Review Essay

From Shah to Supreme Leader

What the Iranian Revolution Revealed

In This Review

Days of God: The Revolution in Iran and Its Consequences
Days of God: The Revolution in Iran and Its Consequences
By James Buchan
Simon & Schuster, 2013, 432 pp. $27.99 Purchase
Revolutionary Iran
Revolutionary Iran
By Michael Axworthy
Allen Lane, 2013, 0 pp. $0.00 Purchase

There is something irresistible about the story of Iran’s last shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The pampered, foreign-educated son of a dour autocrat, Mohammad Reza ascended to the Peacock Throne in 1941, at age 21. He was weak and malleable, surrounded by sycophants and schemers, beholden to foreign powers that treated him with contempt. Nearly unseated by his popular prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddeq, in 1953, the shah retained his throne with American and clerical connivance. That crucible hardened him into something both brittle and shrewd. He fancied himself a nationalist beloved by his people, but in truth he scarcely knew them; he grew Iran’s economy and its military, broke up feudal landholdings, and crushed dissent with his notorious intelligence service, known as SAVAK and adept in torture. “The boy,” as he was known in his father’s court, became a man: melancholic, grandiose, lonely, standing athwart titanic forces he could barely recognize

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