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An overview of the ancient nation, from the days of the prophet Zoroaster to those of the Islamic Republic.


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An overview of the ancient nation, from the days of the prophet Zoroaster to those of the Islamic Republic.

30 review for Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran

  1. 5 out of 5

    Katia N

    It is a well written and informative overview for those people like me who do not know much about Iran and want to discover its history and culture. I assume, that as with many such books, if one possess extensive pre-requisite knowledge, she might find a lot of gaps or might not agree with the inevitable element of interpretation. But it was the perfect starting point for me. For a few years already I am trying to refocus my reading of history away from the West. I've read similar overview book It is a well written and informative overview for those people like me who do not know much about Iran and want to discover its history and culture. I assume, that as with many such books, if one possess extensive pre-requisite knowledge, she might find a lot of gaps or might not agree with the inevitable element of interpretation. But it was the perfect starting point for me. For a few years already I am trying to refocus my reading of history away from the West. I've read similar overview books on India, the Arabs, the Ottomans, Central Asia and very recently - Georgia. There is of course a certain overlap. But I have to say that out of all these countries the history of Iran is the saddest if i can use this term. And of course, my opinion is very subjective, based only on one book. It seems that the time is moving backwards for this land starting from the 15th century. Or maybe it is just such a contrast with the earlier days when their culture has dominated the half of the continent. Of course there were many conquests including the Arabs and then the Mongols. Then from the middle 18th century they were subject of absolutely disgusting meddling from the British and the Russians. Both replaced by the Americans in the 20th century. But even taking into account that, their rulers starting from the Safavids of the 15th century were just decadent. They were either fighting or enjoying themselves. Compared to them the Ottomans are absolute example of the statecraft. So i understand perfectly well Iranians’ taste for revolutions. I would not go into more details as it is not very grateful task to retell a good history book. I limit myself to just three observations: Iranians are the people of the poetry. Between the 10-14th centuries they've manage to produce such a plead of poets that they are still widely read worldwide, studied in Iran and at least partly define their identity. Some names: Rudaki, Ferdowsi, Omar Khayyam (11th century) and Attar, Rumi,Hafez and Sadi (13-14th century). How many names of the European poets do we know from that time? Women and covering. in the 18-19th century, it was considered as the question of class privilege and prestige for a woman to have a vail. Not many women or their husbands could afford it. In general women played substantial role at work and in the house. They also had quite a big indirect influence on the politics. East-West influence. Just one ancient and a bit controversial example. Mani, so-called prophet of the 3rd century AD has established a new religion Manichaeism. This religion has spread rapidly and was very influential. It has got many elements, but a few core ones was disdain with everything related to human body, sex, anything material and very broad definition of a sin. This has influenced greatly The Augustine of Hippo who himself initially was the follower. Respectively it has penetrated the Mediaeval main stream Catholic teaching and influenced the whole history of Europe through that. I've hidden a lengthy quote from this book and a bit of a Wiki article under the (view spoiler)[ "But the most startling story is that of his influence in the West. Of all the fathers of the Christian church, probably the most influential was St Augustine of Hippo. Augustine wrote wonderful books that explained the Christian religion to the uneducated; explained the downfall of the Roman empire in Christian terms, absolving the Christians of blame (some, like Gibbon, have remained unconvinced); explained in touching and humane terms his own life, his own sense of sin and his own (late) conversion to Christianity (‘O Lord, Make me chaste—but not yet’). His presence in the thought of the church in later centuries was dominant. He also explained the reasons why Manichaeism was heretical in a Christian context. But the remarkable fact is that, before he converted to Christianity, Augustine had been an avowed Manichaean, had converted others to the sect, and may have served as a Manichaean priest. It has been disputed, but the imprint of Manichaeism on Augustine’s thinking is obvious and heavy. Many of the ideas that Augustine’s teaching successfully fixed in Catholic Christian doctrine, notably that of original sin (strongly associated by him with sexuality), predestination, the idea of an elect of the saved, and (notoriously) the damnation of unbaptised infants, originated at least partly in debates that had been going on earlier within the Christian church, though those discussions had been influenced in turn by similar Gnostic ideas to those which had inspired Mani. But many of these key concepts— especially the central one, original sin—also show a striking congruence with Manichaean doctrine. Surely Augustine could not successfully have foisted upon the Christian church Manichaean ideas that the Church had already declared heretical? Yet that seems to have been what happened, and Augustine was accused of doing precisely this by contemporaries—notably by the apostle of free will, Pelagius, who fought long and hard with Augustine over precisely these theological problems in the early years of the fifth century; and lost, and was himself declared a heretic. Perhaps the most damaging decision ever taken by the Christian church.24 As pursued later by the western Christian church in medieval Europe, the full grim panoply of Manichaean/Augustinian formulae emerged, blighting millions of lives and still exerting their sad effect today: the distaste for the human body, the disgust for and guilt about sexuality, the misogyny, the determinism (and the tendency to irresponsibility that emerges from it), the obsessive idealisation of the Spirit and disdain for the Material—all distant indeed from the original teaching of Jesus. Eastern Orthodox Church has escaped this influence. The real opponent to Augustinian orthodoxy was Pelagianism—the simple, natural appeal of which was such that it never really quite died out—a golden thread, sometimes concealed, running through medieval thought, to emerge again in Renaissance humanism. If ever a Christian thinker deserved to be made a saint, then surely Pelagius did. If ever a pair of thinkers deserved Nietzsche’s title Weltverleumder26 (world-slanderers), then they were Mani and Augustine." Wiki Some modern scholars have suggested that Manichaean ways of thinking influenced the development of some of Augustine's ideas, such as the nature of good and evil, the idea of hell, the separation of groups into elect, hearers, and sinners, and the hostility to the flesh and sexual activity, and his dualistic theology.[41] These influences of Manichaeism in Augustine's Christian thinking may well have been part of the conflict between Augustine and Pelagius, a British monk whose theology, being less influenced by the Latin Church, was non-dualistic, and one that saw the created order, and mankind in particular, as having a Divine core, rather than a 'darkness' at its core. (hide spoiler)] Under the spoiler, there are mine brief notes which are not properly edited. But if someone is interested, they are welcome:(view spoiler)[ -Mani Pelagius Augustine - Mazdak apprising - a bit like Spartak, fight for more justice to poor folk - Neoplatonics were invited to live in Iran - poets of 11th century - Rudaki, Ferdowsi, Omar Khayyam; Shota Rustavelli (the last one is Georgian which was totally independant state at that time). - Sufism 11 century no Shiism - 1220-1300 Mongolian conquest Khurasan, Merv destruction but then Persian influence resources. 0 Poets of the 13th century -Attar, Rumi,Hafez and Sadi. - Safavid kept heirs in harem lead to weak leaders and strong buearocracy. No vizier but sometimes aunties from harem. - Molls Sadra, Islam schooler from Shiraz as well 1572 born -Ashura practice comparison with catholic good Friday by the author. I never seen people hitting themselves with chains. - Brits in Russian Persian war 1804-1813 total disgrace. Twice rejected giving the support to the Iranians which was agreed in advance. - Nader Shah and the English? Was there any connection? Griboedov - they started. So a bit of biases. - Nader shah is the favourite subject of the author it seems. - All Shahs in 19th century were appointed with Russian and British involvement. - Ottoman Empire is exemplary statecraft compared to Iran. - Role bazaar played in revolutions. And Ulema. Constitution in 1905 was a biggy, but I do not think so. - Ironside story of leaving Iran by the British troops and creating a vacuum for Reza Khan to become Shah. Here he goes slightly over the top. The idea that the world of politics resolves only through the agency of plots and conspiracies is a dangerous misleading notion - yes! And then he shows all the facts which point exactly on provocation by Ironside for those Cossacks to go against the government motivating it by the fact that Reza Khan was more politically astute for the soldier while Ironside picked him up himself. - At least this Reza Shah invested in education and opened the first university in the 30s of 20th century. - Hedayat works were banned in their entirety in 2006! He laid much of the Iran’s problem on Arab conquest. He was banned in 2006 - amazing! - Al e Ahmad another writer who was more critical and died 46. - Middle classes benefitted during Pahlavi. But not lower ones. (hide spoiler)] The proper history ends with Iran-Iraq war, but he touches upon the current affairs up to 2006 in my version of the book. And this is inevitably more controversial and less successful, imho. However I would not hesitate to recommend this book to anyone who wanted to find out about this fascinating and complex country.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Oisín

