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A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind" by Michael Axworthy.
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DESCRIPTION:  Oversized softcover.  Publisher: Basic Books (2008).  Pages: 352.  Size:  9¼ x 6¼ x 1 inch; 1¼ pounds. Iran is a land of contradictions. It is an Islamic republic, but one in which only 1.4 percent of the population attend Friday prayers. Iran’s religious culture encompasses the most censorious and dogmatic Shi’a Muslim clerics in the world, and yet its poetry insistently dwells on the joys of life-wine, beauty, sex. Iranian women are subject to one of the most restrictive dress codes in the Islamic world, but make up nearly 60 percent of the university student population. In “A History of Iran”, a leading expert on Iran chronicles the rich history of this complex nation from the Achaemenid Empire of sixth century B.C. to the present-day Islamic Republic. In accessible prose, Michael Axworthy explains the military, political, religious, and cultural forces that have shaped one of the oldest continuing civilizations in the world. Concluding with an assessment of the immense changes the nation has undergone since the revolution in 1979, “A History of Iran” offers general readers an essential point of entry into a troubled region.  
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PUBLISHER REVIEWS: 
REVIEW:  From the time of the prophet Zoroaster, to the powerful ancient Persian Empires, to the revolution of 1979, the hostage crisis and current president Mahmud Ahmadinejad – a controversial figure within as well as outside the country – Michael Axworthy traces a vivid, integrated account of Iran’s past. He explains clearly and carefully both the complex succession of dynasties that ruled ancient Iran and the surprising ethnic diversity of the modern country, held together by a common culture.  With Iran again the focus of the world’s attention, and questions about the country’s disposition and intentions pressing, “Iran: Empire of the Mind” is an essential guide to understanding a complicated land.
REVIEW:  A comprehensive history of Iran, from the glories of the Persian Empire to the Islamic Republic’s newly powerful-and much vilified-role in the Middle East
REVIEW:  A leading expert chronicles the rich history of this complex nation, offering general readers an essential point of entry into a troubled region.
REVIEW:  Michael Axworthy is Honorary Fellow at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter in England. From 1986 to 2000, he served as a British Foreign Service officer; from 1998 to 2000 he was the Head of Iran Section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The author of “The Sword of Persia”, a biography of the Persian monarch Nadir Shah, Axworthy publishes widely in the field of Iranian history. He lives in Bude, England.
REVIEW:  TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Preface.
Acknowledgements.
Origins: Zoroaster, the Achaemenids, and the Greeks.
The Iranian revival: Parthians and Sassanids.
Islam and Invasions: The Arabs, Turks and Mongols: The Iranian Reconquest of Islam, the Sufis, and the Poets.
Shiʻism and the Safavids.
The Fall of the Safavids, Nader Shah, the Eighteenth-Century Interregnum, and the Early Years of the Qajar Dynasty.
The Crisis of the Qajar Monarchy, the Revolution of 1905-1911, and the Accession of the Pahlavi Dynasty.
The Pahlavis and the Revolution of 1979.
Iran since the Revolution: Islamic Revival, War, and Confrontation From Khatami to Ahmadinejad, and the Iranian Predicament.
PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS: 
REVIEW:  After the Islamic Revolution of 1979, a large number of Iranians joined the ranks of expatriates living in Europe and the United States. Suddenly uprooted and finding themselves in unfamiliar surroundings, some of them tried to redefine what it meant to be Persian or “Iran-ness.” This began as an effort to distance Iran from the images spread by television coverage of the hostage crisis. Iran-ness appears often in writing published outside of Iran to distinguish between the modern Shiite theocracy and the tradition of religious tolerance and cultural pluralism of ancient empires. The quest for a durable Persian-ness is also manifest in the modern state where it is fashionable for young people--many of them Muslim--to wear as a pendant the faravahar, the Zoroastrian religious symbol found on Achaemenid monuments and inscriptions.
Michael Axworthy’s book offers a broad understanding of Iranian-ness. Its subtitle comes from Winston Churchill (quoted on page 283), who said that future (post-1943) empires would be mental rather than physical constructs. Axworthy seeks to define the idea of Iran from its very inception to--as part of the title of the last chapter puts it--“Ahmadinejad and the Iranian Predicament.” Many elements of Axworthy’s definition mirror the expatriate intellectual search for an Iran that differs from the contemporary state. Almost all of his work is devoted, therefore, to dynastic history, invasions by non-Iranians, discussions of Iranian religious exceptionalism (Zoroastrianism and Shiism), and appeals to Persian language and literature. In this way the author follows in the footsteps of veteran Western Iranists, like C. Edmund Bosworth, who speaks of “Persia's peculiar national genius."
Axworthy’s history is a familiar catalogue of emperors from the pre-Islamic period and of Turkic rulers who rose to power after the Arab invasion. His book resembles the many Persian surveys called “compendia of histories” (javame’ al-tavarikh), a genre that had become so conventional that, by the early nineteenth century, Mohammad Hashem Asaf could parody it in his Rostam al-Tavarikh or “The Hercules of histories” (edited by Mohammad Moshiri [1973]). Writers of collective history often shaped their works to meet the ideological needs of their patrons (usually rulers or court functionaries). As Reza Bigdeloo points out in Bashangara’I dar tarikh-e mo’aser-e iran (2001)
Archaism in the contemporary history of Iran), the tendency to downplay the role of Islam in Iranian history and to emphasize ancient kingship and empire was particularly apparent during the Pahlavi era (1925-79).
