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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and Very Readable
'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...
Published on 7 July 2006 by Colin C

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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Different way of looking at history
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...
Published on 23 Oct 2006 by Kivanc Emiroglu


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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Different way of looking at history, 23 Oct 2006
By 
Kivanc Emiroglu (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Shah of Shahs (Penguin Classics) (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
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and Very Readable, 7 July 2006
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This review is from: Shah of Shahs (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
'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
5.0 out of 5 stars Shah of Shas; A fantastic story about the modern Iran, 14 Oct 2001
By 
mejlvang@forum.dk (Stockholm, Sweden.) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Shah of Shahs (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
5.0 out of 5 stars Andy Warhol front cover + some great writing, 29 July 2007
By 
Sally Wilton "Sally" (Bournemouth UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Shah of Shahs (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
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
3.0 out of 5 stars a lively account of the end of an imperial dynasty, 18 Jan 2012
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This review is from: Shah of Shahs (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic Kapuscinski - reporting from the level of the 'man in the street', 25 May 2010
By 
AK (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Shah of Shahs (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
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 (Another Day of Life (Penguin Modern Classics) and The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat (Penguin Classics)) and is a good complement to Mark Bowden's Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in the West's War on Militant Islam, which provides some historical perspective and then focuses more narrowly on the US Embassy hostage situation.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars light on revolutions, 27 Mar 2007
This review is from: Shah of Shahs (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
In one hundred pages and in a very smart and subtle way Kapuscinski writes about the Shah, the people of Iran and the Revolution. But this is not a book about politics, it tells small stories of a big drama, it is about the vanity of the emperor, the fanatism of religion or the life of ordinary people. I would compare this book to Orwell's Animal Farm. It is full of commne sense and making evident the real implications that absolutism of any kind has on people. This was my first book of Kapuscinski and I was impressed by his enlightment and his writing. Starting with a photograph, an article on a newspaper or a simple walk in Teheran, the history of Iran comes out. A masterpiece.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Old book but essential reading, now more than ever, 14 Sep 2004
This review is from: Shah of Shahs (Paperback)
If you haven't read anything by Richard Kapuscinski, I suggest you start. I was initially a bit sceptical when, only a few pages into the book, the author admits that he doesn't speak Farsi. After all, if you can't speak the language, can you really write authoritatively about a country and its history? Kapuscinski can, it seems. I also had my doubts about how much you can learn from a book which is only 150-odd pages long but, again, it is quite remarkable how much detail the author does manage to get in. You won't get a year-by-year account of the Shah's 35-year reign or a day-by-day account of the 1979 revolution. You will get a brief but densely-packed explanation of the main defining moments in Iran's history:- the rise of the Shia variety of Islam in Iran; the founding of the Pahlavi dynasty by the Shah's father; the US- and British-backed coup in 1953 that overthrew Mossadegh, the man who tried to nationalise Iran's oil; the dramatic jump in oil prices in 1973 and the Shah's pathetic illusions about transforming Iran into a first world country within a decade; and, finally, the Shah's overthrow and Iran's dubious distinction of being the first country to come under the clutches of the Moslem fundamentalists (or, rather, the openly anti-Western variety). Wrapped around all this, in typical Kapuscinski style, are a series of fantastic anecdotes.
Over twenty years have passed since this book was written but, in the current international climate, it is actually more essential reading than ever before. Certainly essential reading for Bush, Rumsfeld & Co. but also for anyone who, regardless of his political viewpoint, wants to know more about one of the key events leading up to 11 September and its aftermath.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Totalitarianism and its consequences, 30 May 2008
This review is from: Shah of Shahs (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
This book is not a chronological study of the Iranian revolution in 1978. It is speculative, meditative and quite remote from the events that so shook the world. It would seem that K. was not able to get out and about much at the time and much is filtered through the medium of old photographs and notes that he made in his hotel, whilst the revolutionary gangs prowled the streets. I think the book is excellent on its own terms, as a contemplative statement about revolutions, absolute power and totalitarian dictatorship. It was no surprise that one type of totalitarian state succeeded another in Iran, the Shah was obnoxious and K somehow sensed that what would follow would not be a true political change, rather a change of personnel with business as usual with executions and the like. His presentiment that it will take generations for deep seated political change will no doubt turn out to be on the button. If you want to know the history of the Iranian revolution, do not get this book. If you want to understand the nature of totalitarianism and the long term consequences for generations to come, do buy it and ingest it.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The end of the Shah, 16 Mar 2009
This review is from: Shah of Shahs (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Mr.K's second book to be translated into English.It was written during and just after the Iranian Revolution 0f 1978-79, and,as usual with Mr K,it is fantastic.
As in his other books,he has an eye for the very arresting incident that helps place you in his shoes.In "Shah of Shahs", he recounts listening to incomprehensible radio broadcasts,not being able to tune into any language he can understand.What are the programmes saying?Have the Americans invaded?Has civil war broke out?Have all foriegnres been expelled?Great description of the parqanoia that infects all in the course of revolutions.
His description of the "petrobourgeisie"-a class that emerged in the Shah's Iran from 1973 onwards,dedicated to conspicuous consumption and waste-is well done.Best of all is Mr.K's attempt to describe the Shah's economic policies.
"How many tanks does the Bundeswehr have?"
"about 1000."
"Right,buy 1200."
The thought that Iran(or anyone else)can simply buy development,and bypass a process that took Germany,France or the USA centuries.The Shah wasn't too keen on organic development,as that would have meant having to produce engineers,teachers,lawyers,in short an educated class which could challenge the Shah's absolute power.Far better to buy development than change Iranian society.
Brilliant,in short.If this is your first book by Mr.K,beware that you'll end up reading all of them.Start saving up now!!
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Shah of Shahs (Penguin Classics)
Shah of Shahs (Penguin Classics) by Ryszard Kapuscinski (Paperback - 1 Jun 2006)
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