A History of Modern Iran

In This Review

A History of Modern Iran

By Ervand Abrahamian
Cambridge University Press, 2008
264 pp. $80.00
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Abrahamian's , published in 1982, treated the political history of Iran from the Constitutional Revolution in the first decade of the twentieth century until the Islamic Revolution in 1979. This new book is not an updating of that earlier work. Rather, Abrahamian builds on that work plus others, such as his (1993), to offer a new interpretive narrative intended for the general reader. The usual accouterments that should be found in such a work -- maps, chronological and statistical tables, thumbnail biographies, and illustrations (for example, of postage stamps highlighting ideologies and heroes) -- are here all especially effective. Even the quotations that begin each chapter, from characters ranging from Alexis de Tocqueville to Empress Farah Pahlavi to the former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, hauntingly evoke the themes that follow. Most of all, Abrahamian's text offers a substantial interpretation of a country that during the last century experienced disruptive transitions from Qajar to Pahlavi to Islamic rule. Not to be forgotten is another transition: an Iran that "entered the twentieth century with oxen and wooden plough" now has, a hundred years later, "steel mills, one of the world's highest automobile accident rates and, to the consternation of many, a nuclear program."