The Mystery of Contemporary Iran

By Rubin, Michael | Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2015 | Go to article overview

The Mystery of Contemporary Iran


Rubin, Michael, Middle East Quarterly


The Mystery of Contemporary Iran. By Mahnaz Shirali. Trans. by Bernice Dubois. Edison: Transaction, 2015. 276 pp. $47.95.

A major problem with histories of modern Iran is that most were written in the immediate aftermath of the Islamic Revolution, treating it as the pinnacle of Iranian political evolution rather than an anomaly. Shirali, a professor at the Paris School of Business, does not fall into this trap.

The author provides a narrative, both readable and substantive, tracking the major trends in Iran over the past century, from the constitutional revolution in the first decade of the twentieth century to the rise of Iranian nationalism, the coup against Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddiq (r. 1951-53), through the fall of the shah and the establishment of the Islamic Revolution. In separate chapters, she explores the major ideological trends that have dominated the Iranian political landscape: communism, "revolutionarism," and ideological Islam.

Shirali displays an impressive ability to describe the big picture and illustrate salient trends, but her consideration of the clergy makes The Mystery of Contemporary Iran pathbreaking. …

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