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Seda: Voices of Iran

History, Culture and Political Understandings

Abdoh, Salar.  Urban Iran (Mark Batty Publisher, 2008).

Writers, photographers and artists reveal everyday life in contemporary Iran.

Abrahamian, Ervand. A History of Modern Iran (University of Cambridge Press, 2008).

Ervand Abrahamian has done for Iran what de Tocqueville did for France, showing how the revolution continued the work of the ancient regime, through the ever increasing power of the state.' Edward Mortimer, Senior Vice-President, Salzburg Global Seminar, and author of Faith and Power: the Politics of Islam 'Ervand Abrahamian's authoritative overview of twentieth-century Iran fills a large gap in the literature of Iranian studies. His predilection for social analysis and class studies provides an original prism through which the reader gains fresh insights into the drama of the drawn-out conflict between traditional vested interests and growing state power. Drawing on a lifetime of research and writing, Abrahamian has produced a book that successfully combines erudition and original scholarship with accessibility. Specialists and general readers alike will benefit greatly from its reading.' Andrew Whitley, Director, UNRWA Representative Office 'Ervand Abrahamian's A History of Modern Iran is a splendidly well-researched and well-written, interpretive overview of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Iran. The main developments under the Qajar and Pahlavi dynasties and under the Islamic Republic, the important role of Shiism in Iran's history, the origins of modernization, the quest for democratic reform at various junctures, popular participation in the revolutions of 1906 and 1978 - Abrahamian covers all this and much, much more. This book, by a first rate historian, is a must read for students and those interested in the modern Iranian history.' Haleh Esfandiari, Director, Middle East Program, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Abrahamian, Ervand. Khomeinism (University of California Press, 1993).

"Fanatic," "dogmatic," "fundamentalist"--these are the words most often used in the West to describe the Ayatollah Khomeini. The essays in this book challenge that view, arguing that Khomeini and his Islamic movement should be seen as a form of Third World political populism--a radical but pragmatic middle-class movement that strives to enter, rather than reject, the modern age.

Ervand Abrahamian, while critical of Khomeini, asks us to look directly at the Ayatollah's own works and to understand what they meant to his principal audience--his followers in Iran. Abrahamian analyzes political tracts dating back to 1943, along with Khomeini's theological writings and his many public statements in the form of speeches, interviews, proclamations and fatwas (judicial decrees). What emerges, according to Abrahamian, is a militant, sometimes contradictory, political ideology that focuses not on issues of scripture and theology but on the immediate political, social, and economic grievances of workers and the middle class. These essays reveal how the Islamic Republic has systematically manipulated history through televised "recantations," newspapers, school textbooks, and even postage stamps. All are designed to bolster the clergy's reputation as champions of the downtrodden and as defenders against foreign powers. Abrahamian also discusses the paranoia that permeates the political spectrum in Iran, contending that such deep distrust is symptomatic of populist regimes everywhere.

Afshari, Reza.  Human Rights in Iran: The Abuse of Cultural Relativism (University of Pennsylvania, 2001).

Are the principles set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights truly universal? Or, as some have argued, are they derived exclusively from Western philosophic traditions and therefore irrelevant to many non-Western cultures? Should a state's claims to indigenous traditions, and not international covenants, determine the scope of rights granted to its citizens?

In his strong defense of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Reza Afshari contends that the moral vision embodied in this and other agreements is a proper response to the abuses of the modern state. Asserting that the most serious violations of human rights by state rulers are motivated by political and economic factors rather than the purported concern for cultural authenticity, Afshari examines one particular state that has claimed cultural exception to the universality of human rights, the Islamic Republic of Iran.

In his revealing case study, Afshari investigates how Islamic culture and Iranian politics since the fall of the Shah have affected human rights policy in that state. He exposes the human rights violations committed by ruling clerics in Iran since the Revolution, showing that Iran has behaved remarkably like other authoritarian governments in its human rights abuses. For over two decades, Iran has systematically jailed, tortured, and executed dissidents without due process of law and assassinated political opponents outside state borders. Furthermore, like other oppressive states, Iran has regularly denied and countered the charges made by United Nations human rights monitors, defending its acts as authentic cultural practices.

Throughout his study, Afshari addresses Iran's claims of cultural relativism, a controversial thesis in the intense ongoing debate over the universality of human rights. In prison memoirs he uncovers the actual human rights abuses committed by the Islamic Republic and the sociopolitical conditions that cause or permit them. Finally, Afshari turns to little-read UN reports that reveal that the dynamics of power between UN human rights monitors and Iranian leaders have proven ineffective at enforcing human rights policy in Iran. Critically analyzing the state's responses, Afshari shows that the Islamic Republic, like other oppressive states, has regularly denied and countered the charges made by UN human rights monitors, and when denials were patently implausible, it defended its acts as authentic cultural practices. This defense is equally unconvincing, since it lacked domestic cultural consensus.

Alavi, Nasrin.  We Are Iran: The Persian Blogs (Soft Skull Press, 2005).

In September 2001, a young Iranian journalist, Hossein Derakhshan, created one of the first weblogs in Farsi. When he also devised a simple how-to-blog guide for Iranians, it unleashed a torrent of hitherto unheard opinions. There are now 64,000 blogs in Farsi, and Nasrin Alavi has painstakingly reviewed them all, weaving the most powerful and provocative into a striking picture of the flowering of dissent in Iran. From one blogger’s blasting of the Supreme Leader as a "pimp" to another’s mourning for an identity crushed by the stifling protection of her male relatives, this collection functions not only as an archive of Iranians’ thoughts on their country, culture, religion, and the rest of the world, but also as an alternative recent history of Iran. Government crackdowns may soon still these voices — in February 2005, one blogger was sentenced to 14 years in jail — and We Are Iran may serve as the only serious record of their existence.

Algar, Hamid.  Islam and Revolution: Writings and Declaration of Imam Khomeini (Mizan Press, 1981).

This unprecedented collection in English of notable works by Imam Khomeini, ranging in date from 1941 to 1980, makes it possible for non-Iranians to become directly acquainted with hsi ideas and to examine the convictions that underlay his indomitable mien. He was undeniably one of the most important figures of the age, not only for his roles as principle strategist of a successful revolutionary movement and supervisor of the Islamic order it ushered in, but also for his unhesitating promotion of what he saw as a global Islamic mission -- the union of all Muslim peoples.

Al-Saltanah, Taj.  Crowning Anguish (Mage Publishers, 2003).