The new dynasty, which comprised only two shahs, Reza and his son Mohammad Reza, recalibrated the Iranian calendar so that it went back 2,500 hundred years. To his credit in retelling what he calls the “violence and drama” of Iranian history, Axworthy plots a middle course (p. xi). He rejects simple explanations for such pivotal events as the 1941 removal of the first Pahlavi monarch, and puts part of the blame for the fall of Mosaddeq and the restoration of the Pahlavis on the prime minister’s broad shoulders. Axworthy also does not paint the results of the 1979 Revolution with one brush. A History of Iran might not be popular in some expatriate circles because it acknowledges that the rural and urban poor benefited from development efforts carried out under the Islamic Republic.
Literature is a defining trait of Axworthy’s view of Iran-ness. His survey begins with epigraphy and ends with ideological and theological works that influenced the Iranian Revolution. He lets the inscriptions left by the Achaemenids speak for their cosmopolitan approach to empire; Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh for the revival of Persian culture that occurred two centuries after the Arab invasion; Omar Khayyam’s quatrains for Persian rationalism; and Sadeq Hedayat’s essays, short stories, and plays for the anti-Arab nationalism that became popular in the twentieth century. Occasionally Axworthy tries to set the literary record straight by showing what gets lost in English translations of classical Persian literature (for example, Khayyam on page 91 and Jalal al-Din Rumi on page 116). He also points to a Persianate culture that, from the sixteenth to the early nineteenth centuries, extended beyond the boundaries of modern Iran to India and Turkey.
Axworthy’s is a work of history that looks forward when speaking of the past. He quotes a poem attributed to the thirteenth-century philosopher Naser al-Din Tusi, that says “anyone who does not know that he does not know is stuck for ever in double ignorance,” and he notes that it “anticipat[es] Donald Rumsfeld by perhaps seven centuries” (p. xi). His discussion of Rumi, a contemporary of Tusi, laments that the great mystic has been “befriended by numb-brained New Agery” (p. 116). The last chapter of the book, “From Khatami to Ahmadinejad and the Iranian Predicament,” looks forward to the possibility of a rapprochement between the West (principally the United States) and Iran.
In this chapter, Axworthy contrasts the historical Iran with its “diverse and profound intellectual heritage” and its “ancient and important Jewish presence” to the modern state, an aberration from the empire of the mind that can host Holocaust doubters (p. 290). So, more than a history of Iran, Axworthy’s book is an argument against the use of force in solving the Iranian problem. When Western states take into consideration the facts and ideas he has marshaled in his history, they will bring a needed awareness of the tradition of Iranian reason and tolerance to future diplomacy. [Paul Sprachman, Rutgers University].
REVIEW:  For several years, Iran has been at the center of international attention because of its suppression of individual rights, strict censorship policies, continuous attempts to enrich uranium, and 2009 elections resulting in mass protests, arrests, and even the murder of several protesters. This current Iranian reality, however, overshadows the glorious Iranian civilization whose origins date back almost three millennia. "A History of Iran", one of several recent books that aim to draw back the gloomy curtain of recent events, aims to increase the general reader's awareness of the richness and uniqueness of the Iranian heritage.
Michael Axworthy, a former British Foreign Service officer and a lecturer in Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter, covers an enormous span of time, from the earliest times up to the present day, in a clear, easy-to-read, and detailed but not cluttered narrative. In doing so, he also emphasizes the role of Iran as a source of influence in the Middle East, Asia, and even Europe. The book's subtitle, Empire of the Mind, refers to the fact that even though Iran has endured multiple invasions by either men or ideas, and was thus never a tightly unified or a culturally or religiously homogeneous society, these invaders have somehow been assimilated without destroying Iran's cultural and political continuity.
Axworthy begins his book with general information, including Iran's geographical position, its demographic structure, its weather, and the origin of the word "Persian," which comes from Fars province in southwestern Iran, home to Iran's most ancient archaeological sites, Persepolis and Pasargadae.
He also mentions that the word "Iran" or "Iranian" derives from the word
Aryan," Sanskrit for "noble").
After this section, Axworthy discusses the first Persian Empire, the Achaemenids (550BC-330BC), founded by Cyrus, extended by his conquering descendants, and brought to an end by Alexander the Great. The author, at this point, argues that Alexander's conquest of the Persian Empire did not result in the empire's "hellenization;" on the contrary, Persian culture and traditions, including religion, profoundly shaped Rome's and later Byzantium's imperial conduct. In the following chapters, Axworthy discusses the succeeding Persian dynasties, the Parthians (247BC-224AD) and the Sassanids (224AD-651AD). Pre-Islamic empires, however, take up only one-fifth of the book; Axworthy's coverage of them feels like a rapid run-through. Instead of discussing what made these empires powerful or weak, Axworthy prefers to mention little more than names and dates.
The bulk of the book deals with the Islamic era in Iran. The Islamization of Persia, the Arab, Turkmen, and Mongol invasions, and the consequences of all of these are the main topics of the following two chapters. Here, even though author traces the stories of the various rulers of Iran down the centuries, he also pays close attention to other aspects of Iranian society, focusing especially on poetry as a defining trait. A relatively long chapter on Persian poetry gives insights into Iranian attitudes and spiritual leanings.  Axworthy meticulously describes the stories behind selected Iranian poems and the symbolic use of words.
Succeeding chapters swiftly summarize the Safavid Empire (1501-1722) and its fall at the hands of Afghan invaders, the chaotic years between 1720 and 1794, and the Qajar dynasty (1794-1925). Axworthy devotes attention to the wealth, productivity, and commercial potential of Iran, which enabled great rulers such as the Safavid shah Abbas I (1588 -1629) to develop and rule a culturally and materially rich empire. He also underlines the fact that Persia's wealth attracted Ottoman, Afghan, British, and Russian attacks throughout these decades. Axworthy offers an evenhanded discussion of the British and Russian competition for geopolitical influence in Iran, beginning in the late 18th century.
