Iran and the Rise of Reza Shah
From Qajar Collapse to Pahlavi Power
by Cyrus Ghani
London: I.B. Tauris, 1998. 434 pp. $45.
Reviewed by Daniel Pipes
Middle East Quarterly
In Iran, as throughout the Middle East, the First World War and its aftermath was the crucial era of change. The timetable was a bit slower, for Iran was less directly affected by the dissolution of the Ottoman empire than the countries to its west, but the impact was no less great. As the subtitle signals, Ghani symbolizes the change via the monarchy: the last Qajar, Ahmad Shah, was an "irresolute, pleasure-seeking young man who came to the throne through an accident of birth," whereas Reza Shah was quite the opposite. Ghani writes of "his stern appearance, rarely a smile on his face, and his outbursts of anger even in public," and deems him "straight-laced, taciturn and a moralist."
Ghani, a legal consultant and a bibliophile (he makes the astonishing assertion that "Almost all the books I have relied on [to research Iran and the Rise of Reza Shah] were in my own library"), is a first-class historian who in a clear manner explains the intricate process by which the British in 1921 almost accidentally pulled off a coup d'état that set in process the steps that led to dynastic change and the bumpy ride that would be the Pahlavi period. Perhaps most interesting from the vantage point of seven decades later is how Reza Shah's reign foreshadowed so many of the problems that his son Mohammad Reza Shah would later encounter, including his autocracy, suspiciousness, obsession with security, difficult relations with the Islamic hierarchy, and misunderstanding of the Western vs. Soviet dynamic.
Related Topics: History, Iran | Daniel Pipes | December 1999 MEQ
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