A tabloid history, not inappropriately, of the high-risk king of Kings. This meek son of a tyrannical father and a fanatically religious mother had ""the first of his several brushes with death"" when he survived a bout of typhoid at age six--the occasion also of his first vision, which convinced him that he enjoyed divine protection. He learned the meaning of equality at school in Switzerland (a boy who refused to rise for him knocked him down); graduated to women, horses, and cars; married an Egyptian princess who his father thought would steady him, only to resume pursuit of his ""shepherdesses"" (after Louis XV's playmates) when the heirless marriage turned sour; and in 1941 upon the forced abdication of his father suddenly found himself king--a puppet king, if the Allies permitted him to remain. The uphill climb--which accelerated after he dodged an assassin's bullets in '49--is all the more remarkable for the distance covered and the obstacles overcome (in 1953 he was forced out unceremoniously by Mossadegh). No wonder the man's a megalomaniac. The authors do not excuse his excesses; neither do they condemn him. They tell the story as they see it, apparently from first-hand acquaintance with the Shah. The account of Iran's concurrent rise is slapdash too, but candid, and if the prose as translated groans with clichÃ‰s (""Bled white by five years of war, the Persians were already numb with despair""), why cavil? Unlike its subject, the book has no pretensions to greatness.