Axworthy's final chapters cover the 1906 constitutional revolution, attempts to create a constitutional monarchy, the beginning of the Pahlavi dynasty in 1925, the influence of oil in Iran's foreign and domestic policies, British and Russian interests in the country, invasions of Persian territory during World War II, and the United States' growing role after World War II.
The Islamic revolution of 1979 looms large in this discussion. Axworthy's coverage of Iran just before the revolution is fair but pointed; he emphasizes the last shah's undemocratic policies, SAVAK's (National Intelligence and Security Organization) routine use of torture, and an opposition movement against the regime that included different groups such as liberals, socialists, students, and religious scholars.
Axworthy also stresses religious exceptionalism and continuity in Iran over the centuries. Between Zoroastrianism, one of the earliest forms of monotheism accepted by the Iranians as a state religion, and Islam, he finds several parallels, such as the concepts of hell and heaven and the belief in the human being's ability to choose between good and evil. After Zorastrianism, the author discusses Shia Islam as another sign of Iran's religious exceptionalism. For the reader who is not familiar with the division between Sunni and Shia Islam, Axworthy points out similarities between Islamic and Christian sectarian divisions, such as the resemblances between the Ashura commemorations in Iran and traditional Good Friday processions in many Catholic countries.
The position of women is another issue that Axworthy explores in his book. He highlights the fact that in classical Persian culture, women were well-respected and had the same rights as men, such as owning property, operating businesses, and choosing spouses. He convincingly argues that women's position in modern Iran is "more egalitarian or less suppressed" than in many other Islamic countries. He cites the attention-grabbing statistic that sixty-six percent of university students in Iran today are female.
In his last chapter, Axworthy casts off the mantle of the historian and writes like a political columnist, touching upon recent social and political issues concerning Iran and underlining the possibility of a rapprochement between the West and Iran. He stresses the wrong-headedness of using military force to solve the Iranian "problem." He notes the negative and positive aspects of Iranian and Western policies and lectures the American and Israeli governments on the importance of understanding Iran and having good relationships with it. He thinks that the West (mainly the United States) has been unfair towards Iran over the last several decades: "The present government of Iran is far from perfect, but there are other governments in the Middle East that are as bad or worse -on democracy or human rights- whom we have few scruples about describing as close allies".
Axworthy also conveys some of the underappreciated or misunderstood aspects of Iranian society that have contributed to Westerners' negative opinion of Iran. For instance, Iran expressed its sorrow after the September 11 attacks, and many Iranians sympathized with America. Axworthy also mentions that the Iranian government supported the military operations against the Taliban in Afghanistan led by the United States. In this context, the author openly criticizes the Bush administration for neglecting these facts.
Even though Axworthy's book offers a compelling overview of Iranian history, it does not go into much depth. This is understandable considering the lengthy period that the author covers in only 300 pages. For instance, the U.S. hostage crisis of 1979-80, the Iran-Contra Affair during Ronald Reagan's presidency, and the roles of the Council of Experts and Council of Guardians are either not mentioned or glossed over. In his comprehensive book, Axworthy uses simple, personalized language, rather than a scholarly tone, to deal with a three thousand-year-old, very complex civilization. This feature will make his survey accessible to a general audience with little or no prior knowledge of Iran. [Ohio State University].
REVIEW:  Iran has for several decades projected a dismal image—repression of political and human rights; crippling censorship in the press, literature, the arts, and self-expression; the ideological distortion of education; and the increasing burden of economic hardship. Sadly, this current Iranian reality heavily overshadows the great and glorious civilization that we associate with an older “Persia” (in 1935, Reza Shah decreed the name change to Iran). For most of us, that civilization is shrouded in a golden haze: Persepolis, the Peacock Throne, and Omar Khayyam come to mind, a Cyrus, Darius or Xerxes
perhaps more than one of each) are only just remembered. But help is at hand. In "A History of Iran", Michael Axworthy, a lecturer in Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter, UK, provides a clear, swift-moving narrative, detailed but not cluttered, that takes the reader briskly down the highway (and more significant byways) of two and a half millennia of Persian history.
Axworthy’s subtitle—"An Empire of the Mind"—is important. He demonstrates that Persia, and particularly ancient and medieval Persia, was never a rigidly unified or culturally or religiously homogeneous state. Zoroastrianism made Persians acutely aware of good and evil in contention, while the empire of the Achaemenid dynasty (559-330 BC), extending from Bactria to beyond Egypt and uneasily rubbing shoulders with unconquered mainland Greece, introduced the goods and thought of half the world. The author argues that Alexander’s conquest of the empire did not permanently “hellenize” Persia; Persian influences, in fact, were to shape Rome and Byzantium’s imperial conduct. If Rome’s centuries of war with Persia of the home-grown Arsacid dynasty (247 BC-AD 224) intermittently rewarded the West with a larger share trade goods of Asia, it also brought in Mithraism—a religion that was to pervade the empire, including its outposts along Hadrian’s Wall in northern England.
