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

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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

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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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