    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. 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.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sharon Barrow Wilfong

    An excellent history of ancient Persia, the origins of the country up to the present day, or rather 2007 when the book was written. I especially found the ancient history and pre-Islamic religions, such as Zorastrianism interesting. Axworthy describes the leaders of that ancient religion, its development and its eventual usurption by Islam. The reader learns of the rich and colorful culture of this ancient country and their line of rulers, their interaction with other rulers and countries, such as An excellent history of ancient Persia, the origins of the country up to the present day, or rather 2007 when the book was written. I especially found the ancient history and pre-Islamic religions, such as Zorastrianism interesting. Axworthy describes the leaders of that ancient religion, its development and its eventual usurption by Islam. The reader learns of the rich and colorful culture of this ancient country and their line of rulers, their interaction with other rulers and countries, such as Alexander the Great, the rise and decline of their own ancient Empire and their remarkable influence on other Asian countries by spreading Islam all the way to India. We also gain a better understanding of the different mulahs, shahs and other religious and government leaders up into the 20th century. Axworthy also describes both the responsibility and fault of western nations and their interference into the Middle Eastern region, specifically Iran for the purposes of this book, but also at times the benefits bestowed on Iran as western countries like Britain and the US, developed their technology to process their oil, even if it could be argued that some of their help had ulterior motives. Axworthy shows the diversity of Iranian thought and values. Not everyone wanted the Shah to leave or hates Americans. Not everyone was in favor of Khomeini or the leaders afterward. The Iranian people are independent thinkers and while our television may present the populace as mindless mobs, there are many citizens of Iran that want more freedom, more woman's rights, greater citizenship autonomy. A couple of questions Axworthy failed to answer which I found disappointing: one, what is the tribal make up of Iran, if there is one, or apart from the small but significant Jewish population and Kurds, are Iranians largely a homogeneous people group? That would explain who is in power at any given time or what sub-population group, if they exist, gain advantages over the other sup-pops. The other thing I found disappointing is I felt Axworthy fell back onto white guilt syndrome. While claiming otherwise, he defaults to the tired old saw that Iran's problems are largely constructs of Europe and the United States and if western countries would just be nicer to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (who was in power at the time of his writing, now it is Hassan Rouhani) then Ahmadinejad would want to be our friend. I think this is naive. Aside from that bias, I found History of Iran to be a well-written, informative book, however, I would like to read other sources and am open to recommendations.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Cenk Gokce

    If you think this book will tell you much about the history of Iran / Persia, save your time and money and look elsewhere. Boring, filled with Persian poetry that does not really contribute to the subject matter, plenty of parenthetical commentary as well as ad hominem attacks at Alexander's "bisexualism" and Richard Dawkins' views on religion--neither of which is germane to a book about Iranian history. Also, I understand that Persian is written in the Arabic script so there are multiple ways of If you think this book will tell you much about the history of Iran / Persia, save your time and money and look elsewhere. Boring, filled with Persian poetry that does not really contribute to the subject matter, plenty of parenthetical commentary as well as ad hominem attacks at Alexander's "bisexualism" and Richard Dawkins' views on religion--neither of which is germane to a book about Iranian history. Also, I understand that Persian is written in the Arabic script so there are multiple ways of transcribing words, but if the words and phrases come from a language which has since then adopted the latin alphabet, you do not go with your uninformed and incorrect transcriptions--all the Turkic words the author uses have proper latinized modern forms, and using "q" s for "k"s etc shows amazing ignorance of the cultures adjacent to the Persian one. In addition, NOT translating eminently translatable concepts is a cop out to make Iran look more exotic, which might impress North American unilinguals, but not many others. E.g, calling the Parliament "Majlis" over and over does not make it an exotic assembly--this is similar to the use of "Allah" by westerners to represent the Islamic God, whereas "Allah" (or more properly Al-lah, i.e. The God) is just the Arabic word for God. I would have given it less than a single star if I could.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Blair