For many readers Axworthy will be tracing less familiar history in his accounts of the Arab, Turk, and Mongol invasions of Persia. Among much else, the Arab conquest (followed by the Sunni-Shia rift and the permanent ascendancy of the latter in Persia) created a crucible out of which unrivaled Persian poetry was born, including Ferdowsi’s magnificent Shahnameh, recalling the glories of pre-Islamic Persia, and that of the ever-popular Omar Khayyam. Islamic Persia was home to al-Kindi and al-Ferabi, translators of Aristotle and Plato, and ibn-Sina and many scholar—authors whose work advanced medieval medicine and science. The horrors of the Mongol conquest did not extinguish creativity: Rumi, Iraqi, Sa’di, and Hafez wrote universally admired works. Axworthy’s analyses of the key elements in the outlook and expression of this diverse quartet will add to our appreciation of their enduring poetry. Given the state of the world, such lines as Hafez’s “Tumult and bloody battle rage in the plain: / Bring blood-red wine, and fill the cup again” are indeed timely.
Few would claim that Persia has enjoyed stability or tranquility; accession to the Peacock throne and dynastic change was often violent and the Shia form of Islam was no stranger to internal dissension, to Sunni threats, or to the intermittent persecution of other faiths. Yet the heterogeneous nation’s wealth, productivity, and trade (Persia straddled the Silk Route) enabled great rulers such as Abbas (1571-1629) to develop and rule a culturally and materially rich state, hence its interest to French, British, and other merchants. Persia’s wealth also served to attract Afghan and Ottoman invaders, particularly in the troubled eighteenth century. Axworthy recounts events con brio, particularly the spectacular career of Nader Shah (1736-41), who won the throne and extensive territories beyond Persia. In the 1790s the civil war/ruthless victor theme replayed under Aga Mohammed—and long continued, though the glory seems to have ended with Shah Reza Pahlevi and the glamour with Farah Diba. The author’s brisk retelling of contemporary Iran’s recent history clearly depicts the Revolution, its belligerent politics, burdensome religiosity, and the nuclear threat. He ends on a cautiously optimistic note: current Iranian films may hint at a more open society.
Particularly telling throughout this fine book is Axworthy’s exploration of the intellectual and religious aspects of Persian life, in which Allah and the perfection of man have long been a concern. We share the passions and the poetry of a great culture that despite war and cruelty never lost its refinement, its concepts of beauty, and of truth. Readers are likely share this reviewer’s sense that a fragmentary knowledge of Persian history suddenly, with the author’s engaging help, approaches a rounded picture—one well worth enlarging. It is hard to imagine a better treatment of Persia within a single volume than this. [Peter Skinner, Foreward Reviews].
REVIEW:  Sweeping, sensitive and evenhanded overview of the ancient nation, from the days of the prophet Zoroaster to those of the Islamic Republic. Former British foreign-service officer and Iranian historian Axworthy ("The Sword of Persia: Nader Shah, from Tribal Warrior to Conquering Tyrant", 2006) covers an enormous amount of material in elegant, upbeat fashion. Aware of the country's accomplishments without being blind to its failings, he emphasizes Iran's diversity, noting that nearly half the population is made up of ethnic Azeris, Kurds, Gilakis, Buluchis and Turkmen, and that its native tongue, Farsi, is the sole Indo-European language in the Arab-speaking Middle East.
Called Persia until the Reza Shah promoted an official name change in 1935, the nation formed its identity from nomadic migrations imbued with the spirit of Zoroastrianism. This early form of monotheism offered a new concept of heaven and hell, and of the free human choice between good and evil, that exerted a huge influence on later religions, Axworthy asserts. In the sixth century BCE, tribes coalesced around the first royal house, founded by Cyrus and extended by his conquering descendants, Darius et al. The empire's magnificent capital, Persepolis, was burned by the victorious Alexander the Great in 330 BCE.
Successive dynasties jockeyed for power and battled with the Roman Empire, while Persian poets created such heroic works as Ferdowsi's Shahnameh ("The Epic of Kings"), as significant to Iranian culture as Shakespeare is to the West. Islamic incursion occurred gradually, and Axworthy cogently dissects the Sunni/Shi'a schism that roils Islam today. His wide-ranging, in-depth knowledge of the Middle East enriches hisanalysis of the Pahlavi dynasty and the revolution of 1979. "The deeper, reflective, humane Iran is still there beneath the threatening media headlines," he opines, and its citizens are gearing up for a more significant role in the world community. Axworthy's reasoned survey will be especially helpful to lay readers and students of Arab history. [Kirkus Reviews].
REVIEW:  A revolution breaks out in Iran, led by "a cleric asserting religious orthodoxy...and drawing support from economic grievances". This, however, was in 52BC. Soon Darius, the Persian "king of kings", quashed the revolt. Over 2,500 years, the grand sweep of Iranian history shows continuity as well as rupture.
Locals always grasp that this epic past informs the present, while it eludes Western observers. At this time above all, we need a deeply informed, engagingly written history of the nation from Cyrus to Khomeini and beyond. Axworthy does the job with balance and aplomb. Readers who fear that they may shrink in confusion will warm to his human-scale portrait of a self-renewing culture that, as with its world-beating cinema today, shows "enduring greatness" and "creative power". [The Independent (UK)].