The life of Taj al-Saltana, daughter of the ruler of Iran, Naser al-Din Shah Qajar, epitomized the predicaments of her changing era. Overcoming her limited education within the harem walls, Taj chronicled a thirty-year span in the life of a generation that witnessed a shift from traditional order to revolutionary flux. It is as though she had chosen this moment to recall her personal history--a tale filled with "wonder and anguish"--in order to record a cultural and political leap, symbolic of her time, from the indulgent, sheltered, and often petty world of her father's harem to the puzzling and exposed, yet emotionally and intellectually challenging world of a new Iran.

Now almost one hundred years later Taj's memoirs are relevant and qualify her not only as a feminist by her society's standards but also in comparison with feminists of her generation in Europe and America. Beyond her fascination for the material glamour of the West at the turn of the twentieth century--fashion, architecture, furniture, the motorcar--she was also influenced by Western culture's painting, music, history, literature and language. And yet throughout this time she kept her bond with her own literary and cultural heritage and what she calls her "Persianness."

Despite her troubled life of agony--an unloving and harsh mother; a benevolent but self-indulgent father; an adolescent, bisexual husband; separation from her children; financial difficulties; the stigma of leading a libertine lifestyle and the infamy of removing her veil--Taj's is a genuine voice for women's social grievances in late 20th-century Iran, and one that reveals a remarkable woman in her own right.

An-Na'im, Abdullahi Ahmed. Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari`a (Harvard UniversityPress, 2008).

What should be the place of Shari‘a—Islamic religious law—in predominantly Muslim societies of the world? In this ambitious and topical book, a Muslim scholar and human rights activist envisions a positive and sustainable role for Shari‘a, based on a profound rethinking of the relationship between religion and the secular state in all societies.

An-Na‘im argues that the coercive enforcement of Shari‘a by the state betrays the Qur’an’s insistence on voluntary acceptance of Islam. Just as the state should be secure from the misuse of religious authority, Shari‘a should be freed from the control of the state. State policies or legislation must be based on civic reasons accessible to citizens of all religions. Showing that throughout the history of Islam, Islam and the state have normally been separate, An-Na‘im maintains that ideas of human rights and citizenship are more consistent with Islamic principles than with claims of a supposedly Islamic state to enforce Shari‘a. In fact, he suggests, the very idea of an “Islamic state” is based on European ideas of state and law, and not Shari‘a or the Islamic tradition.

Ansari, Ali.  Modern Iran Since 1921: The Pahlavis and After (Longman, 2003).

Straddled between the world's two major energy basins, the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea, and possessing a rich reservoir of hydrocarbon resources as well as diverse minerals, Iran has always been economically significant. The Islamic Revolution thrust the country back onto the political centre-stage, and dramatically altered relations between Iran and the West.This book looks at these developments within an historical context. It charts how Iran sought to respond to the challenge of the West through reform and revolution, and to reverse the deline of the previous century with an ambitious programme of development. Combining detailed historical narrative with comprehensive analysis and explanation, Ali Ansari presents a new interpretation of the complex cultural polity that is modern Iran.

Aslan, Reza.  No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam (Random House, 2006).

Though it is the fastest-growing religion in the world, Islam remains shrouded in ignorance and fear for much of the West. In No god but God, Reza Aslan, an internationally acclaimed scholar of religions, explains this faith in all its beauty and complexity. Beginning with a vivid account of the social and religious milieu in which the Prophet Muhammad forged his message, Aslan paints a portrait of the first Muslim community as a radical experiment in religious pluralism and social egalitarianism. He demonstrates how, after the Prophet’s death, his successors attempted to interpret his message for future generations–an overwhelming task that fractured the Muslim community into competing sects. Finally, Aslan examines how, in the shadow of European colonialism, Muslims developed conflicting strategies to reconcile traditional Islamic values with the realities of the modern world, thus launching what Aslan terms the Islamic Reformation. Timely and persuasive, No god but God is an elegantly written account of a magnificent yet misunderstood faith.

Axworthy, Michael.  A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind (Basic Books, 2008).

Sweeping, sensitive and evenhanded overview of the ancient nation, from the days of the prophet Zoroaster to those of the Islamic Republic.Former British foreign-service officer and Iranian historian Axworthy (The Sword of Persia: Nader Shah, from Tribal Warrior to Conquering Tyrant, 2006) covers an enormous amount of material in elegant, upbeat fashion. Aware of the country's accomplishments without being blind to its failings, he emphasizes Iran's diversity, noting that nearly half the population is made up of ethnic Azeris, Kurds, Gilakis, Buluchis and Turkmen, and that its native tongue, Farsi, is the sole Indo-European language in the Arab-speaking Middle East. Called Persia until the Reza Shah promoted an official name change in 1935, the nation formed its identity from nomadic migrations imbued with the spirit of Zoroastrianism. This early form of monotheism offered a new concept of heaven and hell, and of the free human choice between good and evil, that exerted a huge influence on later religions, Axworthy asserts. In the sixth century BCE, tribes coalesced around the first royal house, founded by Cyrus and extended by his conquering descendants, Darius et al. The empire's magnificent capital, Persepolis, was burned by the victorious Alexander the Great in 330 BCE. Successive dynasties jockeyed for power and battled with the Roman Empire, while Persian poets created such heroic works as Ferdowsi's Shahnameh ("The Epic of Kings"), as significant to Iranian culture as Shakespeare is to the West. Islamic incursion occurred gradually, and Axworthy cogently dissects the Sunni/Shi'a schism that rules Islam today. His wide-ranging, in-depth knowledge of the Middle East enriches his analysis of the Pahlavi dynasty and the revolution of 1979.

Azimi, Fakhreddin. The Quest for Democracy in Iran: A Century of Struggle against Authoritarian Rule (HarvardUniversity Press, 2008).

The Constitutional Revolution of 1906 launched Iran as a pioneer in a broad-based movement to establish democratic rule in the non-Western world. In a book that provides essential context for understanding modern Iran, Fakhreddin Azimi traces a century of struggle for the establishment of representative government. The promise of constitutional rule was cut short in the 1920s with the rise of the Pahlavi dynasty. Reza Shah, whose despotic rule Azimi deftly captures, maintained the façade of a constitutional monarch but greeted any challenge with an iron fist: “I will eliminate you,” he routinely barked at his officials. In 1941, fearful of losing control of the oil-rich region, the Allies forced Reza Shah to abdicate but allowed Mohammad Reza to succeed his father. Though promising to abide by the constitution, the new Shah missed no opportunity to undermine it.