    A rather negative and simplistic picture of Iran has been painted in some circles. Michael Axworthy, a British diplomat who served in Iran, presents us the entire history of the region to provide us with a broader perspective. It is a reasonably good read, though it can sometimes bog down with details about every dynasty. I have read other histories of Iran, and this one is not significantly different or overly controversial in my opinion. The Persian Empire was one of the great civilizations, s A rather negative and simplistic picture of Iran has been painted in some circles. Michael Axworthy, a British diplomat who served in Iran, presents us the entire history of the region to provide us with a broader perspective. It is a reasonably good read, though it can sometimes bog down with details about every dynasty. I have read other histories of Iran, and this one is not significantly different or overly controversial in my opinion. The Persian Empire was one of the great civilizations, similar in scope to Rome. It was the first to create a confederation of different cultures rather than to simply eliminate all possible enemies. The emperor was the King of Kings rather than the Great Destroyer. Rome in general had a similar strategy, but did tend to impose Roman culture throughout the empire. After the Arab conquest the Persians endured a long period of foreign rulers. The theme of the book is that Persian culture was so profound and resilient that it was able to endure these conquests, and reassert itself time and time again. Hence an “empire of the mind” was able to overcome physical conquest. The rest of this review will select a few interesting and somewhat controversial ideas from the book. Christianity and Shia Islam The author draws some interesting parallels between Christianity and Shia Islam. He contrasts the emphasis on law and tradition in Sunni Islam with the humility, sacrifice and importance of religious hierarchy in Christianity and Shia Islam. Ali and his son Hosein play a similar role to Christ. Ali is said to have held himself aloof from the political deals and pragmatic compromises involved in the Arab conquests, maintaining a pious life of austerity and prayer. His son Hosein went to his death at Karbala knowingly and willingly, in the belief that only by sacrificing himself could he bring about the renewal of Islam. The public grief of this event (Ashura, with the self-flagellation) is similar in spirit to that which one can still see on Good Friday in some Catholic countries. He asks us to imagine how Christians would feel if the leadership of the church after the death of Christ had fallen to Judas Iscariot, Pontius Pilate and their successors. Manichaeism and Saint Augustine Mani was a religious leader born in Persia in 216, thus was aware of Christianity. Augustine was born in Roman Africa in 354, after Christianity became the official religion of the empire. The author takes a rather dim view of these two people, as the following quotes from the book illustrate: “Manichaeism was based on the idea of a queasy, dystopic creation in which the good—the light—had been overwhelmed and dominated by evil—the demonic—which was itself identified with matter. Through copulation and reproduction (inherently sinful), evil had imprisoned light in matter and had established the dominance of evil on earth.” “This dismal and ugly vision of existence was presented as a religion of liberation from material existence and evil.” “It would be foolish to attribute all the evils of religion to Mani, but he does seem to have done a remarkably good job of infecting a range of belief systems with the most damaging and depressing ideas about impurity, the corruption of material existence, and the sinfulness of sexual pleasure. His thinking was a kind of Pandora’s box of malignity, the particles from which went fluttering off in all directions on their misshapen wings.” “Before he converted to Christianity, Augustine himself had been an avowed Manichaean, had converted others to the sect, and may have served as a Manichaean priest. It has been disputed, but the imprint of Manichaeism on Augustine’s thinking is obvious and heavy.” “Many of the ideas that Augustine's teaching successfully fixed in Catholic Christian doctrine—notably that of original sin (strongly associated by him with sexuality), predestination, the idea of an elect of the saved, and (notoriously) the damnation of unbaptized infants—originated at least partly in debates that had been going earlier within the Christian Church.” “As pursued later by the Western Christian church in medieval Europe, the full grim panoply of Manichaean/Augustinian formulae emerged to blight millions of lives, and they are still exerting their sad effect today—the distaste for the human body, the disgust for and guilt about sexuality, the misogyny, the determinism (and the tendency toward irresponsibility that emerges from it), the obsessive idealization of the spirit, the disdain for the material—all distant indeed from the original teachings of Jesus.” Finally he concludes that if ever a pair of thinkers deserved Nietzsche's title Weltverleumder (world-slanderers), then they were Mani and Augustine. This may be nice writing, but perhaps a reader with more knowledge in this area can comment on the content. From my limited knowledge it seems a bit extreme. The Creative Ayatollah Khomeini Contrary to common opinion, the author paints Khomeini as a flexible and creative intellectual, interested in poetry and mysticism. He also clearly spells out how he ruthlessly seized and consolidated his power. Earlier in the book he foreshadows Khomeini with: “The pattern of a new, autocratic ruler from more or less obscure origins, taking power by force after a period of disorder—and claiming the decision of God for his victory and his justification—has been suggested as a recurring theme in Iranian history.” Later we are told of this curious exchange with Gorbachev, warning him to avoid the West: “Khomeini suggested Gorbachev should study Islam as a way of life. At first impression this seems an odd suggestion, but perhaps Khomeini sensed an affinity with Gorbachev—as an unconventional thinker hemmed in by unsympathetic and less imaginative minds.” “But the letter attracted criticism from clergy in Qom, some of whom upbraided Khomeini in an open letter for having recommended mystics and philosophers. Khomeini responded with a ‘letter to the clergy’ that vented the frustrations of a long life spent enduring the criticism of more tradition-minded mullahs.” The Poetry Some readers complain the poetry adds no real understanding and is only there to make the author look intimately knowledgeable about Persian culture. I tend not to appreciate most poetry, so I can’t tell. I did like this one: All fear of God, all self-denial I deny. Bring wine, nothing but wine. For in all sincerity I repent my worship, which is but hypocrisy. Yes, bring me wine, for I have renounced all renunciation. And all my vaunted self-righteousness seems to me but swagger and self-display." A Reasonable Introduction to Persian History I think this is a reasonable introduction to Persian History. There may well be better. I read Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West too long ago to make a decent comparison. As always, it is best to read more than one account. If only we all had time for that.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Patricia

    Axworthy introduced the book by calling it "an introduction to the history of Iran for a general readership, assuming little or no prior knowledge." That is basically true...but if that is where you are coming from, you are most likely going to find some sections slower going than others. The first one-third is a very good overview of ancient central Asian history through Cyrus the Great; the middle third was overwhelming for its wealth of unknown names and specialised terms that demanded one's Axworthy introduced the book by calling it "an introduction to the history of Iran for a general readership, assuming little or no prior knowledge." That is basically true...but if that is where you are coming from, you are most likely going to find some sections slower going than others. The first one-third is a very good overview of ancient central Asian history through Cyrus the Great; the middle third was overwhelming for its wealth of unknown names and specialised terms that demanded one's full attention or repeated readings; the final third was surprisingly fascinating and a painless read given its coverage of the last 50 years of Iran's history--a period I can recall events from (for example: watching a helicopter airlift the Ayatollah Khomeini's casket to safety from the surging mobs on TV). Compartmentalising these sections is the only way I really could come to grips with this book, plucked from a library shelf because of a desire to fill in my knowledge of this much-maligned but historically rich country. I heartily recommend this history to anyone especially interested in Iran's rich literary past for it includes a very good introduction to Persian poetry and aesthetics. Its coverage of early history is also very good--concise and easy to read. But from 1000-1920, I confess I couldn't keep my focus and didn't re-connect until the final 100 or so pages, which caught me by surprise and completely held my attention...and introduced me to some authors I had not heard of, whose works I am now reading online (such as the banned Sadeq Hedayat. See http://www.angelfire.com/rnb/bashiri/...).

  7. 4 out of 5

    Yasmin

    This is a good a history of Iran but it is by no means a masterpiece and I don't think it will make it through the test of time. Axeworthy did an excellent job with the medieval mystical poets and included many beautiful verses throughout the text. Unfortunately there was less emphasis on intellectual and literary history in modern times and absolutely no mention of music and the arts. As people have already mentioned, the author is very biased in matters of religion. He has a shallow understandin This is a good a history of Iran but it is by no means a masterpiece and I don't think it will make it through the test of time. Axeworthy did an excellent job with the medieval mystical poets and included many beautiful verses throughout the text. Unfortunately there was less emphasis on intellectual and literary history in modern times and absolutely no mention of music and the arts. As people have already mentioned, the author is very biased in matters of religion. He has a shallow understanding of shi'a Islam and its philosophy of governance, which must be key to understanding Iran today. Also I thought some of his comments about Jews we're out of place considering he dedicated no time to exploring their practice and heritage. Ultimately this is an accessible history of one of the oldest and more complicated regions in the world in less than 300 pages. You get your time's worth...