REVIEW:  Axworthy combines his very impressive academic credentials (Arab and Islamic studies, Univ. of Exeter) and his many years of diplomatic experience in the British Foreign Service (and the Head of the Iran Section) to guide readers through the dramatic history of the Iranian nation--tragic and brutal at times and often heroic. His analysis of events, particularly since the beginning of the rule of the Qajar dynasty (at the end of the 18th century) to the present time, is refreshingly informative and objective. This is what distinguishes this study from most others. There has been, unfortunately, little unbiased and solidly scholarly coverage of the history of Iran in modern times. Axworthy's portrayals of and commentaries on the rule of the Pahlavi Shahs and the leaders of the Islamic Republic that followed are superb. This remarkable work should be on the reading list of any serious student of Iranian history and culture. Summing Up: Essential. All levels/libraries. [N. Rassekh Lewis and Clark College].REVIEW:  The peoples of the Iranian plateau have a written history of at least 2,500 years. The Persian Empire extended from Egypt to northern India, and the influence of the Persian language, literature, and architectural styles is still evident across western and central Asia. Unfortunately, most Americans view Iran today through the prism of staged anti-American demonstrations and the rantings of their current president. Axworthy, Honorary Fellow at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter in England, has provided a valuable counterpoint to those distorted impressions. He has written a compact but still inclusive narrative account that conveys both the diversity and richness of the various empires and cultural forces that have shaped the Iranian people. He offers fascinating insights into the political developments in the Achaemenid, Parthian, and Sassanid empires, and his efforts to illustrate how Iranians adopted Islam while resisting the “Arabization” of their culture is provocative. This is an excellent examination of the forging of a people who are poised to, once again, play a prominent role in world affairs. [Booklist].
REVIEW:   Fitting three millennia of history into just under 300 pages - and making them readable - would be an impressive feat even with a less sprawling topic than Iran's past. So Michael Axworthy's deft untangling of the country's history, from the advent of Zoroastrianism to the 1979 revolution, is a stunning achievement. With nods to the country's artistic heritage as well as its volatile political history, Axworthy repeatedly asserts that 'the best of Iranian genius' lies in the tolerance towards a broad range of cultures, while maintaining a 'strong central principle of identity'. So it's unsurprising that his assessment of the present regime is stinging. Cheeringly, however, his predictions for the country's future are cautiously positive. [The Guardian
UK)].    
REVIEW:  Michael Axworthy's deft untangling of the country's history, from the advent of Zoroastrianism to the 1979 revolution, is a stunning achievement.
The Observer (UK)].
REVIEW:  Inviting us to look beyond the menacing bluster of the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Axworthy celebrates Iran's rich history of tolerance and creative expression. [Chronicle of Higher Education].
REVIEW:  An engrossing, powerfully argued, and elegantly written history of a country which finds itself once again at the center of international affairs.
Justin Marozzi, author of “Tamerlane: Sword of Islam, Conqueror of the World”].
REVIEW:  The best available single-volume introduction to Iran's history. [New Statesman].
READER REVIEWS: 
REVIEW:  Michael Axworthy's excellent 2008 "A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind" covers 3,000 years of Iranian history in less than 300 pages. His approach is sensitive and generally even-handed, reflecting an interest in Iran that in places borders on reverence. The result is a nuanced narrative accessible to the general reader and the student of Iranian affairs. The sub-title, "Empire of the Mind", conveys the central narrative theme that modern Iran is a product of multiple invasions, whether of men or ideas, that have somehow been assimilated without obliterating Iran's cultural and political continuity. Its many contradictions are the product of a civilization founded by Aryan immigrants from central Asia, that was overrun by Greek, Roman, Arab and other armies, and is now the principal home of the Shia varient of Islam.
Axworthy traces the impact of the various ruling dynasties, but he also pays close attention to the finer aspects of its culture, especially its poetry. Of most interest to this reviewer was his description of the current government, with its interwoven secular and religious strands. Axworthy, a former foreign service officer, tries to be evenhanded about the nature of the current regime. The corruption and repression revealed by the June 2009 presidential elections reinforces his idea of a regime both brutal and divided. His handling of the ongoing nuclear crisis is less sure; Axworthy probably undersells both Iran's diplomatic stonewalling and its interest in nuclear weapons. "A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind" is highly recommended as a concise introduction to the country and its idea of its place in the world.
REVIEW:   This is an excellent exposition of Iranian history surveying the nation's history through the age of empire from the times of Cyrus the Great to the present government led by the Islamic Republic. One of the first things that will surprise you about this book is how extensive but yet quickly you will be able to move through the time periods of Persian history. The book starts by describing Persia from the first true Persian Dynasty, the Achaemenid dynasty, followed by the Seleucid, Parthian, Sassanid, Umayyad, Abassid, Saffavid, Qajar, and Phavali dynasties. The chapters are linked together by stories and important historical developments in each era and transistions smoothly by describing the fall and the rise of the subsequent powers.
In addition, the author dedicated an extensive chapter to the accomplishment of Persian poets including works of Rumi, Saadi, Hafez, and Iraqi. It is most interesting to understand the role of poetry and its development in Persian history. The symbolism of the poetic works corresponds to subjects such as love, power, war, and life. So if you are someone who wants to thumb through a well composed survey of Iran's history, culture, and people this book is definitely the right one for you. It is always breathtaking to see how civilizations can influence each other in the most subtle manner and thus have profound effects just as how people may influence each other.
REVIEW:  This short history covers over three thousand years of history of the Iranian people, and other groups that now inhabit the modern nation of Iran. Naturally, that means it is extremely short on detail. But for the reader who only wants an overview, or an introduction before a more serious study, I recommend this book. Axworthy spreads his focus evenly throughout the various phases of history (as opposed to breezing quickly through ancient empires to get us to the present). I agree with his decision to do so. Many Iranians have a sense of history that makes it necessary to have at least a passing understanding of Iran's pre-Islamic heritage in order to understand modern attitudes.
I also believe that pre- and early-Islamic history are interesting in their own right. But for readers who are mainly interested in the modern world, this might not be the best book; Axworthy doesn't start discussing the Pahlavi period until page 221, and spends about 65 pages on the last 100 years. Regardless, the book is very well written overall. It is accessible to the casual reader. The several maps help create a coherent picture of the ever-shifting historical boundaries. I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Iran who has little or no background in the country. I also recommend following this book up with something more detailed.
