Useful reading for students of contemporary geopolitics, in which Iran has proven a constant, often destabilizing presence.



Scholarly portrait of a nation that resists easy categorization—and containment.

Less than a year ago, writes Saikal (Political Science, Arab and Islamic Studies/Australian National Univ.; Weak States, Strong Societies: Power and Authority in the New World Order, 2016, etc.), a wave of popular protests swept across Iran, “calling for an end to theocratic rule and costly involvement in regional conflicts,” among other demands. Because the United States immediately jumped in to denounce the government of the country’s moderate—compared to past leaders, at least—president, Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian leadership convincingly charged that the protests were orchestrated from abroad and did not represent the will of the Iranian people. As a result, the theocracy imposed 40 years ago by the Ayatollah Khomeini lives on in a different guise. In studying the contemporary Iranian regime, Saikal observes that American efforts to contain Iran as a regional power have been met with blowback, not least the effect of pushing Iran ever closer to Russia, relations with which “have expanded to include a strong geostrategic dimension,” which is especially pronounced in Syria today. That nation is a point for the projection of power for both nations—and uncomfortably close to areas where American interest is strong. As the author shows, not all is well within Iran’s borders. Its uneven economic development, despite oil wealth, has been the result of numerous missteps in the last four decades, not least a savage war with Iraq that cost Iran at least 500,000 young people who could have contributed to the economy. It did not help when the Holocaust denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power and mismanaged the nuclear issue, which brought substantial Western economic sanctions. Saikal notes that Iran’s future is uncertain for internal reasons, some economic and some political, including the lack of a clear plan of succession for the current government, and the Trump administration’s “gunboat diplomacy," which only raises the odds of war.

Useful reading for students of contemporary geopolitics, in which Iran has proven a constant, often destabilizing presence.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-691-17547-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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