Thoroughly researched and told in a breathless journalistic style, this book provides a simple, easy-to-read introduction to a number of the topics it touches upon: 20th-century Iranian history; the end of the British imperial moment in the Middle East; the politics of oil; and the transformation of American foreign policy in response to decolonization and the Cold War.
While the narrative centers on Dr Mossadegh's rise and fall, and the Anglo-American part in that, it is preceded by a broad overview of Iranian and Persian history back to Zarathustra and beyond, and viewed through the lens of post-revolutionary, post-9/11 developments. This lends an uncomfortable determinism to the narrative: Kinzer seems keen to draw some kind of line through Iranian history from Zoroastrianism and Twelver Shi'ism through to Khomeini and Ahmedinejad, with the centerpiece of his story -- the 1953 coup -- as its pivot. This necessarily leads him down the Orientalist path: Iranian culture and religion are depicted containing some mysterious 'essence' that we westerners cannot hope to understand, but which explains pretty much everything in Iranian history.
The broad-brush nature of the narrative also reduces some of the principal actors to two-dimensional figures: Mohammad Reza Shah comes across as a vaudeville character, Herbert Morrison as a cretin, and despite using a multiplicity of sources, Kinzer never quite lets Mossadegh emerge with all his contradictions intact; the author is too partial in this regard. On the other hand, his depiction of Kermit Roosevelt rings very true.