REVIEW:  This book can be considered a starting point for any newcomer to Iranian history. It is, without a doubt, a major contribution to the popular history genre. While Iran/Persia is one of the great empires, Axworthy implies that it is also an empire of the mind, a virtual empire that transcends the western concept of the geopolitical state. The book follows Iran's chronological history from pre-Achaemenid times to the present. It is well researched and has extensive footnotes and references allowing the reader to delve into details of any event or subject. Yet, it is eminently readable and has the tone of a lively and informative lecture rather than an erudite tome.
The book binds all the varied elements of Iranian culture (a multi-lingual, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religion mélange of peoples) into a single story line. It provides a factual, but simplified, picture of a multiplicity of societies who consider themselves Iranian regardless of the proclivity of their present governments. The reader is forced to re-evaluate the common notions of Iran as a homogeneous entity and recognize it as a hodgepodge of different groups who are bound by a common belief in the uniqueness of their civilization, culture and history.
Perhaps the greatest contribution of the book is the portrayal of Iranian minorities. It is no small feat to trace their histories in the Iranian context. Yet, as Axworthy implies, it is their historical contributions and continued existence that make Iranian culture unique. It would be a sad day if any government forced uniformity on such a great and diverse culture.  Overall the book is accurate, immensely readable and truly major contribution to Iranian history.
REVIEW:  A plethora of recent books chronicle recent Iranian history (with a particular focus on 1953-today). This book discusses that period, but it does a lot more. The vast majority of the book deals with ancient Iranian history - including tales of epic Persian leaders (Xerxes, Darius) and the wars that shaped Iranian history (fighting against the Greeks, Romans, Arab Muslims, Afghans, Russians, and the British). If you want to know about ancient Iran, this is your book. It's very easy to read for a "history" book.
That said, if you are looking for real detail on more recent events, such as the 1953 Mossadeq coup, the 1979 Revolution, or today's affairs, I'd look elsewhere (Persian Puzzle is really good at narrating the recent events, as are focused books such as "All the Shah's Men" and "Ahmadinejad."  Having read a lot about recent Iranian history, I enjoyed the voyage into ancient history - but know the predominantly ancient focus before buying.
The author's style is easy to follow and enjoyable. He even tells a few jokes. The book is generally even-handed, though he did seem to soft-pedal British mistakes in the region (understandable given his nationality).  Overall, this is a great book and a must-read for someone interested in ancient Iranian history and the events/people that shaped a country sure to be in the news for a while.
REVIEW:  I've been meaning to learn more about Iran, its history, and its sense of identity for several years now (certainly ever since I first read
Persian Fire" by Tom Holland nearly a decade ago), and this book serves as an excellent starter to anyone who wishes for a general overview of the various historical, religious, philosophical, and literary strands that shape the modern Islamic Republic. Right off the bat, I appreciate Axworthy's clarification on the confusion of "Iran vs. Persia". It's Iran. End of. They've been calling themselves Iranians for the last 3,000 years. You can thank the Greeks for the mix-up.
I must admit there were passages that required a second reading in order to fully grasp the concepts that the author was highlighting. However, I think this is owed more to my unfamiliarity with such topics as Shi'a clerical hierarchy and abstract multifaceted poetical metaphors. In the final chapters, Axworthy does his best maintain a balanced narrative surrounding the events of
79 and the ensuing geopolitical fallout, while also rooting that narrative firmly in an Iranian perspective and context. His hopeful closing thoughts have certainly done much to encourage my dreams of one day visiting this historic land.
REVIEW:  I have read a fairly large number of books about Iranian history, including several overviews of that country's history, and I think this one is reasonably well-done. Iran has a very long history. Prof. Axworthy is correct to point out the ambiguities in defining "Iran," since we can speak of a Greater Iran that has, at times, included Mughul India, much of the Caucasus, Central Asia, and even parts of Ancient Greece. Conversely, influences from the Arab world and North America have flowed into Iran.
An important concern for Prof. Axworthy is introducing Iran as a cultural entity, which requires attention to the 1200 years before Qadisiyyah, plus a brief description of Zoroastrianism. This is a pretty easy decision to defend, since Zoroastrianism does cast a long shadow over the history of Iran (and the Western world, too). However, translating the ultra-condensed textbook account of the period 576 BCE-636 CE into any sort of shadow is a big challenge. Axworthy handles this tolerably well, and I highly recommend his book.
REVIEW:  Michael Axworthy has indeed done his homework and produced a diligent, authoritative documentation of the history of Iran, touching on the many people who live there, the many times and tribes of conquest and tribulation, and presents the minutae that almost day by day has characterized the government, and the people's response, since the 1979 Islamic revolution. He is often naive, however, more the reporter than the political analyst, but he lays out the overall facts and we have to take it from there. He delves hardly at all into political skulduggery and seems to take events at face value. One thing is evident: Mr. Axworthy loves Iran, as well he might, an extraordinary country with a gorgeous culture and enchanting people (especially the women, who are so noble and hospitable), so vast and diverse in tradition, landscape and regional heritage it's amazing it was ever integrated as a nation under s single central leadership. Overall, the book is a worthy addition to my library on the region, not so much "the Middle East" as the modern incarnation of the ancient Near East.
REVIEW:  I bought this book in order to try to understand the present Iran, old Persia. Somehow, it only gave me partial answers why such a multiple rich country -- in previous empire (2300 years ago), civilization, knowledge, strategic power and staunch racial and historical independence from Arabs -- could nowadays be so mentally blinded by Islamic-fascism to the point of persecuting Christian and Jewish communities that so much contributed to the diversity wisdom and independence of old Persia.
