In This Review

The Last Shah: America, Iran, and the Fall of the Pahlavi Dynasty
The Last Shah: America, Iran, and the Fall of the Pahlavi Dynasty
By Ray Takeyh
Yale University Press, 2021, 336 pp.

With this addition to an already crowded field of books on the question “Who lost Iran?” Takeyh sets out to provide a sober, fair-minded assessment, enabled by perspectives afforded by both the passage of time and increasingly accessible archives. There is little surprising in his version of this still sorry story: the shah was an indecisive autocrat; his American enablers were often distracted and ill informed; most of the monarchy’s officials were politically naive, and many were simply corrupt sycophants. Takeyh has a soft spot for the old aristocracy, arguing that, however elitist it may have been, it had a far more sensitive finger on the pulse of the countryside than the clueless technocrats who implemented the shah’s U.S.-sponsored programs of land reform and educational development. Whether the landed nobility would have been able to understand and respond to frustrations among peasants and students—complaints that the revolutionary Islamists exploited effectively—remains an open question. What is striking, however, is the number of senior figures in the regime who, rather than stand their ground, simply decamped to Europe or the United States as Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s revolution gathered steam, abandoning not just the shah but also the country they had enabled him to rule.