The Anglo-American–backed coup of 1953, which ousted reformist premier Mohammed Mosaddeq, dealt a blow to the constitutionalists. The Shah’s repressive policies and subservience to the United States radicalized both secular and religious opponents, leading to the revolution of 1979. Azimi argues that we have fundamentally misunderstood this event by characterizing it as an “Islamic” revolution when it was in reality the expression of a long-repressed desire for popular sovereignty. This explains why the clerical rulers have failed to counter the growing public conviction that the Islamic Republic, too, is impervious to political reform—and why the democratic impulse that began with the Constitutional Revolution continues to be a potent and resilient force.

Barsamian, David.  Targeting Iran (City Lights, 2007). 

Barsamian, founder and director of Alternative Radio and coauthor of Imperial Delusions, has produced a highly informative book that examines the U.S.-Iran standoff through interviews with Noam Chomsky, Ervand Abrahamian and Nahid Mozaffari. Topics of discussion range from the U.S.-backed 1953 coup to poetry in the years after the Islamic revolution, but the exposition of why Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad thinks Iran has the upper hand and the prospects for and likely consequences of a U.S. military strike in Iran are some of the most powerful portions of the book. "Both sides are playing brinksmanship," claims Abrahamian. One of the central conclusions is that the U.S. and Iran are teetering precipitously on the edge of another war that neither side can afford to participate in. In Barsamian's (and his interviewees') view, the best hope for a bloodless conclusion to the current standoff is for the US to approach Iran without demanding it submit to American demands before they even reach the bargaining table. This slim book is heavy with historical and cultural background that doesn't often find its way into news accounts; it's a great primer on a simmering conflict.  (from Publisher's Weekly)

Basmenji, Kaveh.  Tehran Blues: Youth Culture in Iran (Saqi, 2007).

More than two decades after their parents rose up against the excesses of the Shah, increasing numbers of young Iranians are risking jail for things their counterparts in the West take for granted: wearing makeup, slow dancing at parties, and holding hands with members of the opposite sex. Kaveh Basmenji, who spent his own youth amidst the turbulence of the Islamic Revolution, argues that Iran's youth are in near-open revolt for want of greater personal freedom. Yet not long ago it was young Iranians who occupied the American embassy, or who vied for martyrdom during the disastrous Iran-Iraq War. Basmenji interviews members of one of the world's youngest-populated countries and tries to get to the heart of the matter: What do Iran's youth want, and how far are their elders prepared to accommodate them?

Buchta. Wilfried.  Who Rules Iran? (Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2002).

Who governs the Islamic Republic of Iran? Who is a "reformer"? Who is a "hardliner"? What do those terms really mean? These questions have emerged as the central enigmas of Iranian politics since the victory of reformist candidate Mohammad Khatami in Iran’s presidential elections in May 1997.

Successive electoral victories by Khatami and his political allies have raised expectations about the prospects for Iran’s reform movement. But in a political system with myriad and overlapping centers of power, capturing the presidency and the parliament may not suffice. Deep policy differences among the various factions that constitute the "reform" movement, as well as the violent proclivities of its conservative "hardline" adversaries, may frustrate efforts to bring about peaceful change to Iran’s political system and even spur a violent backlash by opponents. Clearly, the success of the reform movement—and the evolution of a more benign Iran less out of tune with U.S. interests—is by no means assured.

Who Rules Iran? analyzes the formal and informal power structures in the Islamic Republic and assesses both the future of the reform movement and the prospects for peaceful change in Iran. As U.S. policymakers begin their third decade of trying to avoid potential pitfalls and seize possible opportunities in formulating policy toward the Islamic Republic, this book will serve as an essential "guide to the perplexed."

Clawson, Patrick and Michael Rubin.  Eternal Iran (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005).

Exploring continuities and changes, this book provides the historical backdrop crucial to understanding how Iranian pride and sense of victimization combine to make its politics contentious and potentially dangerous. From the struggle between the Shah and Ayatollah Khomeini to the current tension between the reformers and traditionalists, a central issue in Iranian domestic politics has long been its place in the world and relations with the West.

Dabashi, Hamid.  Iran: A People Interrupted (New Press, 2008).

Praised by leading academics in the field as "extraordinary," "a brilliant analysis," "fresh, provocative and iconoclastic," Iran: A People Interrupted has distinguished itself as a major work that has single-handedly effected a revolution in the field of Iranian studies. In this provocative and unprecedented book, Hamid Dabashi—the internationally renowned cultural critic and scholar of Iranian history and Islamic culture—traces the story of Iran over the past two centuries with unparalleled analysis of the key events, cultural trends, and political developments leading up to the collapse of the reform movement and the emergence of the new and combative presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Written in the author's characteristically lively and combative prose, Iran combines "delightful vignettes" (Publishers Weekly) from Dabashi's Iranian childhood and sharp, insightful readings of its contemporary history. In an era of escalating tensions in the Middle East, his defiant moral voice and eloquent account of a national struggle for freedom and democracy against the overwhelming backdrop of U.S. military hegemony fills a crucial gap in our understanding of this country.

Ebadi, Shirin.  Refugee Rights in Iran (Saqi, 2008).

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, lawyer, and human rights activist, Shirin Ebadi examines the legal aspects of life as a refugee in Iran. Controversial issues such as the right to education, property, and inheritance are addressed in detail through a comparative study of Iranian and international refugee law.

This book will be of great interest to anyone who helps states and to international organizations that formulate laws that can accommodate the needs of refugees.

Shirin Ebadi was the first Iranian and the first Muslim woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003. As a lawyer, judge, lecturer, writer, and activist, she has dedicated her life to fighting for basic human rights, especially those of women and children, both within Iran and abroad.

Ebadi, Shirin.  Iran Awakening: One Woman's Journey to Reclaim Her Life and Country (Random House, 2007).

The moving, inspiring memoir of one of the great women of our times, Shirin Ebadi, winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize and advocate for the oppressed, whose spirit has remained strong in the face of political persecution and despite the challenges she has faced raising a family while pursuing her work. Best known in this country as the lawyer working tirelessly on behalf of Canadian photojournalist, Zara Kazemi – raped, tortured and murdered in Iran – Dr. Ebadi offers us a vivid picture of the struggles of one woman against the system. The book movingly chronicles her childhood in a loving, untraditional family, her upbringing before the Revolution in 1979 that toppled the Shah, her marriage and her religious faith, as well as her life as a mother and lawyer battling an oppressive regime in the courts while bringing up her girls at home.