I personally think, strengthened by book contents, that without Persians the political and commercial pseudo-theocracy of Islamic-fascism could never have evolved beyond the 8th century. Persians had then the know how and the organization that enabled the then Arab expansion and domination of the Middle East, when Europe was being invaded by the Alans, Suevs, Gods, etc that came in hordes from the Eurasian plateau. The text easy to read and absorb. Very good quality of pictures. Overall a very good book, recommendable for anyone that enjoys History without fanaticisms or sectarianism.
REVIEW:  I thought this is going to be another typical book on history of Iran when I picked it up but I admit I was wrong. This book is fair, evenhanded and factual in dealing with the history of Iran. It's very brief and concise and in that context, Mr. Axworthy has done a good job explaining in simple language the history of a very complicated nation. It has little or no political agenda. It credits Iran/Persia with things it has done and more importantly it sheds light on some unknown and un-touched corners of the modern Iranian history such as the 1953 coup against PM Mossadegh and the ascend of Reza Shah the great to power in early 20th century. I'd recommend this book to the students of Middle-Eastern history and those interested in knowing more about Iran.
REVIEW:  A nice, easy to read, sweeping narrative of the History of Iran from ancient history to the present. Covers most if not all major events of the history of Iran , with dates, names of rulers etc., typical of what you would find in a good introduction. I especially enjoyed the sections on poetry and the author's attempt to convey a rather interesting cultural identity of Iran I previously had not known of. Perfect read for beginners or anyone remotely interested/curious about the history of Iran. I would have liked to see a bit more detail overall , however, I would recommend this book to introduce yourself to the history of Iran and to build a solid foundation upon which to further your studies with additional books which conveniently enough, the author provides at the end of the book a plethora of further readings.
REVIEW:  The history of Iran, foreign invasions against it, and its cultural and intellectual movements makes for fascinating general-interest reading.
Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran" is a fine addition to any college library strong in Middle Eastern studies. Here the author focuses on the evolution of Iran and its world, exploring the true story of the interplay of Iran's faiths and peoples, and placing Iran's history within context of the region's development. A welcome discussion of Iranian progress and a top pick for any library strong in Middle Eastern studies.
REVIEW:  This overview of Iran's history is well-written, with a good balance between political and cultural history. Given the extremely long period of time covered it is necessarily somewhat cursory, but it does a good job of showing the continuity of Iranian identity through the successive invasion of Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Mongols, and modern Western powers. I would certainly recommend the book. Along with Hourani's history of the Arab peoples and Kinross's book on the Ottoman Empire, it constitutes an important and even-handed account of the rise of Islamic civilization, a subject that should certainly be better known.
REVIEW:  As the title might indicate, the author specializes in Iranian culture and development of religion. A good historical synopsis is incorporated for readers who want more. The book depicts Ahura Mazda, Zoroaster, Manacheaism
Bahaism and other splinter ideologies as well as the role of Iran in the Sunni-Shia struggle. Sufism has been in and out of political favor. There is good background on Ferdowsi and other literati and historians. Axworth is good at crediting sources with minimal interruption to the text.
There is not much prior to Cyrus, after whom the book follows Greeks, Seleucids, Parthians, Sassanids, Romans, Arabs and the Safavid and Qajar dynasties that set the Shiite order of modern Iran. Besides religious development the best of the book is in the character development on Nader Shah, Fath Ali Shah, Reza Shah Pahlevi and Ayatolla Khomenie, but few others are extensively featured.
REVIEW:  To start out with the conclusion - Michael Axworthy has written a good one volume history to Iran. Before you purchase this book, you might find it useful to keep the following in mind that Michael Axworthy's goal is "to cover it all" in 300 pages, starting out ~1000 BC and contiues up to the Ahmadinejad years. If that is what you look for, this is good news for you. If you are interested in a better understanding of modern Iran or Geopolitics, you can probably jump directly to page 123 Shi'ism and the Safavids. If you are interested in the Zoroaster religion, scient architecture and acient Persian civilization then page 1-122 probably is most interesting to you.
REVIEW:  “Iran: Empire of the Mind” explores the history of this enigmatic country from its founding days, right up until the current government. This looks at its art and culture, as well as the various wars and conquests it has been involved in over the years. I found the last hundred pages the most interesting as it dealt with the recent history and I could relate to it more. It was good to put the Western influence into perspective to understand some of the Iranian animosity towards some Western nations. It also clarifies some of the stereotypes and shows that the picture in Iran is a lot more complex than we are led to believe. This has many small black and white photos dotted throughout, as well as many maps that show how the country shrunk and grew over the years. You are left with an overwhelming picture of Iran as a cultured and enduring nation and this contrasts well with the image portrayed in the western media. All in all this is a fascinating and eye-opening read about this influential and often maligned nation.
REVIEW:  Axworthy's “History of Iran” provides a brief, accessible overview of Iranian history from Antiquity to Ahmadinejad. The book's subtitle, “Empire of the Mind”, reflects Axworthy's main argument: the conquest of Iran by a succession of empires (Greek, Roman, Arab, Seljuk, Mongol, etc.) belies the story of an Iranian Empire of the mind, whose rich culture not only survived but effected its conquerors as well. Overall, Axworthy's analysis is even handed, and offers readers a perspective on Iran they won't find in the Western media. Catholic readers may take exception to Axworthy's unflattering critique of St. Augustine in the section on Mani, nonetheless, Axworthy's work provides an overview of an incredibly long history that is informative and succinct.
REVIEW:  This is a nice, concise history, and gives a good sense of the bases of Persian passions and attitudes concerning themselves and their relationships to the several countries that border or interact with them. Occasionally conclusions seem to reflect a bit of the author's desires or sentiments, but on the whole it gives a good sense of who the Iranians are. Recommended for anyone who wants to understand the Iranians as a people, comprehensible to but distinct from westerners.
