Review: All the Shah's Men by Stephen Kinzer

All The Shah's Men (Image source: Amazon)
When I came across this book as a suggestion by an online retailer, I couldn't be happier. It fitted perfectly as the missing first part of my trilogy of books on Iranian politics, with the other two being The Oil Kings and The Guests of the Ayatollah. Unwittingly though, I have read these three books in the reverse order from the chronological perspective. Though I hadn't ever heard of Stephen Kinzer, but the reviews were good enough apart from the description to lure me into buying it. However, since I read the reviews of In the Name of Sorrow and Hope on Amazon ( I have begun to trust reviews with a less trusting eye, and more so after reading an article on Forbes about fake reviews (

The golden shiny cover of the book gave it a look of a classic book, but it also had an ugly red colored circle proclaiming it to be a 'national bestseller'. I personally like books which don't proclaim what praise they have got on the front page. On the back cover is fine, but on the front page is being superabundant. Books usually by universities like Oxford, Cambridge etc. don't indulge in such foolish and naive braggadocio. The preface to the 2008 edition told me how "more than half a century had passed since the United States deposed the only democratic government Iran ever had" and how Iran would have been different had the "United States not sent agents to depose" Mohammad Mossadegh and how "the United States deposed a popular Iranian nationalist" in 1953. It continued to explain how "the British secret service worked with the CIA to depose Prime Minister Mossadegh" and that the "United States  violently interrupted Iran's progress toward freedom by overthrowing Prime Minister Mossadegh in 1953" and how Akbar Ganji, an Iranian dissident, reported "Iranians will never forget the 1953 U.S.- supported coup that toppled the nationalist, moderate, democratic government of Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh" and that "Operation Ajax, as the CIA plot to depose Prime Minister Mossadegh was code-named, brought immense tragedy to Iran". After such tortuous harping about the "deposition of Mossadegh" I wondered how could this book make it to the list of "national bestseller"; and it made me think about the state of the "nation" where it was so!

I did not buy this book to know "how" it was done, but rather "why" it was done. But hope was not in sight especially after reading what was coming up. The author intelligently suggests that the current Iranian crisis can be handled with negotiations just like the way it was done with China and North Korea. Yes, that sounded like a baritone amongst a barrage of squeaks. But it died down when he goes on to say that "in the interest of the United States to promote all manner of social, political, and economic contacts with people" the United States should "invite as many Iranians as possible to the United States and flood Iran with Americans, ranging from students and professors to farmers and entrepreneurs to writers and artists". People don't go and settle down in other countries to promote goodwill amongst two arguing nations, but rather as an after effect of goodwill between two countries. It left me wondering what else I could have done with Rs. 996/-.

The author, being a journalist, expectedly starts with events on 15th of August, 1953 and rewinds back to give a fascinating yet somewhat aloof overview of the history of Iran. He starts from how "migrants from Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent began arriving in what is now Iran nearly four thousand years ago", continues to Darius, Cyrus and Xerxes and the fights of the Zoroastrians with the Arabs and the ultimate triumph of a different form of Islam, Shia Islam, in the region. He explains how the British imperialists exploited the region for oil and power and how ultimately the United States, resisting earlier under Harry Truman but gave in under Dwight D. Eisenhower, became a party to overthrow Mossadegh. The book covers how the Qajar dynasty was thrown out with the rise of Reza Khan and the later ascent of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. It ends with a very fleeting view of the Iranian revolution. Completing this book gave me a better understanding of the 1979 revolution's roots and would recommend it to be read as a beginner's book on understanding West Asian politics.

At last I am convinced that I could have done nothing better with those Rs. 996/-. And also to never judge a book neither by its cover, nor by its preface!


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