Outspoken, controversial, Shirin Ebadi is one of the most fascinating women today. She rose quickly to become the first female judge in the country; but when the religious authorities declared women unfit to serve as judges she was demoted to clerk in the courtroom she had once presided over. She eventually fought her way back as a human rights lawyer, defending women and children in politically charged cases that most lawyers were afraid to represent. She has been arrested and been the target of assassination, but through it all has spoken out with quiet bravery on behalf of the victims of injustice and discrimination and become a powerful voice for change, almost universally embraced as a hero. Her memoir is a gripping story – a must-read for anyone interested in Zara Kazemi’s case, in the life of a remarkable woman, or in understanding the political and religious upheaval in our world.

Ebtekar, Massoumeh.  Takeover in Tehran (Talonbooks, 2000).

In this first-ever insider account of the American Embassy takeover in 1979, Massoumeh Ebtekar attempts to correct twenty years of misrepresentation by the Western media of what the aims of both the Iranian students and the populist revolution they personified were, and have since remained.

She also explains, in considerable detail, how the mullahs came to see (with the eager complicity of the international media and its own western political agendas) these students as a vanguard of their own theocracy, rather than of the much broader cultural revolution which had ousted the the regime of Shah Pahlevi, installed through a U.S.-sponsored coup in 1953.

In February of 2000, a month before Madeleine Albright’s admission of the previously secret C.I.A. involvement in this 1953 coup, Iran initiated a series of run-off elections to its parliament. To date, 70% of the candidates elected have been characterised by the Western media as "moderates," among them, like Ebtekar, students who took over the American Embassy in 1979. These moderates, like the current president Khatami, all ran on a platform of breaking the stranglehold the mullahs have maintained on politics since 1979, and establishing an open civil society within the Islamic state of Iran.

This book is essential reading for anyone interested in the rapidly proliferating international phenomenon of peoples attempting to preserve their independence and culture from the overwhelming hegemony of American dominance in the global community of nations, and in how the "independent" American media continues to play an active, no matter how innocent and unwitting, role as an instrument of American foreign policy.

Gheissar, Ali and Vali Nasr.  Democracy in Iran: History and the Quest for Liberty (Oxford University Press, 2009).

Today Iran is once again in the headlines. Reputed to be developing nuclear weapons, the future of Iraq's next-door neighbor is a matter of grave concern both for the stability of the region and for the safety of the global community. President George W. Bush labeled it part of the "Axis of Evil," and rails against the country's authoritarian leadership. Yet as Bush trumpets the spread of democracy throughout the Middle East, few note that Iran has one of the longest-running experiences with democracy in the region.

In this book, Ali Gheissari and Vali Nasr look at the political history of Iran in the modern era, and offer an in-depth analysis of the prospects for democracy to flourish there. After having produced the only successful Islamist challenge to the state, a revolution, and an Islamic Republic, Iran is now poised to produce a genuine and indigenous democratic movement in the Muslim world. Democracy in Iran is neither a sudden development nor a western import, Gheissari and Nasr argue. The concept of democracy in Iran today may appear to be a reaction to authoritarianism, but it is an old idea with a complex history, one that is tightly interwoven with the main forces that have shaped Iranian society and politics, institutions, identities, and interests. Indeed, the demand for democracy first surfaced in Iran a century ago at the end of the Qajar period, and helped produce Iran's surprisingly liberal first constitution in 1906. Gheissari and Nasr seek to understand why democracy failed to grow roots and lost ground to an autocratic Iranian state. Why was democracy absent from the ideological debates of the 1960s and 1970s? Most important, why has it now become a powerful social, political, and intellectual force? How have modernization, social change, economic growth, and the experience of the revolution converged to make this possible?

Harris, Mark Edward.  Inside Iran (Chronicle Books, 2008).

The Islamic Republic of Iran is at the center of world attention politically, socially, and culturally—but it remains largely a cipher to the West. Award-winning photographer Mark Edward Harris has traveled throughout Iran to produce the first contemporary photographic book on a place seldom seen or understood. His images of daily life offer a fascinating look at a society of juxtapositions—ancient and modern, commercial and spiritual, serene and intense, political and personal. With chapter introductions and extended captions providing context for the images, Inside Iran is a crucial look at a country whose future is likely to influence our own.

Kandiyoti, Deniz, editor.  Women, Islam, and the State (Temple University Press, 1991).

This collection of original essays examines the relationship between Islam, the nature of state projects, and the position of women in the modern nation states of the Middle East and South Asia. Arguing that Islam is not uniform across Muslim societies and that women’s roles in these societies cannot be understood simply by looking at texts and laws. The contributors focus, instead, on the effects of the political projects of states on the lives of women.

Keddie, Nikki R.  Modern Iran: Roots and Results of Revolution (Yale University Press, 2006).

In this updated edition of Nikki Keddie’s Modern Iran—itself a substantially revised and expanded version of her classic work Roots of Revolution—the  author provides a new preface and a fully annotated and indexed epilogue, reviewing recent developments in Iran since 2003. Keddie provides insightful commentary on Iran’s nuclear and foreign policy, its relations with the United Nations and the United States, increasing conservative and hard-line tendencies in the government, and recent developments in the economy, cultural and intellectual life, and human rights.

Kelly, Laurence.  Diplomacy and Murder in Tehran: Alexander Griboyedov and Imperial Russia's Mission to the Shah of Persia (Tauris Parke, 2006).

In this first biography of Alexander Griboyedov in English, Laurence Kelly paints a vivid picture of a man of remarkable literary talent and diplomatic gifts that were nevertheless overshadowed by ill-fortune. Involved in the 1825 Decembrist plot to overthrow the Tsarist state and the mission to further Russia's expansionist agenda in the Caucasus, the famous writer was eventually murdered by zealous mobs in Tehran. This book makes an invaluable contribution to the diplomatic history of Russia, the Caucasus and Iran at the same time illuminating the life and works of a writer who was among nineteenth-century Russia's most respected and prominent writers.

Keshavarz, Fatemeh.  Jasmine and Stars: Reading More Than Lolita in Tehran (The University of North Carolina Press, 2007). 

