All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle Eastern Terror

In This Review

All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle Eastern Terror

By Stephen Kinzer
John Wiley, 2003
272 pp. $24.95

Fifty years ago last August, the United States carried out a secret operation to overthrow the Iranian prime minister, Muhammad Mosaddeq, and restore the shah to his throne. Iranians were aware of this "secret" at the time, and its basic facts have been well known since the 1960s. The story, however, is worth retelling: its repercussions are felt to this day. Kinzer deftly uses scholarly accounts, memoirs, and official records (including the CIA's once-classified internal history of the coup, written by the late Donald Wilber) to produce a crisp, readable narrative. Two chapters sketch Iranian history and political culture. Then, Kinzer hones in on the period from shortly before Iran's nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in 1951 until August 19, 1953, when a handful of plotters and the mobs they had recruited reversed the debacle of days earlier and pulled off the coup. By concentrating on those Americans, British, and Iranians who hatched and carried out the plot, All the Shah's Men reads like a morality play or a le Carre spy story. There is even a cameo role for an Iranian mob leader with the unforgettable moniker "Shaban the Brainless." And that may well be the best way to gauge the meaning of it all.

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