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jamie MacDonald Jones

    This book quite simply does a disservice to Iran and its rich, fascinating history. Notwithstanding the numerous printing errors in the book (Penguin's fault) the thesis of the book is simply poor. Axworthy mentions the notion of 'Empire of the Mind' twice in the book - three times if you count the fact it is a subtitle - and never bothers to elaborate on it in any meaningful way. The book also seems to go from Zoroastrian history to present day with barely a mention of anything in between. The This book quite simply does a disservice to Iran and its rich, fascinating history. Notwithstanding the numerous printing errors in the book (Penguin's fault) the thesis of the book is simply poor. Axworthy mentions the notion of 'Empire of the Mind' twice in the book - three times if you count the fact it is a subtitle - and never bothers to elaborate on it in any meaningful way. The book also seems to go from Zoroastrian history to present day with barely a mention of anything in between. The explanations of many situations left me more confused than when I started, as Axworthy does not appear to have the ability to concisely clarify important historical detail. For significant passages the author veers off from (weak) historical analysis to ostensibly give his own opinion, which adds nothing to the reader's understanding. All in all, were I Iranian or Persian I would be worries that books like this were attempting to portray my heritage on a wider platform. It is a prime example of lazy, ill-thought-out academia.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Fahad

    Prior to reading, my knowledge on Persian history was less than basic. It covers a staggering amount of information (over 25+ centuries in only 300 pages), so it obviously lacks depth. Still, I found the language and subject-matter to be enjoyable, and definitely recommend it as an introductory book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jo

    They say "Esfahan is half the world", and a history of Iran is most definitely a history of humanity itself. From Darius of Persepolis to Alexander the Great, from the Romans to the Mongol Invasions, passing by the birth of Islam and Shi'ism and ending with Western meddling and the 1979 revolution, this is a great book to understand not only Iran but also much of the current world order. "For it is a fact that to have knowledge of the truth and of sciences and to study them is the highest thing They say "Esfahan is half the world", and a history of Iran is most definitely a history of humanity itself. From Darius of Persepolis to Alexander the Great, from the Romans to the Mongol Invasions, passing by the birth of Islam and Shi'ism and ending with Western meddling and the 1979 revolution, this is a great book to understand not only Iran but also much of the current world order. "For it is a fact that to have knowledge of the truth and of sciences and to study them is the highest thing with which a king can adorn himself. And the most disgraceful thing for kings is to disdain learning and be ashamed of exploring the sciences. He who does not learn is not wise." - Khosraw I Anushirvan "An autocrat can get away with many things, but looking foolish undercuts him in the most damaging way."

  11. 4 out of 5

    gillyweed

    Axworthy's History of Iran is a basic and accessible foundation for the Western-oriented reader unfamiliar with the region. From an academic perspective, the broadest strokes in the text offer a good starting point before moving into more serious, in-depth investigations of specific periods. I would stress, however, that this text should not be used by those who have no intention of pursuing the subject matter further, *especially* if the purpose is to gain understanding of Iran in the present d Axworthy's History of Iran is a basic and accessible foundation for the Western-oriented reader unfamiliar with the region. From an academic perspective, the broadest strokes in the text offer a good starting point before moving into more serious, in-depth investigations of specific periods. I would stress, however, that this text should not be used by those who have no intention of pursuing the subject matter further, *especially* if the purpose is to gain understanding of Iran in the present day. I'm not particularly fond of rating nonfiction, especially when it is on subject matter that I am not especially well-versed in. But anyone even peripherally involved with historical study as an academic practice would be wary to a major methodological problem with this text, which, in my experience, has a tendency to slip past more casual readers. So, for those who are reading this book for some light information, instead of in the context of an academic study: While the earlier sections of Axworthy's text, ranging from the Parthian through to the initial stage of the Pahlavi era could be classified as serviceable, the post-Revolutionary period veers quite suddenly from a nominally biased history into highly politicized commentary. There is no justifiable reason for Axworthy to spend the latter chapters of his book viewing Iran from the perspective of Israeli and American security concerns. Bias is to be assumed, but deliberately adopting a highly antagonistic external political lens in your academic study of a country -- especially when looking at its modern context, especially when that modern context is vilified within your country's sphere of influence, especially when your target audience is the country that is encouraging that vilification -- is not only extremely poor form professionally, it is just plain irresponsible. This is only made worse by the fact that Iran and its substantial diaspora populations include a multitude of academics, activists, and political commentators capable of sourcing for this period from their own, highly varied perspectives. Sort your feet out, dude, your dance is a mess.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    Iran has a LONG history, and this book started WAY back at the beginning. Not really knowing anything about Iran, I think I would have preferred it spent a little MORE time on the more recent stuff (for example, the Iran-Contra affair and the American hostage situation each only had one page of mention, and the Iran-Iraq war had only about 2 pages total). In contrast, there were about 18 pages on olden-day Persian poetry. Anyway, it was an interesting book and I learned a lot. I've started anoth Iran has a LONG history, and this book started WAY back at the beginning. Not really knowing anything about Iran, I think I would have preferred it spent a little MORE time on the more recent stuff (for example, the Iran-Contra affair and the American hostage situation each only had one page of mention, and the Iran-Iraq war had only about 2 pages total). In contrast, there were about 18 pages on olden-day Persian poetry. Anyway, it was an interesting book and I learned a lot. I've started another book, The Soul of Iran, (not a chronological history), and I have a great reference point for the events, religious ideas, Shas, etc. mentioned there, which means that Axworthy's book did its job for me.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kash

    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 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.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Stan Murai

    Michael Axworthy’s Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran gives readers a broad overview of Iranian history from the earliest times to the present day. Military and dynastic matters are covered in detail, but it also emphasizes the cultural and intellectual contributions of Iran that have shaped much of region that includes modern Turkey, the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Indian Subcontinent. It does so concisely in only about three hundred pages, but nevertheless the material provided is eng Michael Axworthy’s Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran gives readers a broad overview of Iranian history from the earliest times to the present day. Military and dynastic matters are covered in detail, but it also emphasizes the cultural and intellectual contributions of Iran that have shaped much of region that includes modern Turkey, the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Indian Subcontinent. It does so concisely in only about three hundred pages, but nevertheless the material provided is engaging and thoroughly interesting. As someone who had lived in Iran, this was not the first book I had read on Iran. But even so, I still learned much that was surprisingly new from the material presented.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Cameron

    About as superb a history of Iran from Zoroaster to Ahmedinejad as can be crammed into 300 pages. Well worth reading.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Victoria Rodríguez

    An amazing and detailed book on Iran's history. I liked Michael Axworthy's writing style because he describes as simple as possible the information about this country's events. The writer included information about Iran from the time of Zoroaster to those of the Islamic Era. I am so glad I had the chance to read this incredible book because I learned a lot about this country.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Casper

    3.5/5 It took me a while to finish this. The sheer scope of the book is extremely impressive - the author covers the entire history of the Persian Empire, Iran and Iranian cultural identity in 300 pages. It's definitely a fascinating introduction to one of the oldest and most interesting cultures in the world. The sections I found most engaging were the first and final third of the book, in which Axworthy writes of the origins of the Persian Empire and 20th century Iran, respectively. In the middl 3.5/5 It took me a while to finish this. The sheer scope of the book is extremely impressive - the author covers the entire history of the Persian Empire, Iran and Iranian cultural identity in 300 pages. It's definitely a fascinating introduction to one of the oldest and most interesting cultures in the world. The sections I found most engaging were the first and final third of the book, in which Axworthy writes of the origins of the Persian Empire and 20th century Iran, respectively. In the middle, he tended to get lost in details, however interesting they were, they were presented in a way that made the long passages quite difficult to read or memorise. Axworthy is not a historian, but a diplomat. Not to detract from the quality of his writing, his familiarity with Iran or his knowledge of historical facts, but it does show. The book suffers from a slight lack of coherence thematically and structurally. I found it hard at times to remember the people he was discussing, and the book is not written in the most intuitive way. Also, the most disappointing thing to me was that the author only mentioned his thought-provoking thesis in the first and last 10 pages of the book - that Iran has survived as a nation despite millennia of border change and ethnic diversity because of its strong cultural identity. A real shame However, it is still a great introduction to Iranian history. I'd give it 4 stars for people who are more patient and have a better memory than me!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

