In This Review

The Iranians: Persia, Islam, and the Soul of a Nation
The Iranians: Persia, Islam, and the Soul of a Nation
By Sandra Mackey
Dutton, 1996, 426 pp.

Iran seems destined to perplex many Americans for years to come. It is routinely labeled a rogue state, the humiliation of the hostage crisis of 1979-80 has not faded from memory, and Iran is now seen by many as the major impediment to Arab-Israeli peace. Challenging these simplistic perceptions seems to be the unstated purpose of this survey of Iranian history. Written as a popular, readable introduction, not a scholarly treatise, the book treats Iran as a unique country that carries a dual legacy of Persian kingship and Shiism. Mackey sees an unresolved tension between religion and state. Her views on the Iranian revolution are somewhat ambiguous. She sees some real achievements in reducing the gap between rich and poor, but just a bit later she implies that, in fact, little has changed. Neither the shah, the embodiment of the Persian kingly tradition, nor Khomeini, the model of an Islamic ruler, has put the welfare of ordinary Iranians at the forefront of their thinking. She concludes with a critique of American policy that will probably not change many views. On the whole, this is a welcome introduction, but like many popular treatments it sometimes comes close to peddling stereotypes, such as the Persians as "the most imitative of people."