The best books on Iranian history, politics, and culture

Who am I?

I am a professor of politics and international relations with a focus on Iran. My passion for the country started while studying Persian or Farsi with an exceptional professor in graduate school. During that time, I had the privilege of traveling to Iran three times to study the language and conduct research on rural politics. This period coincided with the Green Movement uprising, a pivotal moment in the country. Since then, I have been enthralled by Iranian history, politics, and culture. Their richness and complexity make it a subject that can be studied and appreciated for a lifetime.              


I wrote...

Iran's Reconstruction Jihad: Rural Development and Regime Consolidation after 1979

By Eric Lob,

Book cover of Iran's Reconstruction Jihad: Rural Development and Regime Consolidation after 1979

What is my book about?

Based on over one hundred and thirty interviews with government officials, revolutionary activists, war veterans, and development experts, this is the first full-length study in English to examine the significant yet understudied organization and ministry, Reconstruction Jihad, as a basis for understanding the political and social changes and continuities that have transpired in the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) over the last four decades. Exploring the success of the Iranian revolution, the state's development policies, its overall resilience and the conflicting dynamics of its attempts to mobilize and institutionalize activists, Iran’s Reconstruction Jihad is one of the few studies that adopts an institutionalist approach toward analyzing critical aspects of the IRI’s history and politics, with comparative implications for analyzing revolutionary processes and outcomes across other geographic regions and time periods.

The books I picked & why

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Iran Between Two Revolutions

By Ervand Abrahamian,

Book cover of Iran Between Two Revolutions

Why this book?

This book is written by one of the leading historians and commentators on Iran. As the title suggests, the book offers an in-depth and nuanced analysis of the myriad sociopolitical forces and changes in Iran between its Constitutional Revolution (1905-09) and Islamic Revolution (1977-79). Of particular emphasis is the evolution and fate of monarchists, constitutionalists, leftists, nationalists, and Islamists. At times, the book tempts the reader to adopt a teleological perspective and contemplate missed opportunities during critical junctures or inflection points that could have put the country on a more participatory and progressive path.     

Iran Between Two Revolutions

By Ervand Abrahamian,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Iran Between Two Revolutions as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Emphasizing the interaction between political organizations and social forces, Ervand Abrahamian discusses Iranian society and politics during the period between the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1909 and the Islamic Revolution of 1977-1979. Presented here is a study of the emergence of horizontal divisions, or socio-economic classes, in a country with strong vertical divisions based on ethnicity, religious ideology, and regional particularism. Professor Abrahamian focuses on the class and ethnic roots of the major radical movements in the modem era, particularly the constitutional movement of the 1900s, the communist Tudeh party of the 1940s, the nationalist struggle of the early 1950s, and…

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?

Straddling the boundaries between academic history and historical non-fiction, this book is difficult, if not impossible, to put down and draws the reader into the rich and multifaceted world of Iran’s history, politics, culture, and religion. The book is narrated through the life and lens of an ayatollah who is caught between tradition and modernity, religiosity and secularism, and east and west, much like Iran itself. Seamlessly weaving the past and present, the book reveals the inherent complexities and contradictions of Iranian identity that have been superimposed on a state and society torn between notions and aspirations of divine and popular sovereignty.       

The Mantle of the Prophet: Religion and Politics in Iran

By Roy Mottahedeh,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Mantle of the Prophet as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Drawn from the first-hand accounts of eyewitnesses, Roy Mottahedeh's account of Islam and politics in revolutionary Iran is widely regarded as one the best records ofd that turbulent time ever written. The true story of a young mullah, hi life in the sacred shrine city of Qom, and the dramatic events of the 1979 Revolution, this account paints a vivid picture of contemporary Iran, while providing a panoramic survey of Muslim, Shi'ite and Persian culture from the middle ages to the present day. From the ancient time of Zoroaster to the world of Khomeini, this saga interweaves biography with history,…

The Unthinkable Revolution in Iran

By Charles Kurzman,

Book cover of The Unthinkable Revolution in Iran

Why this book?

