Learning about Iran Through Two Classic Books: All the Shah’s Men and Persepolis

11 Dec

Many people learn about Iran because of its hostile relationship with the United States, but the history and culture of the country is much more complex than it is often portrayed. Two classic books, All the Shah’s Men by Stephen Kinzer and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, are compelling stories that provide great context for understanding Iran in 2019.

All the Shah’s Men focuses on a 1953 coup d’état led by the U.S. and Great Britain against Iran’s democratically elected president Mohammed Mosaddegh. Mosaddegh was a progressive leader who supported religious freedom, women’s rights, and empowering the poor in his country. He was elected  by promising to nationalize the British oil companies operating in Iran that were siphoning all of the wealth they were generating out of the country. This greatly angered the British and at the height of Cold War hysteria, President Eisenhower began to fear that Iran would fall to Communist rule. Kinzer’s book explains how the coup against Mosaddegh was orchestrated, going into great detail about secret plots, propaganda campaigns, and international conspiracies. This is history written as a spy novel and a suspenseful story that describes an Iran that was on the verge on becoming a secular democracy before it was so cruelly undermined.

Persepolis picks up shortly after the events of All the Shah’s Men. Marji is a ten-year old girl in 1980 who is growing up during the Islamic Revolution, a time when her country is becoming increasingly religious and more restrictive of women’s freedoms. Had Mohammed Mosaddegh stayed in power, Marji may have grown up in a much different country, but his ousting created an opening for religious fundamentalism to thrive. Persepolis is a graphic novel that provides an on the ground view of what life is like for someone living through these events. Marji is a smart and observant narrator who makes life Iran understandable to an audience of all ages. Satrapi’s wonderful art and storytelling have made Persepolis one of the most critically acclaimed graphic novels of all time.  You can also borrow the sequel and an adaptation on DVD.

Reading both books together gave me a great overview of Iran’s modern history. What new and countries and cultures have you learned about through the resources available at the Hoboken Public Library?  Share with us in the comments.

Written by:
Karl Schwartz
Young Adult Librarian

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