REVIEW:  “Empire of the Mind” is a history book written by Michael Axworthy who was head of the Iran section of the British Foreign Office for two years, 1998-2000. As such, he's done an amazing job of transferring the collective will of the Iranian people to a book written by a Westerner. The reader senses by the focus and detail of the early part of Iranian culture the importance of early empires. It is impressive to read about Persian Imperial interaction with the Roman Empire.  Well written and recommend by this reviewer.
REVIEW:  I like Axworthy's conversational manner of covering history, with somewhat informal digressions that put things in a bigger perspective. His account goes a long way toward presenting the experience of ordinary people, and takes some steps toward including the experience of women. He always does more than re-tell a received story, and embellishes every previous explanation with a bit more background.
REVIEW:  Michael Axworthy's “A History of Iran” begins with a thorough layout of what is known about events influencing the history of Persia, the name of the area now called Iran. When the book reaches the time when an avalanche of related details becomes available, the history is presented like a novel in captivating terms of the men and woman that influenced events. The book is a good history and an entertaining read.
REVIEW:  I enjoyed this book immensely as an introduction to Iranian history. Keep in mind, this book should only be treated as an overview. A single book cannot possibly go into the level of detail that would be necessary if someone wanted to go deep on one topic.
REVIEW:  This is the first book I have read exclusively about Iranian history and felt it provided a clear, fair and brief overview of the region's history up to modern times. Definitely five stars!
REVIEW:  Covers the history of Iran in a pleasant easy to read language. Just right for those with little or no prior knowledge about Iranian history, covering just the right level of details.
REVIEW:  his is a condensed history. It is, however, insightful and gives a broad overview of a fascinating culture. If the people of Iran get there way it could be a very stabilizing influence on the troubled Middle East. Sometimes tedious reading but for the mot part it flows well.
REVIEW:  The first half of the book seems like a repetitive cycle with the invasions, ruthlessness, building up and destruction of empires. But, this all ties in with modern history of Iran. This was third book I have read about Iran and I learned much.
REVIEW:  A well written and well researched book. I must give credit to the thoroughness of the book and its lack of bias.
REVIEW:  A highly recommended masterpiece by an ace historian. His attention to detail is simply marvelous, and this book is a must read for anyone who wishes to learn about the history of this once great nation.
REVIEW:  A decent narrative and good read describing the history of Iran or
Persia". It is a good read that helps the reader understand the history of Persia and Iran.
REVIEW:  Very easy to read unlike most academic history, and unlike many pop history books, the book is factual. An excellent introduction into Iranian history.
REVIEW:  A very well written and concise history of Iran. If the Education Ministry of Iran had any brains they would translate and make this book a history textbook for the high school.
REVIEW:  This book is a must read for those who are interested in the History of Iran but do not want too much details. It is well written and easy to read.
REVIEW:  This is a well written short narrative of Iran history, a must read for anyone who likes to understand Iran.
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ABOUT US: Prior to our retirement we used to travel to Europe and Central Asia several times a year. Most of the items we offer came from acquisitions we made in Eastern Europe, India, and from the Levant (Eastern Mediterranean/Near East) during these years from various institutions and dealers. Much of what we generate on Etsy, Amazon and Ebay goes to support The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, as well as some other worthy institutions in Europe and Asia connected with Anthropology and Archaeology. Though we have a collection of ancient coins numbering in the tens of thousands, our primary interests are ancient jewelry and gemstones. Prior to our retirement we traveled to Russia every year seeking antique gemstones and jewelry from one of the globe’s most prolific gemstone producing and cutting centers, the area between Chelyabinsk and Yekaterinburg, Russia. From all corners of Siberia, as well as from India, Ceylon, Burma and Siam, gemstones have for centuries gone to Yekaterinburg where they have been cut and incorporated into the fabulous jewelry for which the Czars and the royal families of Europe were famous for.
My wife grew up and received a university education in the Southern Urals of Russia, just a few hours away from the mountains of Siberia, where alexandrite, diamond, emerald, sapphire, chrysoberyl, topaz, demantoid garnet, and many other rare and precious gemstones are produced. Though perhaps difficult to find in the USA, antique gemstones are commonly unmounted from old, broken settings – the gold reused – the gemstones recut and reset. Before these gorgeous antique gemstones are recut, we try to acquire the best of them in their original, antique, hand-finished state – most of them centuries old. We believe that the work created by these long-gone master artisans is worth protecting and preserving rather than destroying this heritage of antique gemstones by recutting the original work out of existence. That by preserving their work, in a sense, we are preserving their lives and the legacy they left for modern times. Far better to appreciate their craft than to destroy it with modern cutting.
Not everyone agrees – fully 95% or more of the antique gemstones which come into these marketplaces are recut, and the heritage of the past lost. But if you agree with us that the past is worth protecting, and that past lives and the produce of those lives still matters today, consider buying an antique, hand cut, natural gemstone rather than one of the mass-produced machine cut
often synthetic or “lab produced”) gemstones which dominate the market today. We can set most any antique gemstone you purchase from us in your choice of styles and metals ranging from rings to pendants to earrings and bracelets; in sterling silver, 14kt solid gold, and 14kt gold fill. When you purchase from us, you can count on quick shipping and careful, secure packaging. We would be happy to provide you with a certificate/guarantee of authenticity for any item you purchase from us. There is a $3 fee for mailing under separate cover. I will always respond to every inquiry whether via email or eBay message, so please feel free to write.
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