In a direct, frank, and intimate exploration of Iranian literature and society, scholar, teacher, and poet Fatemeh Keshavarz challenges popular perceptions of Iran as a society bereft of vitality and joy. Her fresh perspective on present day Iran provides a rare insight into this rich culture alive with artistic expression but virtually unknown to most Americans. She warns against the rise of what she calls the 'New Orientalist narrative,' which thrives on stereotype and prejudice and is often tied to current geopolitical conflict rather than an understanding of Iran. She offers a lively critique of the recent best-seller Reading Lolita in Tehran, which she says epitomizes this New Orientalist attitude. Blending in firsthand glimpses of her own life Keshavarz paints a portrait of Iran depicting both cultural depth and intellectual complexity.

Fatemeh Keshavarz, an Iranian American, is professor of Persian and comparative literature and chair of the Department of Asian and Near Eastern Languages and Literatures at Washington University in St. Louis. She is author of four previous books, including Reading Mystical Lyric: The Case of Jalal Al-Din Rumi and a volume of poetry.

Khosravi, Shahram.  Young and Defiant in Tehran (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009).

With more than half its population under twenty years old, Iran is one of the world's most youthful nations. The Iranian state characterizes its youth population in two ways: as a homogeneous mass, "an army of twenty millions" devoted to the Revolution, and as alienated, inauthentic, Westernized consumers who constitute a threat to the society. Much of the focus of the Islamic regime has been on ways to protect Iranian young people from moral hazards and to prevent them from providing a gateway for cultural invasion from the West. Iranian authorities express their anxieties through campaigns that target the young generation and its lifestyle and have led to the criminalization of many of the behaviors that make up youth culture.

In this ethnography of contemporary youth culture in Iran's capital, Shahram Khosravi examines how young Tehranis struggle for identity in the battle over the right to self-expression. Khosravi looks closely at the strictures confronting Iranian youth and the ways transnational cultural influences penetrate and flourish. Focusing on gathering places such as shopping centers and coffee shops, Khosravi examines the practices of everyday life through which young Tehranis demonstrate defiance against the official culture and parental dominance. In addition to being sites of opposition, Khosravi argues, these alternative spaces serve as creative centers for expression and, above all, imagination. His analysis reveals the transformative power these spaces have and how they enable young Iranians to develop their own culture as well as individual and generational identities. The text is enriched by examples from literature and cinema and by livid reports from the author's fieldwork.

Kinzer, Stephen.  All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror (Wiley, second edition, 2008).

Half a century ago, the United States overthrew a Middle Eastern government for the first time. The victim was Mohammad Mossadegh, the democratically elected prime minister of Iran. Although the coup seemed a success at first, today it serves as a chilling lesson about the dangers of foreign intervention.  In this book, veteran New York Times correspondent Stephen Kinzer gives the first full account of this fateful operation. His account is centered around an hour-by-hour reconstruction of the events of August 1953, and concludes with an assessment of the coup’s "haunting and terrible legacy."

Operation Ajax, as the plot was code-named, reshaped the history of Iran, the Middle East, and the world. It restored Mohammad Reza Shah to the Peacock Throne, allowing him to impose a tyranny that ultimately sparked the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The Islamic Revolution, in turn, inspired fundamentalists throughout the Muslim world, including the Taliban and terrorists who thrived under its protection.  "It is not far-fetched," Kinzer asserts in this book, "to draw a line from Operation Ajax through the Shah’s repressive regime and the Islamic Revolution to the fireballs that engulfed the World Trade Center in New York."

Drawing on research in the United States and Iran, and using material from a long-secret CIA report, Kinzer explains the background of the coup and tells how it was carried out. It is a cloak-and-dagger story of spies, saboteurs, and secret agents. There are accounts of bribes, staged riots, suitcases full of cash, and midnight meetings between the Shah and CIA agent Kermit Roosevelt, who was smuggled in and out of the royal palace under a blanket in the back seat of a car. Roosevelt, the grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt, was a real-life James Bond in an era when CIA agents operated mainly by their wits. After his first coup attempt failed, he organized a second attempt that succeeded three days later.

The colorful cast of characters includes the terrified young Shah, who fled his country at the first sign of trouble; General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, father of the Gulf War commander and the radio voice of "Gang Busters," who flew to Tehran on a secret mission that helped set the coup in motion; and the fiery Prime Minister Mossadegh, who outraged the West by nationalizing the immensely profitable Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. The British, outraged by the seizure of their oil company, persuaded President Dwight Eisenhower that Mossadegh was leading Iran toward Communism. Eisenhower and Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Great Britain became the coup’s main sponsors. Brimming with insights into Middle Eastern history and American foreign policy, this book is an eye-opening look at an event whose unintended consequences–Islamic revolution and violent anti-Americanism–have shaped the modern world. As the United States assumes an ever-widening role in the Middle East, it is essential reading.

Kurzman, Charles.  The Unthinkable Revolution in Iran (Harvard University Press, 2005).

The shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, would remain on the throne for the foreseeable future: This was the firm conclusion of a top-secret CIA analysis issued in October 1978. One hundred days later the shah--despite his massive military, fearsome security police, and superpower support was overthrown by a popular and largely peaceful revolution. But the CIA was not alone in its myopia, as Charles Kurzman reveals in this penetrating work; Iranians themselves, except for a tiny minority, considered a revolution inconceivable until it actually occurred. Revisiting the circumstances surrounding the fall of the shah, Kurzman offers rare insight into the nature and evolution of the Iranian revolution and into the ultimate unpredictability of protest movements in general.

As one Iranian recalls, "The future was up in the air." Through interviews and eyewitness accounts, declassified security documents and underground pamphlets, Kurzman documents the overwhelming sense of confusion that gripped pre-revolutionary Iran, and that characterizes major protest movements. His book provides a striking picture of the chaotic conditions under which Iranians acted, participating in protest only when they expected others to do so too, the process approaching critical mass in unforeseen and unforeseeable ways. Only when large numbers of Iranians began to "think the unthinkable," in the words of the U.S. ambassador, did revolutionary expectations become a self-fulfilling prophecy. A corrective to 20-20 hindsight, this book reveals shortcomings of analyses that make the Iranian revolution or any major protest movement seem inevitable in retrospect.

Lowe, Lisa and David Lloyd (editors).  The Politics of Culture in the Shadow of Capital (Duke University Press, 1997).

Global in scope, this study challenges contemporary capitalism from the perspective of localized cultural and social practice in varied locales. These essays on Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, North America, and Europe advance a new understanding of "cultural politics", frames a set of alternative social practices, and rethinks political practice in the context of global capitalism.  Of particular interst is the article by Homa Hoodfar, "The Veil in Their Minds and on Our Heads."

Mackey, Sandra and Scott Harrop.  The Iranians: Persia, Islam and the Soul of a Nation (Plume, 1998).

