A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF THE YEAR ? A hugely ambitious, “delightfully readable, genuinely informative” portrait (The New York Times) of the two-centuries-long entwined histories of Iran and America–two powers who were once allies and now adversaries–by an admired historian and former journalist.
In this rich, fascinating history, John Ghazvinian traces the complex story of the relations between these two nations back to the Persian Empire of the eighteenth century–the subject of great admiration by Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams–and an America seen by Iranians as an ideal to emulate for their own government.
Drawing on years of archival research both in the United States and Iran–including access to Iranian government archives rarely available to Western scholars–the Iranian-born, Oxford-educated historian leads us through the four seasons of U.S.-Iran relations: the spring of mutual fascination; the summer of early interactions; the autumn of close strategic ties; and the long, dark winter of mutual hatred. Ghazvinian makes clear where, how, and when it all went wrong. America and Iran shows why two countries that once had such heartfelt admiration for each other became such committed enemies–and why it didn’t have to turn out this way.
The hostility between the U.S. and Iran is a tragic lapse from a once-friendly relationship, according to this sweeping study. Historian Ghazvinian (coeditor, American and Muslim Worlds Before 1900) surveys American-Iranian relations back to colonial Americans’ support for Persia in conflicts with the Turks and Tehran’s perennial desire for closer ties to the U.S. as a counterweight against British and Russian domination in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Iranians’ pro-American outlook soured, he contends, when the C.I.A. orchestrated the 1953 coup against liberal nationalist Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq and then lavished arms on Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s unpopular dictatorship. After the Shah’s overthrow in 1979, Iranian rage and American cluelessness precipitated the U.S. embassy hostage crisis. Ghazvinian blames present-day antagonism mostly on America, arguing that Iran’s conciliatory efforts, from arms-for-hostages initiatives to the Iran nuclear deal, have met with rebuffs, betrayals, and sanctions, as well as on Israel for playing a major role in sabotaging potential rapprochements. Ghazvinian distills much complicated history into a lucid, graceful narrative studded with vivid profiles, including a description of populist president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as “he son of a blacksmith, greasy and disheveled in appearance, so full of godly piety that he rarely dressed in anything more formal than a zip-up windbreaker.” The result is a nuanced, illuminating, and much-needed corrective to one-sided vilifications of Tehran. (Oct.)
– Publishers Weekly
Iranian-American historian and journalist Ghazvinian (Untapped) traces the history of the relationship between America and Iran dating back from 1720. The book draws on extensive historical documents and archival sources to expand the hidden profiles and personalities of Iranians and Americans who were engaged in fostering relations with one another. At almost 700 pages, this book captures the details of this complex relationship and clearly explains how both countries have been forced to respond to each other positively and harshly based on historical circumstances and conditions. The book is timely and vividly engaging for those trying to understand how both nations have perceived and interacted with each other, as well as with how their relationship became complicated and intense following the hostage crisis in 1979 and, most recently, the murder of Iranian major general Qasem Soleimani in 2020. Ghazvinian’s epilog offers hope in building a positive relationship between the two as strategic partners, and the importance of such partnership for the world. VERDICT Readers interested in the history of U.S.-Iran and Middle Eastern politics and history will find Ghazvinian’s book to be richly telling and in-depth.–Raymond Pun, Alder Graduate Sch. of Education, CA
– Library Journal
An expert on Iran delineates the massive rift between the erstwhile “closest of allies.”
In this relevant, highly elucidating work, Ghazvinian employs the poetic theme of the changing of seasons as he moves through the evolving relationship between the U.S. and Iran–from “spring,” when American colonists indulged in “Persophilia” (a romantic idealization of Persian culture and society) to “winter,” the current season, begun when the Islamic Revolution of 1979 brought chants of “death to America.” Even before the founding of the U.S., the American colonists were deeply sympathetic to the Persian Empire, for reasons both religious (where Cyrus the Great liberated the Jews from the Babylonian captivity) and political, as the counterweight to the dreaded Ottoman Empire. Ghazvinian shows how the fascination was mutual, and the Founding Fathers even derived some of their ideas from ancient Persian rule. During the second half of the 19th century, the “empire’s carcass” was “picked clean” by imperial powers like Russia and the British Empire, and Iran looked to the dynamic U.S. for help repelling colonial plunder and political interference. The defining moment in the relationship came in 1953, with the coup d’etat, engineered by the CIA and MI6, of the popular reformist Mohammad Mosaddeq. Unfortunately, the coup occurred just when Iranians desperately needed the U.S. to help bolster an educated, liberal-minded generation. After that, “Iran would swing violently back down the path of dictatorship, and over the next twenty-five years, the energetic political culture of the 1940s would disappear as activists struggled under the constant surveillance of the shah’s secret police.” Ghazvinian systematically shows how the revolution and hostage crisis served as payback. Though he left Iran at age 1 and hadn’t returned before he started this book, his decadelong, intensive research results in an evenhanded, revelatory narrative in which the author avoids muddying the waters with an overt political agenda.
An excellent single-volume history of a fraught international relationship that shows few signs of improvement.
– Kirkus Reviews
Delightfully readable, genuinely informative, and impressively literate.” –The New York Times
“Beautifully laid out and at times reading like a thriller you don’t want to put down.” –Hooman Majd, author of The Ayatollah Begs to Differ
“A magnificent, bold, wide-reaching and potentially significant book on the thorny subject of Iranian-American relations. . . . History as history should be written: accessible, humane, thoughtful, insightful and in places extremely funny.” –The Catholic Herald
“History in the hands of a master. Ghazvinian leads us far beyond the mindless shouting of recent decades to tell a story of friendship, sacrifice, and discovery. Should be required reading in both Tehran and Washington.” –Ambassador John Limbert, US Deputy Secretary of State for Iran (2009-10); former hostage in the US Embassy in Tehran (1979-81)
“Extensively researched and very well-written. . . . Anyone who reads the book will come away with a deeper understanding of the policy decisions and political upheavals that have shaped this relationship.” –The American Conservative
“Timely and vividly engaging. . . .[Ghazvinian] captures the details of this complex relationship and clearly explains how both countries have been forced to respond to each other positively and harshly based on historical circumstances and conditions.” –Library Journal
“A compelling and insightful read.” –Irish Examiner
“A nuanced, illuminating, and much needed corrective to one-sided vilifications of Tehran.” –Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“An expert on Iran delineates the massive rift between the erstwhile ‘closest of allies’ … relevant, highly elucidating … an evenhanded, revelatory narrative in which the author avoids muddying the waters with an overtly political agenda. An excellent single-volume history of a fraught international relationship.” –Kirkus (starred review)
– From the Publisher