A panoramic history of the Iranian people rediscovers their original sources of moral and political strength while dissecting the causes of their cultural decline.
Saney, an Iranian-born academic and lawyer with several titles under his belt, provides a sweeping history of Iran as a “tool to describe the cultural scene.” The first seven of 10 chapters exhaustively describe the arc of Iran’s development, from the rise of the Persian Empire and its ultimate decline through a dizzying succession of dynastic rulers. Not content to merely offer an empirical catalogue of events, Saney mines Iranian history for clues about its essential character, detailing the many accomplishments and contributions proffered to the world. Once a crucible of creative achievement in the region—the Athens of the Middle East—Iran was a center of innovation in architecture, music, literature and science. So what happened? Saney attaches Iran’s general descent to a gradual surrender of its own unique culture after languishing under a train of despotic Arab and Turkish rulers. The painful experience of tyranny broke the Iranian spirit, and the rise of an oppressive Islamic rule substituted a stultifying Muslim order for their indigenous Zoroastrianism. This shifted their cultural focus from “universal benevolence to sectarian prejudice,” “sexual equality to the subordination of women” and, even more fundamentally, from “cheerful vision to mournful existence.” Along the way, Saney also explains the extraordinary influence of Zoroastrianism on Judaism and Christianity; their profound connection may be shocking to readers familiar only with the yawning chasms that divide the religions today. This impressively erudite study is saturated by scholarly detail, which could fatigue the amateur historian; however, it is also rigorous and clear, refreshingly shorn of ideological baggage, and unencumbered by hyperspecialized academic jargon.
A timely, valuable resource for those who want a deeper understanding of a troubled region.