The Iranians explores Iran in the context of its old and complex culture, for throughout its history Iran has struggled with two warring identities-one evolving from the values, social organization, and arts of ancient Persia, the other from Islam. By examining the relationship between these two identities, The Iranians explains how the revolution of 1979 came about, why the Islamic Republic has failed, and how Iran today is on the brink of chaos. In this defining portrait of a troubled nation and the forces that shape it, Iranian history and religion become accessible to the non-specialist. Combining impeccable scholarship with the human insight of firsthand observations, The Iranians provides vital understanding of this unique and pivotal nation.

Majd, Hooman.  The Ayatollah Begs to Differ (Anchor, 2009).

The grandson of an eminent ayatollah and the son of an Iranian diplomat, journalist Hooman Majd is uniquely qualified to explain contemporary Iran's complex and misunderstood culture to Western readers. The Ayatollah Begs to Differ provides an intimate look at a paradoxical country that is both deeply religious and highly cosmopolitan, authoritarian yet informed by a history of democratic and reformist traditions. Majd offers an insightful tour of Iranian culture, introducing fascinating characters from all walks of life, including zealous government officials, tough female cab drivers, and open-minded, reformist ayatollahs. It's an Iran that will surprise readers and challenge Western stereotypes.

In his new preface, Majd discusses the Iranian mood during and after the June 2009 presidential election which set off the largest street protests since the revolution that brought the ayatollahs to power.

Maloney, Suzanne.  Iran's Long Reach (United States Institute of Peace, 2008).

By virtue of its size, history, resources, and strategic location, Iran under any circumstances would pose particular relevance for American policy, but the 1979 revolution and the political system that it wrought placed Iran squarely at the heart of U.S. security challenges. As the third book in the series from the Institute's Muslim World Initiative on pivotal states in the Muslim world, this lucid and timely volume sheds much-needed light on Iran's strikingly complex political system and foreign policy and its central role in the region. Suzanne Maloney systematically outlines Iran's sources of influence in the Muslim world, including its strategic ambitions and dynamism, political innovations, economic clout, religiocultural institutions, and historical and cultural linkages. Maloney argues that although its leadership and rhetoric often appear stagnant, Iran is in reality one of the least static societies in the Muslim world. Iran today is fraught with pressures and tensions as a result of a disproportionately young population, an economy subject to considerable external pressures and cyclical fluctuation, and the massive transformations occurring along its borders in Iraq and Afghanistan. Maloney analyzes the social, economic, and regional forces that are driving Iran toward change and asks what these factors mean for U.S. foreign policy. She concludes that despite historical, legal, and practical constraints, the United States must ultimately engage Iran on a range of issues. Insightful and balanced, this volume presents a realistic, precise, and objective assessment of Iran for policymakers, academics, as well as the interested public.

Molavi, Afshin.  The Soul of Iran: A Nation's Journey to Freedom (W.W. Norton, 2005).

The truths about Iran; quite different truths from versions put forward by Washington, Tehran, and the media. Iran thundered onto the world stage in 1979 with an Islamic revolution that shook the world. Today that revolution has gone astray, a popular democracy movement boldly challenges authority, and young Iranians are more interested in moving to America than in chanting "Death to America." Afshin Molavi, born in Iran and fluent in Persian, traveled widely across his homeland, exploring the legacy of the Iranian revolution and probing the soul of Iran, a land with nearly three millennia of often-glorious history. Like a master Persian carpet maker, Molavi weaves together threads of rich historical insight, political analysis, cultural observation, and the daily realities of life in the Islamic republic to produce a colorful, intricate, and mesmerizing narrative.

Naji, Kasra.  Ahmadinejad: The Secret History of Iran's Radical Leader (University of California Press, 2008).

As Iran's nuclear program accelerates, all eyes are on the blacksmith's son who could have his finger on the trigger. Who is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? What drives him? To whom, if anyone, does he answer? Internationally acclaimed Iranian journalist Kasra Naji has spent years interviewing Ahmadinejad's friends, family, and colleagues to tell for the first time the true story of how he came to power. What emerges in this riveting account, featuring never before published color photographs, is a picture of a man who is much more of a force to be reckoned with than the caricatures offered up so far suggest. While Naji documents Ahmadinejad's often strange behavior, he also shows him to be full of complex contradictions: a man gripped by apocalyptic beliefs, yet capable of switching spiritual allegiance in the quest for power. A man tough enough to fight street battles in the name of Ayatollah Khomeini, crude enough to invite the German chancellor to join him in an anti-Jewish alliance, yet sophisticated enough to win the support of the all-powerful Revolutionary Guard. Kasra Naji takes us inside the shadowy council chambers of Tehran, and shows us the plots, passions, and personalities that will influence Ahmadinejad's next move, while the world waits with bated breath.

Najmabadi, Afsaneh. Women with Mustaches and Men without Beards: Gender and Sexual Anxieties of Iranian Modernity (University of California Press, 2005).

Drawing from a rich array of visual and literary material from nineteenth-century Iran, this groundbreaking book rereads and rewrites the history of Iranian modernity through the lens of gender and sexuality. Peeling away notions of a rigid pre-modern Islamic gender system, Afsaneh Najmabadi provides a compelling demonstration of the centrality of gender and sexuality to the shaping of modern culture and politics in Iran and of how changes in ideas about gender and sexuality affected conceptions of beauty, love, homeland, marriage, education, and citizenship. She concludes with a provocative discussion of Iranian feminism and its role in that country's current culture wars. In addition to providing an important new perspective on Iranian history, Najmabadi skillfully demonstrates how using gender as an analytic category can provide insight into structures of hierarchy and power and thus into the organization of politics and social life.

Nasr, Vali.  The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future (W.W. Norton, 2007).

Profiled on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, Iranian-born scholar Vali Nasr has become one of America's leading commentators on current events in the Middle East, admired and welcomed by both media and government for his "concise and coherent" analysis (Wall Street Journal). In this "smart, clear and timely" book (Washington Post), Nasr brilliantly dissects the political and theological antagonisms within Islam. He provides a unique and objective understanding of the 1,400-year bitter struggle between Shias and Sunnis, and sheds crucial light on its modern-day consequences—from the nuclear posturing of Iran's President Ahmadinejad to the recent U.S.-enabled shift toward Shia power in Iraq and Hezbollah's continued dominance in Lebanon.

Osanloo, Arzoo.  The Politics of Women's Rights in Iran (Princeton University Press, 2009).

