The best books on Iranian history and culture

Who am I?

Richard Foltz is a cultural historian specializing in the broader Iranian world. He holds a Ph.D. in Middle Eastern History from Harvard University and has published eleven books and over one hundred articles on topics ranging from animal rights to Zoroastrianism. He is currently Professor in the Department of Religions and Cultures at Concordia University in Montréal, Canada.


I wrote...

Iran in World History

By Richard Foltz,

Book cover of Iran in World History

What is my book about?

Contrary to its portrayal in today’s mainstream media, Iran is considered throughout much of Eurasia to have produced one of the world’s foundational civilizations, its influence stretching from the Balkans to India and China. Indeed, it is a little-recognized fact that the ancient Greeks defined their civilization through interaction with the Persians. This concise, readable book introduces readers to the many cultural contributions made by Iranians throughout history, from the invention of the world’s first postal system to contemporary award-winning cinema.

The books I picked & why

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The Mantle of the Prophet: Religion and Politics in Iran

By Roy Mottahedeh,

Book cover of 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.


A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind

By Michael Axworthy,

Book cover of 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.


Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings

By Abolqasem Ferdowsi, Dick Davis (translator),

Book cover of Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings

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.


Censoring an Iranian Love Story

By Shahriar Mandanipour, Sara Khalili,

Book cover of 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.


The Blind Owl

By Naveed Noori, Sadegh Hedayat,

Book cover of 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.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Iran, the history of Iran, and the Iranian Revolution?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Iran, the history of Iran, and the Iranian Revolution.

Iran Explore 67 books about Iran
The History Of Iran Explore 9 books about the history of Iran
The Iranian Revolution Explore 13 books about the Iranian Revolution

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Comprehensive History of the Jews of Iran, The Ayatollah Begs to Differ, and Shahnameh if you like this list.