    This book is a serious document, useful for research, but written in a style that means anyone can understand what is being discussed. It didn't appear to have a bias or slant towards anything - just the facts. Im a believer that you shouldn't have an opinion on a subject until you have done your homework. While I have a lot more to understand yet, as suspected the Iranians are just like us. The newspapers need to stop writing stories that make the uninformed believe that a government represents This book is a serious document, useful for research, but written in a style that means anyone can understand what is being discussed. It didn't appear to have a bias or slant towards anything - just the facts. Im a believer that you shouldn't have an opinion on a subject until you have done your homework. While I have a lot more to understand yet, as suspected the Iranians are just like us. The newspapers need to stop writing stories that make the uninformed believe that a government represents it's people. Like some, my western experience couldn't quite grasp how an entire empire could have something like poetry running through all its history, religion, language and ideas. But I have since seen a speaker on Iranian design and you can see how it affects what they write and how they write it. Everything must look and feel poetic. I still don't understand really but I kind of like the idea of a nation built around poetry. It's sound so much nicer than a nation built around consumerism.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Monty Milne

    Like many of us, before I read this I knew a reasonable amount about ancient Iran and a little about modern Iran, but almost nothing about everything in between. This book did fill some of the gaps, and seemed pretty fair minded, but inevitably there are a lot of constraints imposed by trying to fit such a big subject into only 300 pages. I have a number of Iranian friends - all of them exiles, Anglophiles, and supporters of the Shah. I'm glad that having read this I can talk to them with a litt Like many of us, before I read this I knew a reasonable amount about ancient Iran and a little about modern Iran, but almost nothing about everything in between. This book did fill some of the gaps, and seemed pretty fair minded, but inevitably there are a lot of constraints imposed by trying to fit such a big subject into only 300 pages. I have a number of Iranian friends - all of them exiles, Anglophiles, and supporters of the Shah. I'm glad that having read this I can talk to them with a little more pretence at intelligence about Iran's spectacular cultural achievements. However, some of my opinions are now a bit different since reading this: I am ashamed of the rapacity of the British government in relation to unfair oil treaties 100 years ago, and I have a more positive opinion of Mossadegh and a less positive opinion of the Pahlavis (and their predecessor dynasty) than I did. It's an impressive achievement of the author's to get me to change (or even modify) my opinions.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Churin

    What was in the book is clearly this very unimportant details without the big picture. It's like a scattered thoughts poured down in a book. Also if you search hard enough in blogs, you can find almost everything written in this book. No, I'm not saying the author plagiarized anything, it's just it was all common facts here. The only thing new is a ton of Persian poems. The boring ones. So I suggest you to save your money and time, there's nothing really interesting with this book. Anyway, if you w What was in the book is clearly this very unimportant details without the big picture. It's like a scattered thoughts poured down in a book. Also if you search hard enough in blogs, you can find almost everything written in this book. No, I'm not saying the author plagiarized anything, it's just it was all common facts here. The only thing new is a ton of Persian poems. The boring ones. So I suggest you to save your money and time, there's nothing really interesting with this book. Anyway, if you were a sunni Muslim you definitely won't like this book, and this book doesn't cover any new knowledge about shi'a anyway. If you were a shi'a you would probably know this book soften and romanticized the facts about you. If you were a non-Muslim the possibility of you finding this interesting is as thin as tissue. So no, don't even waste your thought on this.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Boyan

    When I started this book I had expectations about getting to know about the entire history of Iran. And to some degree it fulfilled my expectations. What I didn't know what how much history there was, that it was impossible to collect it in only one book. The author does a great job going through different centuries, but I felt many times he was just jumping from one situation to another without going in many details. The reason I guess is as above - it is impossible to collect everything at one When I started this book I had expectations about getting to know about the entire history of Iran. And to some degree it fulfilled my expectations. What I didn't know what how much history there was, that it was impossible to collect it in only one book. The author does a great job going through different centuries, but I felt many times he was just jumping from one situation to another without going in many details. The reason I guess is as above - it is impossible to collect everything at one place. This book gave me a good starting point in my curiosity about Iran and I often found myself searching for more information in Google or Wikipedia. I can recommend Michael Axworthy's book for a starting point, an index of historical actions and people, which would let you further explore the details of this ancient nation throughout the centuries.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Amit

    Iran is probably the most fascinating country in the world. One of the oldest civilisation in the true sense of the world, a land with a history of intellectual vigour and a tradition of defiance to the western world. While the book sweeps through the four millenia of Persian existence with detail, I would have preferred a more simple and fluid output to describe this complex but extraordinary nation. To me, it appears, despite a brilliant tapestry of the poetry, mysticism and religion which Axw Iran is probably the most fascinating country in the world. One of the oldest civilisation in the true sense of the world, a land with a history of intellectual vigour and a tradition of defiance to the western world. While the book sweeps through the four millenia of Persian existence with detail, I would have preferred a more simple and fluid output to describe this complex but extraordinary nation. To me, it appears, despite a brilliant tapestry of the poetry, mysticism and religion which Axworthy weaves to symbolise the mind's empire, the book is a discrete outpouring. The connect with the modern Iran remains unestablished.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Blake

    The author's knowledge of Iran is eclipsed by this book's poor organization of topics. Empire of the Mind tries to pack every detail of persian history into 300 pages, skipping between intellectual movements, poetry, religion, philosphy, court intrigue, and political/military history. My interest quickly faded everytime I picked up Empire of the Mind, simply because the narrative is so disjointed.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    A very good history of Persia/Iran. He goes fast through thousands of years of history, but really captures the identity of the country and its conflicts and issues with the west. If you want to understand the modern conflict, you have to at least go back to 1907 or even 1951.