In The Politics of Women's Rights in Iran, Arzoo Osanloo explores how Iranian women understand their rights. After the 1979 revolution, Iranian leaders transformed the state into an Islamic republic. At that time, the country's leaders used a renewed discourse of women's rights to symbolize a shift away from the excesses of Western liberalism. Osanloo reveals that the postrevolutionary republic blended practices of a liberal republic with Islamic principles of equality. Her ethnographic study illustrates how women's claims of rights emerge from a hybrid discourse that draws on both liberal individualism and Islamic ideals.

Osanloo takes the reader on a journey through numerous sites where rights are being produced--including Qur'anic reading groups, Tehran's family court, and law offices--as she sheds light on the fluid and constructed nature of women's perceptions of rights. In doing so, Osanloo unravels simplistic dichotomies between so-called liberal, universal rights and insular, local culture. The Politics of Women's Rights in Iran casts light on a contemporary non-Western understanding of the meaning behind liberal rights, and raises questions about the misunderstood relationship between modernity and Islam.

Parsi, Trita. Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States (Yale University Press, 2008).

In this era of superheated rhetoric and vitriolic exchanges between the leaders of Iran and Israel, the threat of nuclear violence looms. But the real roots of the enmity between the two nations mystify Washington policymakers, and no promising pathways to peace have emerged. This book traces the shifting relations among Israel, Iran, and the United States from 1948 to the present, uncovering for the first time the details of secret alliances, treacherous acts, and unsavory political maneuverings that have undermined Middle Eastern stability and disrupted U.S. foreign policy initiatives in the region.

Trita Parsi, a U.S. foreign policy expert with more than a decade of experience, is the only writer who has had access to senior American, Iranian, and Israeli decision makers. He dissects the complicated triangular relations of their countries, arguing that America’s hope for stability in Iraq and for peace in Israel is futile without a correct understanding of the Israeli-Iranian rivalry.

Parsi’s behind-the-scenes revelations about Middle East events will surprise even the most knowledgeable readers: Iran’s prime minister asks Israel to assassinate Khomeini, Israel reaches out to Saddam Hussein after the Gulf War, the United States foils Iran’s plan to withdraw support from Hamas and Hezbollah, and more. This book not only revises our understanding of the Middle East’s recent past, it also spells out a course for the future. In today’s belligerent world, few topics, if any, could be more important. Trita Parsi is president, National Iranian American Council, and adjunct professor of International Relations at Johns Hopkins University SAIS. He writes frequently about the Middle East and has appeared on BBC World News, PBS News Hour, CNN, and other news programs.

Pollack, Kenneth. The Persian Puzzle: The Conflict Between Iran and America (Random House, 2005).

In his highly influential book The Threatening Storm, bestselling author Kenneth Pollack both informed and defined the national debate about Iraq. Now, in The Persian Puzzle, published to coincide with the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Iran hostage crisis, he examines the behind-the-scenes story of the tumultuous relationship between Iran and the United States, and weighs options for the future.

Here Pollack, a former CIA analyst and National Security Council official, brings his keen analysis and insider perspective to the long and ongoing clash between the United States and Iran, beginning with the fall of the shah and the seizure of the American embassy in Tehran in 1979. Pollack examines all the major events in U.S.-Iran relations–including the hostage crisis, the U.S. tilt toward Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, the Iran-Contra scandal, American-Iranian military tensions in 1987 and 1988, the covert Iranian war against U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf that culminated in the 1996 Khobar Towers terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia, and recent U.S.-Iran skirmishes over Afghanistan and Iraq. He explains the strategies and motives from American and Iranian perspectives and tells how each crisis colored the thinking of both countries’ leadership as they shaped and reshaped their policies over time. Pollack also describes efforts by moderates of various stripes to try to find some way past animosities to create a new dynamic in Iranian-American relations, only to find that when one side was ready for such a step, the other side fell short.

With balanced tone and insight, Pollack explains how the United States and Iran reached this impasse; why this relationship is critical to regional, global, and U.S. interests; and what basic political choices are available as we deal with this important but deeply troubled country.

Ravanipur, Moniru.  Satan's Stones (University of Texas Press, 1996).

Women writers occupy the most prominent positions in contemporary Iranian literature, despite the increased legal and cultural restrictions placed upon women since the 1978-1979 Islamic Revolution. One of these writers is Moniru Ravanipur, author of critically acclaimed novels and short story collections including The Drowned and Heart of Steel. Satan's Stones is the first English translation of her 1991 short story collection Sangha-ye Sheytan. Often set in the remote regions of Iran, these stories explore many facets of contemporary Iranian life, particularly the ever-shifting relations between women and men. Their bold literary experimentation marks a new style in Persian fiction akin to "magical realism." Recent reports from Iran indicate that Satan's Stones has been banned there by government authorities. While its frank explorations of Iranian society may have offended Islamic leaders, they offer Western readers fresh perspectives on Iranian culture from one of the country's most distinguished writers.

Ridgeon, Lloyd. Religion and Politics in Modern Iran: A Reader (I. B. Tauris, 2005).

This reader provides crucial political and religious texts that cover the past one hundred years of Iranian history. It introduces the chief issues preoccupying the minds of the most prominent thinkers of modern Iran. Many of these writings have become indispensable texts for students of Middle East studies, religious studies and Islamic studies, while others are difficult to find or have never appeared before in English. Each article is preceded by an introduction discussing its significance and placing each writer in historical context.

Ritter, Scott. Target Iran: The Truth About the White House's Plans for Regime Change (Nation Books, 2007).

Former UN weapons inspector Ritter, outspoken critic of the Bush WMD strategy in the run-up to Iraq, warns that it's about to be deja-vu-all-over again next door.Iran, of course, is one leg of the axis-of-evil tripod, bent on developing nuclear weapons to use against us. That is the administration's contention, as yet without proof. No matter; its ongoing battle with Iran is driven, Ritter asserts, by "the hyperbole and speculative rhetoric of those whose true agenda lies more in changing the regime in Tehran than it does with genuine non-proliferation and disarmament"-specifically neoconservatives such as John Bolton, the UN-hating ambassador to the UN, who have yearned for payback since the fall of the Shah. Ritter's argument gets a little disjointed as it whiplashes through time and place, but it centers on this point: Israel's interests are not necessarily those of the U.S., yet the matter of Iran is "a conflict born in Israel," based on the conviction that the government of Iran is out to destroy it; Washington has followed Tel Aviv's lead uncritically, steered by those very neocons and their project to force a confrontation with the mullahs. Ritter maintains that Iran has generally conformed to international rules regarding the development of its nuclear-energy program and has approached the Bush administration to engage in one-on-one talks; yet the U.S. government has worked diligently to persuade the European Union and other bodies that as an important exporter of oil, Iran has "no justifiable economic explanation for its nuclear program." The argument has not yet swayed the International Atomic Energy Agency or the UN, and so the administration may once again go it alone-and indeed, the latest National Security Strategy has "singled out Iran as representing the greatest threat" to the U.S., a clear signal. That way, Ritter notes gloomily, lies disaster.Less useful than Ray Takeyh's broader-ranging Hidden Iran (2006), but an important contribution to a debate that is still shaping up. (Kirkus Reviews)

Ross, Dennis and David Makovsky.  Myths, Illusions and Peace: Finding a New Direction for American in the Middle East (Viking, 2009).

