Before this century's convolutions, Iran was ruled by a tired empire with an age-old landed nobility, and few families were richer in either tradition or land than the Farmanfarmaians. Born in 1917, Prince Manucher made the transition to modernity by studying petroleum engineering in England and using his training and his family position to become an important official in Iran's oil industry.
Farmanfarmaian was a bit player in many of the great moments of Iran's modern history, from the Soviet-British occupation during World War II through the Mussadiq nationalization of the oil industry, rapid socio-economic development, and the Islamic revolution of 1978-79. He also participated in the changes that the international oil business, from control by politically well-connected major oil companies to domination by producer country governments coordinated through the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), in whose founding he was active. His memoirs concentrate on providing personal vignettes about how these events unfolded, with enough background material about the grand politics to provide the context.
Farmanfarmaian and his journalist daughter Roxanne have written an engaging account of a rich life. In it, he wisely concentrates on the elite circles in which he traveled, with only the occasional aside about the ordinary Iranians from which he was so distant. These memoirs are the best introduction to modern Iran for the general reader, faut de mieux, even if they do pass over in silence some less than pleasant features of the author's circles (such as the massive corruption). The Farmanfarmaians provide both a sense of how culture and history have affected high politics and the lively personal details that bring grand historical developments to life.