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The Best of Books 2016


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Children of Paradise: The Struggle for the Soul of Iran

In This Review

Children of Paradise: The Struggle for the Soul of Iran
By Laura Secor
Riverhead Books, 2016
528 pp.

Despite the images of a monolithic, repressed, hyper-devout society that sometimes serve as a shorthand for Iran in Western media, the country is in fact the site of a great deal of political and ideological contestation. As Secor writes, “Iran does not have a culture of passive citizenship, despite the best efforts of its rulers, past and present, to produce one. What it does have in many quarters is a restless determination to challenge injustice and to seize control of its destiny.” Secor has produced a vibrant panorama of contemporary Iran that doubles as a thorough intellectual and political history of the country’s past four decades. She tells the stories of the men who have held power, and also those of the men—and, increasingly, women—who have opposed them: activists, journalists, lawyers, university students, and ordinary citizens who have risked their lives by challenging authority. The Iran that emerges from her account is full of contradictions, complexities, and paradoxes. The book ranges widely, but it is held together by an underlying narrative of intellectual evolution: the descent of dissent, from the revolutionary thinkers who helped bring down the shah, to the reformists who later sought to liberalize Iranian theocracy, to the contemporary generation of activists who have directly challenged clerical rule and paid a heavy price. Read the full review.

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