Why has the United States consistently failed to achieve its strategic goals in the Middle East? According to Dennis Ross and David Makovsky, two of America’s leading experts on the region, it is because we have been laboring under false assumptions, or mythologies, about the nature and motivation of Middle East countries and their leaders. In Myths, Illusions, and Peace, the authors debunk these damaging fallacies, held by both the right and the left, and present a concise and far-reaching set of principles that will help America set an effective course of action in the region.

Among the myths that the authors show to be false and even dangerous is the idea that Israeli-Palestinian peace is the key to solving all the Middle East’s problems; that regime change is a prerequisite for peace and democracy; and that Iran’s leadership is immune from diplomatic and economic pressure.

These and other historic misunderstandings have generated years’ worth of failed policies and crippled America’s ability to make productive decisions in this volatile part of the world, a region that will hold the key to our security in the twenty-first century. Ross and Makovsky offer a critical rethinking of American perceptions at a time of great import and change.

Ross, Dennis, Suzanne Maloney, Ashton B. Carter, Vali Nasr, Richard N. Haass.  Iran: Assessing U.S. Strategic Options (Center for a New American Security, 2008).

Dealing with Iran and its nuclear program will be an urgent priority for the next president. In order to evaluate U.S. policy options, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) convened a bipartisan group of experts on foreign policy and national security, retired military personnel, former diplomats and other government officials, and specialists on Iran and the region. Ambassador Dennis Ross presented a paper on diplomatic strategies for dealing with Iran, and Dr. Suzanne Maloney wrote on potential Iranian responses. Dr. Ashton Carter evaluated various U.S. military options, and Dr. Vali Nasr described likely Iranian reactions and other potential impacts. Ambassador Richard Haass considered the challenges of living with a nuclear Iran. Each of these papers represents an important contribution to a much-needed national discussion on U.S. policy toward Iran. Based on these papers and expert group discussion, as well as additional research and analysis, three CNAS authors (Dr. James Miller, Christine Parthemore, and Dr. Kurt Campbell) proposed that the next administration pursue “game-changing diplomacy” with Iran. While both Iran and the international community would be better off if Iran plays ball, game-changing diplomacy is designed to improve prospects for the United States and the international community irrespective of how Iran responds.

Sciolino, Elaine.  Persian Mirrors: The Elusive Face of Iran (Free Press, 2005).

In 1979, a clerical revolution in Iran swept aside the inarguably corrupt government of Shah Reza Pahlavi and set in motion events that would make that nation a world pariah. In the place of one dictatorship came another, one led "by an old bearded cleric in a turban and cloak whose answer to the king's injustice was to wrap the country in a populist message of promise and smother it with an intolerant version of Islam."

So writes Elaine Sciolino, a reporter for The New York Times who entered Iran with the Ayatollah Khomeini and who remained there for more than 20 years, providing American readers with memorable accounts that were less, it seemed, about politics and religion than about human nature. For Iran is a mass of contradictions, she writes, a country many of whose leaders press for forward-looking change while serving a government that seeks a return to the distant past, and whose citizens constantly seek ways to experiment "with two highly volatile chemicals--Islam and democracy." In her book, Sciolino travels the length and breadth of Iran, interviewing national leaders and citizens, turning up stories of resistance and accommodation that are at once hopeful and cautious. (For instance, she writes, "Personal expression is entirely possible in Iran. You just have to be careful when and where you engage in it, and you have to be ready for nasty surprises when the rules change.") 

Iran has been overlooked for too long, Sciolino suggests. Her book, both sympathetic and critical, makes a useful guide for those outside the country who seek to understand it better.  (Gregory McNamee for

Takeyh, Ray.  Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic (Holt, 2007).

For more than a quarter of a century, few countries have been as resistant to American influence or understanding as Iran. The United States and Iran have long eyed each other with suspicion, all too eager to jump to conclusions and slam the door. What gets lost along the way is a sense of what is actually happening inside Iran and why it matters. With a new hard-line Iranian president making incendiary pronouncements and pressing for nuclear developments, the consequences of not understanding Iran have never been higher.

Ray Takeyh, a leading expert on Iran’s politics and history, has written a groundbreaking book that demystifies the Iranian regime and shows how the fault lines of Iran’s domestic politics serve to explain its behavior. In Hidden Iran, he explains why this country has so often confounded American expectations and why its outward hostility does not necessarily preclude the normalization of relations. Through a clearer understanding of the competing claims of Muslim theology, republican pragmatism, and factional competition, he offers a new paradigm for managing our relations with this rising power.

Zanganeh, Lila Azam.  My Sister, Guard Your Veil: My Brother, Guard Your Eyes (Beacon Press, 2006).

In the first anthology of its kind, Lila Azam Zanganeh argues that although Iran looms large in the American imagination, it is grossly misunderstood—seen either as the third pillar of Bush’s infamous “axis of evil” or as a nation teeming with youths clamoring for revolution.

This collection showcases the real scope and complexity of Iran through the work of a stellar group of contributors—including Azar Nafisi and with original art by Marjane Satrapi. Their collective goal is to counter the many existing cultural and political clichés about Iran. Some of the pieces concern feminism, sexuality, or eroticism under the Islamic Republic; others are unorthodox political testimonies or about race and religion. Almost all these contributors have broken artistic and cultural taboos in their work.

Journalist Reza Aslan, author of No God But God, explains why Iran is not a theocracy but, rather, a “mullahcracy.” Mehrangiz Kar, a lawyer and human rights activist who was jailed in Iran and is currently a fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, argues that the Iranian Revolution actually engendered the birth of feminism in Iran. Journalist Azadeh Moaveni reveals the underground parties a


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