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Why has Iran fared so much worse than Turkey in the twentieth century? Absolute monarchy and Islamic revolution stunted political development in the Iranian case; oil exports held its economy hostage; class and ethnic differences seem only to worsen with the passage of time. In contrast, while Turkey has had its share of tribulations, it has gradually become more democratic, wealthy, and stable.

Cronin offers an original and provocative thesis for this difference by contrasting Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938), founder of Turkey's modern state, with Reza Shah Pahlavi (1878-1944), founder of the Pahlavi dynasty. The two contemporaries both rose to the top of their respective military establishments and displayed severely authoritarian outlooks. Both faced crises in the aftermath of World War I. But Atatürk had a solid grounding in Western ways, which led him ultimately to seek a legal basis for the Turkish Republic, to keep the military out of politics, foster secularism, and encourage political participation. In contrast, the "patrimonial monarchy" established by his Iranian counterpart "possessed none of these positive features." Interesting, but a bit strong: Reza Shah emulated Atatürk in many respects, including his secularism, and the Iranian military has stayed more scrupulously outside of politics than the Turkish.

In the course of her illuminating detective work to piece together the army's history in the crucial years around World War I, Cronin ventures to speculate that had Reza Shah's rival, the British-trained Colonel Muhammad Taqi Khan Paysan, won power, "Iran might have followed a path closer to that of Turkey under Kemal, building more solid institutions and achieving greater stability."