The History of Iran

Article excerpt

The History of Iran, Elton L. Daniel. London and Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2001. xvi + 261 pages. Notables in Iran's history to p. 267. Gloss. to p. 281. Index to p. 299. $35.

Reviewed by Monica M. Ringer

Elton Daniel has written a sophisticated and comprehensive introductory survey of the history of Iran which is, at the same time, an easy read. A relatively lengthy section (43 pages) of the book deals with Iran in pre-Islamic times, 35 pages treat the period from the Arab conquest to the Qajar era. The latter, itself, is covered in 29 pages. Roughly the second half of the book concerns the Pahlavi period to the present. Daniel tactfully avoids overemphasizing either the pre-Islamic period or the coming of Islam as the defining moments of Iranian history. In fact, he grounds the book in the history of the area even before the influx of the "Iranian" peoples. He also deftly weaves into his narrative the larger Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cultures and history, consistent with his general emphasis on contextualization.

Throughout the book, Daniel clearly situates events in their historical context. He highlights various historical and historiographical debates that surround pivotal issues, yet carefully avoids any ideological or emotional attachment to particular historical interpretations. For example, he challenges the "firmly entrenched convention" that the coming of Islam in the 7th century was "a great historical watershed" that "sharply distinguishes" pre- from post-Islamic Iranian history. Daniel argues that "the transition from Sasanian to Islamic Iran should... be seen as one marked by continuity as well as transformation, and the subsequent growth of Islam as a national development of Iranian history in its regional setting" (p. 64). In a similar vein, Daniel reexamines the legacy of the Buyids (p. 73), the rise of the Safavids (pp. …


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