The best books on Iranian history and culture

The Books I Picked & Why

The Mantle of the Prophet: Religion and Politics in Iran

By Roy Mottahedeh

The Mantle of the Prophet: Religion and Politics in Iran

Why this book?

This is the book that made me decide to become a historian. It reads like a gripping novel, alternating between the story of a religious scholar caught up in the revolution of 1979 and the retelling of Iran’s history over the past five hundred years that led up to it.


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A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind

By Michael Axworthy

A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind

Why this book?

An engagingly written, fair and balanced history for readers interested in more detail and analysis than is found in my own slim introductory volume. In my view the single best scholarly history of Iran ever written.


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Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings (Translated By Dick Davis)

By Abolqasem Ferdowsi, Dick Davis

Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings (Translated By Dick Davis)

Why this book?

This is one of the monuments of world literature and is considered to be the most important work ever composed in Persian. Compiled and versified a thousand years ago from heroic legends dating back a thousand or more years before that, the Book of Kings celebrates Iran’s pre-Islamic history and is the single greatest marker of Iranian cultural identity today.


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Censoring an Iranian Love Story

By Shahriar Mandanipour, Sara Khalili

Censoring an Iranian Love Story

Why this book?

Against the backdrop of an unlucky courtship between two young students in today’s Tehran, this entertaining novel uses humour to ridicule the myopic mentality of contemporary Iran’s religious leadership that wishes to see itself as cultured and intellectual.


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The Blind Owl

By Sadegh Hedayat, Naveed Noori

The Blind Owl

Why this book?

Written in the 1930’s, this is considered to be the first great modern novel in Persian. A haunting, nightmarish narrative where hallucination becomes indistinguishable from reality, it is something of an Iranian mix between Edgar Allan Poe and Bret Easton Ellis.


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