  25. 5 out of 5

    D. Denise

    An exceptional book on the history of Iran. One of the few unbiased looks at the history of the country.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Graham Mulligan

    A History of Iran; Empire of the Mind. Michael Axeworthy, Basic Books, 2008. The division between nomadic or semi-nomadic peoples and settled, crop-growing agriculturalists, created a tension that drives history. Nomadic wealth was in livestock, which meant it was moveable and they could escape threats or attack. By contrast peasant farmers were vulnerable, especially at harvest time, when the accumulated value of a year’s work could be lost. In happy times trade (meat and wool for grain) between A History of Iran; Empire of the Mind. Michael Axeworthy, Basic Books, 2008. The division between nomadic or semi-nomadic peoples and settled, crop-growing agriculturalists, created a tension that drives history. Nomadic wealth was in livestock, which meant it was moveable and they could escape threats or attack. By contrast peasant farmers were vulnerable, especially at harvest time, when the accumulated value of a year’s work could be lost. In happy times trade (meat and wool for grain) between the two meant peace although coercion always was possible. Nomads had the upper hand. The cyclical pattern of dynastic rise and fall and nomadic invasion provides the background story in this history. Each time the same pattern occurs. Historians note the cohesiveness of the nomads in these cycles as a kind of solidarity or group feeling that would later form into an identity – Iranian-ness. Another pattern emerges that is illuminating for contemporary history in the region. Each time conquest is completed it was necessary to consolidate support. This was achieved through giving patronage to the bureaucracy, city dwellers and the ulema (scholars who interpreted the religious texts). Large building projects and more displays of wealth would lead to a weakened dynasty and soon a new invasion was welcomed. Each time this occurs it is the learned class of Persian scholar-bureaucrats that kept the language and culture intact. Yet another pattern of historical import is found in the split between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims. This occurred early in the Muslim era. The child of The Prophet’s daughter and his cousin Ali separated from the ruling Umayyad caliph, the fourth since The Prophet’s time (the caliph was Sunni). Husein, the grandson of The Prophet (he was Shi’a), preferred to practice a pious and moral lifestyle in contrast to the caliph’s rule, which depended on conquest and courtly power. The Umayyad caliphs were descended from on of the ruling families of Mecca and it was precisely this power that The Prophet had opposed following The Revelation (written as the Quran). “The conflict between arrogant, worldly, corrupt authority and earnest, pious austerity was established as a cultural model for centuries, down to the Iranian Revolution of 1979, and to the present day”. Over the centuries the two communities weave in and out of power and prominence and give rise to various other sects (for example Ismailia, Assassin, Fatimid and so on). By the time of the Mongol invasion in the tenth century, Sunni Muslims were ascendant, especially so under the Ottomans. Other elements of religiosity come into the story from the earliest times, such as Mazdaism, Zoroastrianism, Sufism, Judaism and Christianity. The rise of a strong Iranian empire toward the end of the fifteenth century under the Safavids, and especially shah Abbas, marks the start of what we know as the Iran of today. Because the Ottoman Empire (Sunni) to the west was hostile to Shi’a Muslims there was a shift toward the Persian shrine cities. I visited one of these cities in eastern Iran, Mashad, when I travelled across to Afghanistan and India in the late 1960’s. Under Abbas such cities (Isfahan, Shiraz, Mashad) developed a more robust governmental system and an institutionalized Shi’ism that we see in contemporary Iran. Much great architecture and poetry comes from this period when the Persian language was dominant from Istanbul to Delhi and Samarkand. This is also the time when gunpowder was predominant in warfare, yet in the relatively safe heartland of the Iranian plateau the great cities remained unwalled and the traditional cavalry and archers dominated the military class. By 1700 Persia was a soft-centered state in a world that was becoming much harsher. Revolts against Safavid rule, starting in Kandahar and spreading to other cities and territories, weakened the empire. A military leader (Nader) emerged successful for a time, once again extending Persian power to the east, against Moghul India and the west, against the Ottomans. This period parallels the rise of the military states in Europe that would result in the Napoleonic Empire; but the accompanying transformation of state administration and supporting economy, based on trade, did not occur in the Persian context. The breakup of the Persian military state, in the second half of the 18th century, into smaller warrior-led territories laid the foundation for the modern day Afghanistan and gave it, the now familiar to us, tension between the nomadic tribal lifestyle and the more settled town and village lifestyle. It is in the context of 18th century Persia that the role of the Ayatollah emerges in Shi’a practice. The old debate between tradition and reason – should the ordinary Muslim read and interpret the holy text himself, following the tradition of the Emams; or should authoritative interpretation, based on reason and scholarly training guide the believers? The latter group prevailed and a hierarchical clerical system evolved the role of the grand ayatollah. The European wars and rivalries of the 18th and 19th centuries affected Persia through shifting alliances with either France or Britain and continual struggle with Russia to the north in what was known as the Great Game. Russia and Britain particularly interfered in Persia as colonialism and industrialization expanded their reach. One result was that neither Britain nor Russia could assume control over Persia but it also kept Persia stagnant throughout this period. 1905 marks the date of the first Russian Revolution but it also marks the start of protests in Teheran that led to the establishment of a Constitution (1906) along western principles of governance. The Constitutional Revolution was led by the united forces of the merchant class and the clerical class (ulema), but limped along until 1911. German militarism was rising in this period, provoking a series of European alliances of which the most famous was the Triple Entente between Britain, France and Russia. The British navy, at this time threatened by the new German class of warship, decided to switch from coal to the more efficient and less bulky oil. The British government bought the majority share in the new Anglo-Persian Oil Company (1914). The First World War and the Bolshevik Revolution left Persia ostensibly without power in the new world order, post WW1. Persia, like Egypt, was not represented at the Treaty of Versailles and was treated much like the protectorates set up in Palestine and Iraq. Under British quasi-supervision a Persian military officer, Reza Khan, gradually undertook reform of the army in the manner of Ataturk in Turkey. By 1926, assuming the name Pahlavi, Reza Khan was crowned Shah. He expanded industry, transportation and the army and introduced education where it had been absent. His modernizing and westernizing was also secularizing. The oil industry, however, remained largely in British control with Iran only receiving 16% of the profits (20% after 1933). Reza Shah was not popular, provoking opposition from both the merchant class and the clerical class. Early during the Second World War, after Britain and Russia allied against Germany, they jointly took over in Iran, saying it was to forestall any German takeover possibility. The Shah abdicated in favour of his son Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. In 1943 Teheran was the site of the first conference of Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt. In addition to agreeing to open a Second Front against the Nazis, the allied powers agreed to quit Iran six months after the end of war. At this time the Iranian government returned to an elected leadership and the National Front leader Mohammed Mossadeq was elected Premier. Following WW2 the oil question remained as a national issue, resulting in nationalization of the industry by Mossadeq and a Western boycott led by Britain and the US. A CIA-led coup restored Pahlavi rule and eventually leading to the creation of a re-organized oil industry with more revenue going to the government (50%) and US and British stakes in the new company, now called British Petroleum (BP). Iran was now run by the Shah and all opposition parties were suppressed, especially the National Front and the communist Tudeh, by the new secret police, SAVAK. The population grew substantially at this time (12 million in 1900; 19 million in 1950; 22 million in 1968; 33.7 million in 1976) as did the middle class. Wealth distribution, however, was unequal. Prompted by liberal feelings in the US (the era of the Kennedy administration) the Shah announced significant reforms known as the White Revolution (1960). These included land reform, female suffrage and literacy campaigns in the countryside. The US had been regarded previously (at the end of WW1) as a hopeful model and ally against British, French and Russian interference. The US was, after all, anti-feudal, anti-colonial, and a benevolent world leader. But by the time Pahlavi was courting US support, the clerics and merchants distrusted its involvement. As oil money poured in the Shah spent more on the military. The presence of more and more foreigners, mostly American and British, was noticeable. The contrast between cultures was also noticeable. The Ayatollah Khomeini has been living abroad, as were many other intellectual and clerical leaders, but was actively writing and encouraging change in Iran to a more traditional way of living, one which always existed as an alternative source of authority based on Shi’a law. This is the central teaching of the author, Michael Axeworthy. Rising tensions between students and SAVAK, and clerics and SAVAK, increased throughout the 1970’s. Rising dissatisfaction of the poor working class added to the discontent. By January 1979, the Shah, ill with cancer, left Iran and Khomeini returned to lead a new revolution. But, says Axeworthy, the revolution was not a religious revolution. Many disparate groups came together in opposition to the Shah, united by their opposition, which Khomeini easily represented. By March 1979, Khomeini easily won a referendum to set up a new government based on Islamic principles. The creation of Revolutionary Committees across Iran facilitated Khomeini’s leadership, as gradually all liberals and moderates were marginalized. By autumn a new constitution was set up creating a secular government but to be overseen by a Council of Guardians (twelve clerics and jurists) and all loyal to Khomeini. In November 1979, militant students seized the US Embassy, holding it for more than two years. Saddam Hussein attacked Iran in 1980, probably seeing an opportunity to defeat a weakened Iran. Eight years of war followed with the West supplying Iraq with arms, including chemical weapons. In 1988 a US warship, Vincennes, shot down an Iranian passenger jet killing 290 people, further dividing the two countries. It was at this time also that a fatwa against Salmon Rushdie was issued. Khomeini died in 1989 but succeeded in institutionalizing an Iranian Shi’a system of leadership but, says Axeworthy, Shi’ism “is bigger than the current Iranian religious leadership”, even Iranian Shi’ism. The population continued to grow at a rapid rate, from 33.7 million in 1976, to 68.5 million in 2007. Some positive changes under the Islamic Republic’s rule include extended infrastructure (piped water, health services, electricity and schools) in to the most remote areas of the country. Iran now has a high literacy rate, including females. 66% of students admitted to university are female. Several reform movements have occurred in Iran over the years since 1979. The election of President Khatami in 1997 and a strongly reformist parliament (Majles) in May 2000, resulted in 190 seats out of 290. This shows that there is a desire among the population for some kind of adjustment of government with respect to the relationship of religious leadership and secularism. Axeworthy points to some key missed opportunities the West (mainly the US) has had to readjust its relationship with Iran. For example, Iranians were deeply sympathetic with the victims of 9/11 and they supported coalition forces against the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001. Since then, the election, probably unfairly, of Ahmedinijad as President, has introduced further animosity with the West. The perception that “nuclear armed Iran controlling a Shi’a-dominated Iraq, a resurgent Shi’a Hezbollah in Lebanon, and a rising Sunni Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza … and other parts of the southern coast of the Persian Gulf” as an apocalyptic threat is unlikely. There is little enthusiasm, says Axeworthy, for such Iranian-style Islamic rule. It doesn’t look like a good time, under Ahmedinijad, for a rapprochement but despite him, there are others in a wider leadership circle in Iran who are more open. The nuclear weapons issue is pertinent here, but the difference between having the capability to produce (uranium 235 is required) and actual possession of nuclear weapons is also important. The only real utility of nuclear weapons is deterrence, and having the capability to produce versus possession of, is almost the same thing. The onus to use diplomacy before going to war is part of the West’s obligation to its own citizens, especially before sending their own sons and daughter to war. The Epilogue tells the story of the almost certainly falsified election of Ahmedinijad in 2009 and the subsequent mass protests, and the story of the Jasmine Revolution. The losing candidate in the false election was Mousavi, whose campaign colour was green.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Salma7-1

