back to a more nuanced position between his more moderate and militant followers. Along the way he has wonderful insights into the uses and abuses of history, a chapter on the "paranoid style" in Iranian politics, and some concluding comments about the apparent triumph of the "moderates."
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