Importantly, this book reminds the reader that the Iranian Revolution and others are rare and unpredictable events in human history that breed chaos and uncertainty. The book systematically and convincingly debunks the conventional explanations for the revolution related to static structures and processes in the government, military, economy, society, and culture. Instead, the book argues that what ultimately turned the tide of the revolution was the agency of activists who purposively created and exploited these structures and processes, translated initial fear into intensified outrage, drew power in numbers, and became convinced that success in the form of regime change was possible.       

The Unthinkable Revolution in Iran

By Charles Kurzman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Unthinkable Revolution in Iran as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, would remain on the throne for the foreseeable future: This was the firm conclusion of a top-secret CIA analysis issued in October 1978. One hundred days later the shah--despite his massive military, fearsome security police, and superpower support was overthrown by a popular and largely peaceful revolution. But the CIA was not alone in its myopia, as Charles Kurzman reveals in this penetrating work; Iranians themselves, except for a tiny minority, considered a revolution inconceivable until it actually occurred. Revisiting the circumstances surrounding the fall of the shah, Kurzman offers rare insight into…


Days of Revolution: Political Unrest in an Iranian Village

By Mary Elaine Hegland,

Book cover of Days of Revolution: Political Unrest in an Iranian Village

Why this book?

This book was written by one of the few Americans, who lived in Iran during the revolution, and helped inspire and inform my own monograph on the rural politics of the country. Based on years of painstaking ethnographic fieldwork and in-depth interviews, this anthropological work traces the sociopolitical transformations that transpired in an Iranian village located outside the city of Shiraz before and after the Iranian Revolution. The book demonstrates the increasingly blurry boundaries between rural and urban geographies and identities as the country modernized, and the opportunities and challenges behind this process. While previous scholarship contends that villagers refrained from supporting or participating in the revolution, this book paints a more nuanced and complex picture by showing that some in fact did while others did not and explains why this was the case.   

Days of Revolution: Political Unrest in an Iranian Village

By Mary Elaine Hegland,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Days of Revolution as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Outside of Shiraz in the Fars Province of southwestern Iran lies "Aliabad." Mary Hegland arrived in this then-small agricultural village of several thousand people in the summer of 1978, unaware of the momentous changes that would sweep this town and this country in the months ahead. She became the only American researcher to witness the Islamic Revolution firsthand over her eighteen-month stay. Days of Revolution offers an insider's view of how regular people were drawn into, experienced, and influenced the 1979 Revolution and its aftermath.

Conventional wisdom assumes Shi'a religious ideology fueled the revolutionary movement. But Hegland counters that the…


The Colonel

By Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, Tom Patterdale (translator),

Book cover of The Colonel

Why this book?

This novel was banned in Iran and published outside of it by a renowned Iranian author who grew up in a village and moved to Tehran, where he became a prominent writer and political prisoner. It lends a surreal and personal perspective to the Iranian Revolution and the Iran-Iraq War – the two most dramatic and formative events in the Islamic Republic’s forty-year existence. It tells the haunting and heart-wrenching story of an unnamed and disgraced former army colonel, who futilely tries to keep his mind intact and his family together during this tumultuous period. The novel poignantly demonstrates how the revolution and war tore individuals and their loved ones apart to the point of madness and death. It is a microcosm of the deep-seated dissonance and disillusionment that Iranians have experienced over aspirational nationalism and piety, on one side, and endemic fragmentation and repression, on the other. A difficult but worthwhile read.       

The Colonel

By Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, Tom Patterdale (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Colonel as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Iranian Revolution, Iran, and politics?

6,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Iranian Revolution, Iran, and politics.

The Iranian Revolution Explore 17 books about the Iranian Revolution
Iran Explore 79 books about Iran
Politics Explore 419 books about politics

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Censoring an Iranian Love Story, Shahnameh, and A History of Iran if you like this list.