In This Review

Ahmadinejad: The Secret History of Iran's Radical Leader
Ahmadinejad: The Secret History of Iran's Radical Leader
By Kasra Naji
312 pp, University of California Press, 2008

Naji, a journalist, begins by thanking the Islamic Republic of Iran for making this book possible by long denying him the right to work there. This jibe plus that tantalizing title -- "secret history" -- suggests a study tilting toward the satirical and the sensational. Not at all: this is serious investigative journalism. Naji does not stint in his judgment of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's actions and speeches that go against Iranian interests or international morality, but he sticks to the primary task of setting out what makes Ahmadinejad tick and how he fits into the overall Iranian political scene. Ahmadinejad is shown to be an ambitious, self-made man of modest provincial roots. He had demonstrated from his youth an Islamist revolutionary fervor and a Third World populism to match (note his recent ties with Venezuela's Hugo Chávez). This, in the eyes of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and others of the power elite, made him seem a safe successor to the would-be reformist president Muhammad Khatami. Ahmadinejad's subsequent flamboyant behavior is set out in separate chapters treating his rampant anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rants, Iran's continued nuclear quest (which long preceded Ahmadinejad's tenure), U.S.-Iranian relations, and Ahmadinejad's brushes with apocalyptic thinking. Alongside these themes is an appraisal of Ahmadinejad's domestic performance and political standing in Iran.