A solid, accessible look at the making of modern Iran.



British novelist and journalist Buchan (The Authentic Adam Smith, 2006, etc.) revisits the Iranian revolution for a clarification of the historical record.

A plethora of recent works on Iraq and Afghanistan have given way to a deluge of interest in Iran and what makes this enigmatic empire tick. Buchan, a former foreign correspondent for the Financial Times, provides a helpful primer about the rise and fall of the Pahlavi state, fleshing out in particular the personalities of the autocratic father, Reza, a “former stable lad” who “crowned himself King of Kings” in 1926, and coddled son, Mohammed Reza, who rose to power in 1941 and was hounded into exile by the revolution in 1979. A country deeply embedded in ancient customs and privileges, Iran had known long-running dynasties of Safavids and Qajars, while the Pahlavis, in comparison, would be a flash in the pan, though they galvanized the country to hasty European-inspired modernity. A political lightweight on the world stage, Mohammed Reza was nonetheless tolerated by the British and Americans after World War II as offering “stability” to their oil interests in the region and left in power after the CIA-engineered coup of 1953. Meanwhile, the brilliant seminary student Ruhollah Khomeini swung into political action, challenging the shah’s reforms and ending up in exile in 1963. The shah grew increasingly isolated from real events, spending lavishly on the buildup of his armed forces, and he was emboldened by the death of his chief rival, Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. Eventually, the revolutionary and religious elements could not be contained by the shah’s forces, and Khomeini became the movement’s spiritual leader. In sprightly prose, Buchan delineates the events that took on a mind of their own and left Iran doomed by its very “intransigence.”

A solid, accessible look at the making of modern Iran.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4165-9777-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2013

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

Did you like this book?

Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.


A master storyteller’s character-driven account of a storied year in the American Revolution.

Against world systems, economic determinist and other external-cause schools of historical thought, McCullough (John Adams, 2001, etc.) has an old-fashioned fondness for the great- (and not-so-great) man tradition, which may not have much explanatory power but almost always yields better-written books. McCullough opens with a courteous nod to the customary villain in the story of American independence, George III, who turns out to be a pleasant and artistically inclined fellow who relied on poor advice; his Westmoreland, for instance, was a British general named Grant who boasted that with 5,000 soldiers he “could march from one end of the American continent to the other.” Other British officers agitated for peace, even as George wondered why Americans would not understand that to be a British subject was to be free by definition. Against these men stood arrayed a rebel army that was, at the least, unimpressive; McCullough observes that New Englanders, for instance, considered washing clothes to be women’s work and so wore filthy clothes until they rotted, with the result that Burgoyne and company had a point in thinking the Continentals a bunch of ragamuffins. The Americans’ military fortunes were none too good for much of 1776, the year of the Declaration; at the slowly unfolding battle for control over New York, George Washington was moved to despair at the sight of sometimes drunk soldiers running from the enemy and of their officers “who, instead of attending to their duty, had stood gazing like bumpkins” at the spectacle. For a man such as Washington, to be a laughingstock was the supreme insult, but the British were driven by other motives than to irritate the general—not least of them reluctance to give up a rich, fertile and beautiful land that, McCullough notes, was providing the world’s highest standard of living in 1776.

Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.

Pub Date: June 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-2671-2

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

Did you like this book?