Iran: A Modern History by Abbas Amanat

Iran: A Modern History

This history of modern Iran is not a survey in the conventional sense, but an ambitious exploration of the nation that offers a revealing look at how events, people, and institutions are shaped by trends and currents that sometimes reach back hundreds of years. Abbas Amanat covers the dynasties, revolutions, civil wars, foreign occupation, and new Islamic regime of this co...

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Iran: A Modern History Reviews

  • Andréa
  • Stephanie Jane

    See more of my book reviews on my blog,

    Clocking in at a thousand pages, Iran: A Modern History is easy three times as long as books I usually choose so it is with all credit to Abbas Amanat's engaging writing that I happily immersed myself in this history for the best part of a week. I was fascinated to discover the rich history of this ancient nation and, although I have already forgotten many names, I do feel that I have a stronger understanding of Iran's culture and her people

    See more of my book reviews on my blog,

    Clocking in at a thousand pages, Iran: A Modern History is easy three times as long as books I usually choose so it is with all credit to Abbas Amanat's engaging writing that I happily immersed myself in this history for the best part of a week. I was fascinated to discover the rich history of this ancient nation and, although I have already forgotten many names, I do feel that I have a stronger understanding of Iran's culture and her people as a result. I certainly appreciated the differences in not viewing this history through British eyes and, in common with a depressing number of history and historical fiction books I read over the past few years, Britain's actions reveal our government to have been (and still be?) duplicitous, selfish and greedy.

    In common with many (all?) countries, Iran's history is primarily a story of violent men, but I liked that Amanat makes a point of frequently stepping away from war to also show us beauty. Artworks are reproduced in colour and black and white, plus I loved reading poetry and song lyrics, descriptions of theatre and film productions and even seeing a couple of satirical political cartoons. Such artistic creations are important to Iranian culture and their inclusion helped me to have a greater understanding. There are also maps which I think in a printed book would show various warring factions in a seemingly perpetual struggle for territory, however these details aren't reproduced in the ebook format so I was confused by the exact timelines of particular battles.

    I quite expected to read Iran: A Modern History in sections around other books and for reading it to feel like studying or work! Instead I was keen to keep reading and exploring Iranian history. Amanat draws out human stories and individual characters so this book didn't feel dry. I often enjoyed reading for several hours at a time! The 20th century, as Iran swings from one cultural extreme to another, takes a disproportionate number of pages compared to medieval times. Understanding the historic events that led there, albeit in an overview, is very satisfying. Readers do need a certain level of commitment to get the most out of this book I think, however I would recommend it for history buffs and fans of historians such as Simon Schama. A good book for long winter evenings!

  • Joseph

    Iran: A Modern History by Abbas Amanat is a detailed five hundred year history of Iran. Amanat received his B.A. from Tehran University in Social Sciences in 1971 and his D.Phil. from the Faculty of Oriental Studies, Oxford University in 1981. He is a Professor of History and International Studies and Director of the Yale Program in Iranian Studies. Amanat is a historian of Iran and Shia Islam, and the modern Middle East. He specializes in Qajar Iran as well as the history of messianic and apoca

    Iran: A Modern History by Abbas Amanat is a detailed five hundred year history of Iran. Amanat received his B.A. from Tehran University in Social Sciences in 1971 and his D.Phil. from the Faculty of Oriental Studies, Oxford University in 1981. He is a Professor of History and International Studies and Director of the Yale Program in Iranian Studies. Amanat is a historian of Iran and Shia Islam, and the modern Middle East. He specializes in Qajar Iran as well as the history of messianic and apocalyptic movements in the Islamic world.

    For many, Iran became a fixture in American politics 1979 with the revolution and the taking of American hostages by college students. Iran was in the news again with talk of Reagan and the hostage release and later arms for hostages. Today Iran is the news as the US and others work to stop their nuclear weapons development. For those with a sense of history, President Hassan Rouhaniseemed to mimic Woodrow Wilson with his statement that "Death to America" is not directed to American people but to the actions of the American government.

    Iran (or Persia) has a long a history and a deep culture that is detailed in Amanat's book. Culture in arts and life adds greatly to a country's history, changing it from a detailed listing of events and adding a human factor. This is, unfortunately, missing from many histories that are not typically Western. Culture adds to the reader's understanding.

    That being said, the revealing of the history is done with great detail and clarity. Perhaps the best thing about a well-written history is it explains how a country became what it is today. Why is Iran anti- American (government)? Why is Iran so concerned about its security? Are nuclear weapons a power grab or just a deterrent? Why do so many allies of the US have full diplomatic relations with Iran? How can one Muslim state be at odds with nearly all other Muslim states?

    I found the period between World War and World War II the most interesting and, for my part, the most unexpected.  This is the birth of modern Iran and its regional and international struggles.  Here too is where the internal struggle between conservative Islam and Western culture seem to clash and continue to struggle even today.  

    Iran has a rich history that is a struggle.  That history also explains why present-day Iran evolved into what it is.  For many Americans, it seems more like a Cold War situation, a representation of worldwide terrorism.  To Iran, it sees a world ready to exploit any weakness and remembers every betrayal on the world stage.  This is a book that will bring a broader understanding of a country that only preconceptions exist.  The first step in better relations is understanding. Amanat does a tremendous job of educating the reader, even a reader with a background in history. 

  • Tony Gualtieri

    This is a long book that covers a great deal of history, much of it either unfamiliar to me or known through the distorting lens of western propaganda. It reaches back as far as the foundation of the Safavid Empire around 1500 and proceeds logarithmically up to events as recent as the Green Revolution of 2009.

    Miraculously, the author maintains a coherent narrative throughout the text. It’s readable and has just the right amount of information to hold the attention of someone ignorant of even th

    This is a long book that covers a great deal of history, much of it either unfamiliar to me or known through the distorting lens of western propaganda. It reaches back as far as the foundation of the Safavid Empire around 1500 and proceeds logarithmically up to events as recent as the Green Revolution of 2009.

    Miraculously, the author maintains a coherent narrative throughout the text. It’s readable and has just the right amount of information to hold the attention of someone ignorant of even the basics of the material covered.

  • Antonia Dobrinova

    I have always loved history and Persia holds a special place in my heart, so I was very excited to see this book offered on NetGalley. When I initially requested this book, I did not realize that it was some 1000 pages long. I was momentarily intimidated and thought it would take me months to get through it. Most history books tend to be somewhat and tedious to read and I was unsure of what to expect. I needn't have worried, however. Mr. Amanat writes in an engaging style and I was pulled in qui

    I have always loved history and Persia holds a special place in my heart, so I was very excited to see this book offered on NetGalley. When I initially requested this book, I did not realize that it was some 1000 pages long. I was momentarily intimidated and thought it would take me months to get through it. Most history books tend to be somewhat and tedious to read and I was unsure of what to expect. I needn't have worried, however. Mr. Amanat writes in an engaging style and I was pulled in quite easily.

    The book cover 500 hundred years of Persian and modern Iranian history and the author’s knowledge and authority on the subject is apparent throughout. The Persian empire’s history is among the most fascinating in the world. This book does not disappoint. It is detailed and the reader is fortunate to get a comprehensive picture of a complex and intriguing country with rich traditions and a unique culture.

    I would definitely recommend this book to readers interested in history and expanding their knowledge on the region. I will also be buying a copy for my personal library so that I can go back to certain periods and reread them at a slower pace. My 13-year old son is also a history buff and while he may not be ready for this book yet, he will be one day.

    Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing a free copy of the book.

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