    Sunday, 15th February, 2015 1. The History of Iran, may have involved a lot of war and blood but it was one of the first civilizations to emerge. The Iranians or also known as the persians back then did a lot of great things. Since the Persians were one of the first civilizations, most european languages nowadays come from early Persian languages. "It has no structural relationship with Arabis or the other Semitic languages of the ancient Middle East" (Axworthy 2). The only regions who's language Sunday, 15th February, 2015 1. The History of Iran, may have involved a lot of war and blood but it was one of the first civilizations to emerge. The Iranians or also known as the persians back then did a lot of great things. Since the Persians were one of the first civilizations, most european languages nowadays come from early Persian languages. "It has no structural relationship with Arabis or the other Semitic languages of the ancient Middle East" (Axworthy 2). The only regions who's language doesn't relate to that of the Persian's are the ones in the middle east. During the Persian, Assyrian, Babylonian and Sumerian time there was an empire emerging called Elam. The Elamites didn't speak Iranian or Mesopotamian but their language came from the Assyrians, Sumerians and Babylonians. 2. Iranians or Persians ruled over most of the known world back then. They spread out all over the world and probably ruled over some non-iranian countries. Iranians or Persians had amazing land. "Iran is a land of great contrasts in climate and geography, and in addition to areas of productive agricultural land, there are more extensive areas of rugged mountain and semi-desert, worthless for stops but suitable for grazing, even if only for a limited period each year" (Axworthy 3). Iranians had some barriers such as the mountains and deserts so it wasn't that easy to attack. Their land was amazingly beautiful and fertile so it would have been amazing to liver there except for the nomads who would attack. If people back then wanted to be left alone they had to pay with half of their harvest. Even peasants had to pay the nomads so that was the only con of living in that amazing fertile land. 3. Iranians back then in the Mesopotamian time were called Persians and Medes. They were persian speaking immigrants who traveled to Iran. Persians and Medes were mentioned a lot of times in historical books and were the first to be mentioned. "The first such mention is in an Assyrian record of 836 BC- an account of an extended military campaign by the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III and several of his successors that was waged in the Zagros mountains and as far east as Mount Demavand, the high, extinct volcano in the Alborz range"(Axworthy 4). The Medes and Persians were fighting the Assyrians in Parsuash. The Medes and Persians were spread out all over present day Iran. Friday, February 20th, 2015 1. The Medes and some Scythian tribes established the first Iranian empire in 700 BC. After the Medes destroyed the Assyrian's capital their empire stretched over most of the known land back then. "At its height the Median Empire stretched from Asia Minor to the Hindu Kush, and the south to the Persian Gulf, ruling the Persians as vassals as well as many other subject peoples"(Axworthy 5). The Median empire was one of the most well known empires back then. It was very powerful and influenced most cultures. Thats why the Persian language relates to most European languages today. 2. Before the legendary Persian empire was ever mentioned, there was a important person. Zoroaster isn't just a myth or a legend but like most important figures scholars don't know if he actually lived. Although there is more information about him than compared with Jesus, Mohammad or Moses. "His dates are unknown and experts have disagreed radically about when he lived"(Axworthy 5). He was a religious thinker but scholars also don't know what he taught. He may have influenced most religions today but again scholars don't know much about him. Most stories about him are fables and his religious texts might be the only evidence that he actually lived. 3. Zoroaster's ideas and thoughts may have arisen when there was chaos in their little paradise. Others think that he just re-made religions that had already existed. In his religion like many others back then they had gods and demons. "The demons were associated with chaos and disorder- the antithesis of the principles of goodness and justice represented by the new religion"(Axworthy 7). People blamed disasters, deaths and bad weather on the demons. Most religions use that idea. All good comes from gods and all bad comes from demons. All good comes from heaven and all bad from hell. Zoroaster may be the seed of all religions or a re-maker of religions back then. Thursday, March 5th, 2015 1. Some names for gods that Zoroaster invented are used as months in the Iranian calendar today such as Bahman, Ordibehesht and Khordad. There were two main gods, Ahura Mazda and Ahriman, one was good and the other bad. "At the center of Zoroaster's theology was the opposition between Ahura Mazda, the creator-god of truth and light, and Ahriman, the embodiment of lies, darkness, and evil"(Axworthy 7). To early Iranians cattle was really important, which is obvious since they have many sculptures of bulls and cattle. There was a sacred bull named Vohu Manu who comes right after Ahura Mazda in the good side. He was killed by Ahriman and six other evil spirits, which then polluted the pure elements of water and fire. 2. Ahura Mazda was the good god who always had to fight against the bad god, Ahriman. There was a branch in Mazdaism called Zurvanism which said that the main god Zurvan wanted a son and got twins instead. "The twins became Ahura Mazda and Ahriman"(Axworthy 8). This was just one of the branches in the new religion. There where more and they were classified as heavenly beings. One example would be the idea of daena, which is also used in Pilgrim's Progress. This shows that early Iranian ideas spread all around. 3. Personification was used in Mazdaism which can be shown in different examples. There were two main examples, adhvenak and fravashi. "Adhvanek, the heavenly prototype for each human being, was associated with semen and regeneration. The fravashi were more active, associated with the strength of heroes, the protection of the living in life (like guardian angels), and the collection of souls after death (rather like the Valkyries in Germanic mythology)"(Axworthy 9). Mazdaism took many things from other religions but also may other religions took things from Mazdaism. Fravashi was a mix of good and bad, they weren't completely bad but not good either. These philosophies were a way of organizing things back then for the people.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Marget Pae

