Economist Tehran correspondent De Bellaigue (Rebel Land: Unraveling the Riddle of History in a Turkish Town, 2010, etc.) uses plenty of local insight to provide general readers with an intriguing combination of biography, history and strategic study.
Muhammad Mossadegh's influence still lives in the imagination of Iranians. His family estate is a place of pilgrimage, even while the Ayatollahs denounce him as a British agent. The author dissolves the black and white of this posturing into more ambiguous grays, portraying Mossadegh as a constitutionalist attempting to combine the movements of democrats and the Islamic faithful who, known for nationalizing the country's oil, also introduced wide-ranging reforms of property ownership, education and women's rights, many of which were later repealed. Months before the 1953 coup, Mossadegh failed to recognize the agreement offered to him. De Bellaigue portrays the young Shah as a fearful, vacillating leader who frequently undercut his own supporters, thereby providing opportunities to opponents like Mossadegh. The author also examines the profound rift between America and Britain, with the latter, particularly under Churchill, stubbornly reluctant to make concessions on oil even as its position was undermined by American profit-sharing agreements with other producers. Ultimately, Cold War politics brought the two countries together. De Bellaigue's history brings together elements of miscomprehension, accident, chance, surprise, mistaken loyalties and revenge-driven shifts in political alliances. In exploring the story of Mossadegh and his family, the author also shows how Iran, because of its oil, became a pawn in the Anglo-Russian rivalry.
A pleasing combination of intriguing local color and cultural and historical depth.