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Product details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (1 Jun 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141188049
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141188041
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 21,301 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

"A book of great economy and power...with vivid imagery, a breathless way of writing that carries the reader along, and a supreme sense of the absurd." --"New Republic" "Like Sir Richard Butron, Evelyn Waugh and Mungo Park, [Kapuscinski] makes literature out of journalism." --"Newsweek" "Insightful and important.... A readable, timely and valuable contribution to the understanding of the revolutionary forces at work in Iran.... The reader almost becomes a participant." --"The New York Times Book Review" "A supercharged particle of a book." --"Los Angeles Times"

About the Author

Born in Pinsk, now in Belarus, in 1932, Kapuscinski was the pre-eminent writer among Polish reporters. After honing his skills on domestic stories, he traveled throughout the world and reported on several dozen wars, coups and revolutions in America, Asia, and especially in Africa, where he witnessed the liberation from colonialism. Kapuscinski's best-known book is a reportage-novel of the decline of Haile Selassie's anachronistic regime in Ethiopia - The Emperor, which has been translated into many languages. Shah of Shahs, about the last Shah of Iran, and Imperium, about the last days of the Soviet Union, have enjoyed similar success. He died in January 2007.

Christopher de Bellaigue was born in London in 1971. He has spent the past decade writing for, among others, The Economist, the New York Review of Books, the New Yorker and Granta, in the Middle East and South Asia. His first book, In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs: a Memoir of Iran, was shortlisted for the 2005 Ondaatje Prize. He is currently writing a book on eastern Turkey. He lives in Tehran with his wife and son.


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Everything is in confusion, as though the police have just finished a violent, nervous search. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Kivanc Emiroglu on 23 Oct 2006
Format: Paperback
In a series of books I have read about 20th century Iran, this book looks like the "lightest" one of all because it is neither a history book nor a political analysis book. There is not much information about the involved parties, their interests etc. However...

It is one of the most original book I have read that portrays the mood of the people, their reaction to the ruling dictator during the time of the revolution. It is almost like a documentary where the microphone is given to the citizens and asked how they feel before, during and after the revolution.

Ryszard talks about the time of Iranian Revolution in 70's by describing (but not showing) 12 photographs he chose and organising his interview notes with the Iranian people. You get a perfect sense of people's mood on the street and how the events led them to the revolution.

I suggest this book to the people who know a little bit about Iran's 20th century history. For first timers, it may be a little bit vague because throughout the book, Ryszard drops political party, politician and city names very liberally without giving any background about them.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Colin C on 7 July 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
'Shah of Shahs' is a vivid account of the downfall of the last Shah of Iran - an insight into a great historical turning point with global repercussions, by a very accomplished writer.

As a reader without much prior knowledge of Iranian history who came to this having enjoyed 'Imperium' by Kapuscinski, I found it to be an accessible read, and all the more impressively so given that it is a fairly short book, in which the author must summarise a great deal of Iranian and colonial history while also writing as a genuine observer of the events of 1979.

Iran continues to be a highly mysterious country in western eyes, and this book does give you a good idea of the background to the current regime.

Recommended.
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful By mejlvang@forum.dk on 14 Oct 2001
Format: Paperback
I'm a great admirer of Ryszard Kapuscinski, and I have read all of his work, or a least the part of it which has been translated into english. Shah of Shahs is Kapuscinski at his very best. In the book he gives a very personnal view of the circumstances that led to the abdication of the Iranian Shah and made way to the new leadership under Ayatollah Khomeini. In a highly readable way, Kapuscinski gives you an outline of the modern history of Iran. The book was written back in 1982, but the quality of Kapuscinski's writing ensures that the events and episodes described in the book still feels relevant and interesting even today.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Sally Wilton VINE VOICE on 29 July 2007
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I knew nothing of Iranian history other than the relatively recent revolution by islamic fundamentalists. This book by my favourite roving reporter gives concise and detailed information about the story of the last 80 years or so of rule by the Shah and his father Reza Shah. I am sure my Iranian friends would deny any of this and would swear that their beloved Excellency The Shah of Iran has been maligned, but the facts stated would give good reason for the popular revolution that have been so disasterous for this country. The British interference is a disgrace, if it is true, as there was at one point a chance of democracy and prosperity for the people of Iran if only the Brits had not been so covetous of the oil reserves there, which in reality should have benefited the indigenous people and not the Billionaire Shah or the exploration companies. Although 20 years old this book is controversial but probably a very good statement of real facts surrounding a privaliged person who was incompetant, greedy, a playboy and ultimately a despot.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Carno Polo on 18 Jan 2012
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This is a captivating book that describes the atmosphere around the fall of the Shah in 1979. It provides a background of the preceding period and the forces at play. It might well have been called: "Decline and Fall of Imperial Iran", as it is more about the unraveling of the Peacock dynasty than one particular man. As the author aptly puts it: "the Shah left people with a choice between the Savak and the Mullahs. And they chose the Mullahs."

The Shah's errors are described without mercy, but he is perhaps shortchanged for what he did accomplish in Iran. It is no wonder that so many in Iran are nostalgic of his times even decades after his death.

As always with Kapuscinski, the book is a pleasure to read, even if the history buff will find some inaccuracies and some superficial sweeping statements here and there. But it is excellent journalism, setting the current story in the context of history.

The author wrote another book about a falling tyrant, the Emperor of Ethiopia, also recommended.The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat (Penguin Classics)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By AK TOP 500 REVIEWER on 25 May 2010
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If you have read any Kapuscinski before, the book will not come as a surprise - in essence it is a classical piece of his writing. In it he does not really focus on the 'great man theory', nor does he give much credence to theories of international relations or historical inevitability. He just looks at the Iranian situation and the Islamic Revolution of Iran from a very fresh perspective, which might not be sufficient in its own right for forming a complete picture but is an essential piece of the picture nevertheless.

The majority of the book revolves around 12 pictures, which the author describes (but does not show), these being used as metaphors for stages of development, as well as an organizing framework for his writing. One will not find much historical perspective in the book but will, on the other hand see many firsthand accounts of how the perception of the situation changed from moment to moment, and what some guiding principles were that produced the historical development (a more typical book would give dates of the protests in 1978, but not point out the mechanism behind - a protest every 40 days, when the mourning period for the protesters shot at the previous massacre came to an end and allowed for public outrage). He also manages to explain why religion, especially the Shia branch, was such a natural fit and the expected source of revolt in Iranian society, something I generally found lacking in other accounts of the revolution.

I guess the book will be most comparable to his accounts from Angola and Ethiopia (
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