A sympathetic account of the imperial couple of the Peacock Throne portrayed as so blindly benevolent that they did not see the Iranian Revolution coming.
Cooper (The Oil Kings: How the U.S., Iran, and Saudi Arabia Changed the Balance of Power in the Middle East, 2011), an American scholar of Iranian history, presents the drama of the Pahlavi dynasty in nearly tender terms, and the last shah, Mohammad Reza (1919-1980), as a sentimental yet savvy ruler who desired the well-being of his Persian empire above all. Inheriting the enormous task of modernizing his impoverished, largely illiterate people after the rule of his father, Reza Shah, the formidable general who abdicated in favor of his son in 1941, the young shah had to juggle the interests of the colonial powers intent on the country’s oil wealth and foil the pointed criticism that he was their lackey. Indeed, his temporary forced exile during the CIA–backed coup of his political nemesis Mohammad Mossadeq in August 1953 would come to haunt him in the tensions leading up to the revolutionary instability of 1978. Cooper concentrates on the fraught years of the 1970s, when the shah, then in his 50s and soon to be diagnosed with incurable lymphoma, was able to engineer the “oil shock” of 1973, flooding the country with vast wealth and allowing him and his elegant wife to pursue pet projects in engineering, literacy, health care, women’s rights, art, and culture. The author delves intimately into the life of the leader who believed firmly in the separation of church and state and who seemed stern and humorless to the public yet was a devoted father of five children and had no patience for the imams dragging their feet on reforms. Cooper addresses many of what he believes are misconceptions of the regime, such as the grossly inflated numbers of those imprisoned and executed by the shah’s notorious secret police as well as the shah’s consent to the use of force on demonstrators.
A thorough new appraisal of an enigmatic ruler who died believing his people still loved him.