Iran: A Modern History

Abbas Amanat

Yale University Press 2017
A book review by Danny Yee © 2020
Amanat's is not the shortest history of Iran, but he uses his nine hundred pages to good effect and I wouldn't want it to be any shorter.

His account starts with Isma'il's founding of the Safavid dynasty in 1501, but there is a strong slant to the modern era, with half the book devoted to the two thirds of a century between the establishment of the Pahlavi dynasty in 1925 and Khomeini's death in 1989, where the main narrative stops. A final chapter on "Society and Culture Under the Islamic Republic" extends further, as does the epilogue, but there is enough distance to allow for a genuinely historical perspective. In some ways the entire work could be seen as an attempt to explain the Iranian Revolution, with its full back story — and I came away feeling, for the first time, that I understood not just the immediate events of the Revolution but how it had become possible and how it survived.

More generally, the focus throughout is on political history, on Iran's internal politics and the balance between different sources of power and influence, on its relations with neighbours and outside powers, and on the development of new political ideas and institutions. There is also good coverage of religious history, of the Shi'i clerical establishment, popular religious belief, and the Babi movement and the Bahai'i faith. Amanat gives some feel for geography, and in periods of relative political stability he steps back with chapters on economic and social history; he also offers a decent treatment of art and architecture and literature and music. There are thirty pages of colour illustrations, mostly of art and architecture, and a good number of inline black and white halftones, mostly depicting people and events.

October 2020

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%T Iran: A Modern History
%A Amanat, Abbas
%I Yale University Press
%D 2017
%O paperback, notes, further reading, index, colour illustrations
%G ISBN-13 9780300248937
%P 979pp