    I feel kind of guilty rating it so low, really thankful for the book in general.... . But there were moments I was tired of a mere enlisting of different shahs (at times, even Wikipedia was more informative, even more intriguing) and battles, with no deeper hindsight of what was really going on (incl. wider context, also historically). I always enjoy the parts where I SEE the author and his/her inner dilemmas, really enjoyed those parts (esp in the end chapters). Too fiew of them, though. And di I feel kind of guilty rating it so low, really thankful for the book in general.... . But there were moments I was tired of a mere enlisting of different shahs (at times, even Wikipedia was more informative, even more intriguing) and battles, with no deeper hindsight of what was really going on (incl. wider context, also historically). I always enjoy the parts where I SEE the author and his/her inner dilemmas, really enjoyed those parts (esp in the end chapters). Too fiew of them, though. And did not quite get the assumably ever-existent "Empire of the Mind" (though I knew all the way what it should have been) .... Loved the poetry-related chapters!

  29. 5 out of 5

    A. McMahon

    I was motivated to read about Iran some time ago due to one or other of the latest Middle East crises, I forget which, and after some online research, selected this book. I found it very good, but also wished that it had been better. Axworthy has done excellently in condensing 3000 years of history into 300 pages. By the end of this book, I found myself well informed about Iran's place in history and how it has developed into its current role on the world stage. Yet I couldn't help but feel that I was motivated to read about Iran some time ago due to one or other of the latest Middle East crises, I forget which, and after some online research, selected this book. I found it very good, but also wished that it had been better. Axworthy has done excellently in condensing 3000 years of history into 300 pages. By the end of this book, I found myself well informed about Iran's place in history and how it has developed into its current role on the world stage. Yet I couldn't help but feel that it had fallen short in several ways. If the marks were out of ten, I would give it 7/10, but four stars seems fairer than three, so I've rounded up rather than down. To any reader who, like me, wants to be better informed about Iran, I can recommend this book.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Maitrey

    Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran (EotM) by Michael Axworthy was a comprehensive history of Iran right from around 2000 BCE to the present. Like any history that tries to pack so much time into so few pages, EotM suffers from being too brisk and therefore a little confusing at times. Axworthy is no trained historian but rather a British diplomat who has served in both Iran and many parts of the Middle East. This gives EotM a unique perspective and makes for an excellent, easy to read introduc Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran (EotM) by Michael Axworthy was a comprehensive history of Iran right from around 2000 BCE to the present. Like any history that tries to pack so much time into so few pages, EotM suffers from being too brisk and therefore a little confusing at times. Axworthy is no trained historian but rather a British diplomat who has served in both Iran and many parts of the Middle East. This gives EotM a unique perspective and makes for an excellent, easy to read introduction to the complicated history of Iran. Starting with the Achameanids and Herodotus, Axworthy quickly trots through the ancient Persian history to the Parthians and their clash with Rome to the Sassanians and their tussle with Constantinople. Themes such as the clash between more nomadic dynasties from the mountainous east of Persia with the more settled western and urban part dominate this part of the book. Unfortunately Axworthy is limited to English and translated material here, and although he's tried to be as sympathetic as possible, his non-historian background is a hindrance. Then we quickly skip centuries and the Persian Middle ages almost, with a detailed discussion of Persian poetry rather than politics. It's clear Axworthy really loves Persian poetry, but well, it's alright and I don't think the translations probably do it full justice. To explain Iranian fixation with Shi'ism, we backtrack a few centuries to start with the Sunni-Shia split, and then the coming of Shi'ism in Iran thanks to the Safavids. The next few chapters are pretty chronologically linear covering the Nadir Shah years (who as an Indian I only knew as another of those looters of Delhi, but Axworthy paints a sympathetic portrait as a military genius who was a little ahead of his time and later may have succumbed to dementia and/or paranoia), the Qajar dynasty that followed and the Great Game of the 19th century between imperialist Britain and Russian. This is one of the best bits of the book, and since the sources are more varied and detailed, Axworthy I think accurately portrays Asian disenchantment and colonialism, also explaining how Persia was never formally colonised but was more or less carved up. The USA as a rising superpower is also visible here, and it was surprising to see that Iranians of this time (like many Asians) hoped the Americans would be a "Prince Charming" in their struggles. EoTM quickly mops up the remaining bits spending a decent amount of time on the Revolution and the years that preceded and followed it. Iran's tussle with Saddam's Iraq, which I was shocked to learn lasted almost a decade, is featured prominently. A short biography of Khomeini is also discussed and I was surprised to learn Khomeini's family traced its descent from India. Although, Khomeini himself never made a big deal of this since his enemies used his descent to try to paint him as a traitor. A major theme across these last few chapters is the general Iranian perception that the West meddled ruthlessly in Iranian internal affairs. Whether it is the alleged CIA engineered coup to topple Mossadegh, the West's backing of Saddam, or even their earlier support to the Shah against popular Iranian opinion to further Cold War ambitions. Axworthy doesn't openly criticise the West, but is clearly pro-Iranian and says even if the West didn't do all those things, the common perception remains and the West hasn't come clean. He is however unflinchingly critical of the older British and Russian policies of the late 19th century which he calls as nothing but folly. This book was written just before the change of government in Iran, so the chapter on Ahmedjinad looks already like a footnote the world will hopefully forget. Therefore, what looks like the recent rapprochement is completely absent, and EotM ends on a hopeful note for the future. Overall this book was a great overview into Iranian history, and it helped me put some major Iranian cultural aspects such as Zoroastrianism, Shi'ism, poetry, a sense of leadership among the Islamic world, its troubled relations with the West all into some kind of focus. It remains an excellent introduction, but nothing more than that.

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