An incisive portrait of a deeply riven man and his country.
A deep knowledge of Iranian history, especially about the key role the United States has played in its internal affairs since World War II, informs this meaty biography by Iranian-American historian Milani (Iranian Studies/Stanford Univ.). Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi’s desire to render Iran a modern nation in the Western model by authoritarian rule rather than through the democratic process infused many of his decisions during his 37-year reign, and proved ultimately disastrous. A shy boy suddenly thrust into the spotlight by his father, who muscled out the long-reigning Turkish dynasty of the Qajars and proclaimed himself king of Iran in 1925, Mohammad Reza was only seven years old when he became Crown Prince of the Peacock Throne. Once cocooned by his religious mother, now schooled in the discipline of a soldier, he was sent away to boarding school in Switzerland to become a polished European gentleman. He returned to a country in the throes of modernization and enriched by oil revenues. However, his father’s inadequacy in handling the Nazis and the Soviets prompted the British to force his abdication in favor of his son in 1941. For Pahlavi, the episode seemed to have “internalized the idea that big powers, particularly Britain, Russia and America, could do anything in Iran,” and he weathered the fraught next decade, navigating between the demands of the oil-hungry Western states, the nationalists gaining ascendancy and the Communists, all the while keeping peace with the mullahs. The regime’s clash with the reactionary forces led by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1963 set the stage for the revolution to come. Thrice-married, increasingly isolated in the world, criticized for the practices of his state-security intelligence agency (SAVAK) and suffering from cancer, the Shah had turned his country into his “virtual private fiefdom” by the time he was forced into exile in 1979.
A stimulating biography and a thorough examination of the makeup of an entire nation.