The best books & novels on Persian history: its people, myths, religions, and culture

The Books I Picked & Why

Comprehensive History of the Jews of Iran: The Outset of the Diaspora

By Habib Levy, Hooshang Ebrami, George W. Maschke

Comprehensive History of the Jews of Iran: The Outset of the Diaspora

Why this book?

This book is the first comprehensive source on the history of the Jews of Iran, which, considering the vastness of the Persian Empire during ancient times, must be reckoned second only to Israel in importance, yet it is also the most obscure, because little of it has been published. The Comprehensive History of the Jews of Iran, where the Jews have been living for over 2700 years, not only describes the history of Jews in ancient Iran (Persia), but covers all periods, particularly the 19th and 20th centuries.


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The Stationery Shop

By Marjan Kamali

The Stationery Shop

Why this book?

The novel takes place in 1953 and before the 1979 Islamic revolution and during the reign of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah. 1953 was a critical time, which shaped the history of Iran, during which the coup d’état of Dr.Mossadegh was foiled by the United States CIA. Because of Iran’s geographical and strategic importance, such uprisings and meddling by outside forces are constant in Iranian history.

The Stationery Shop is a beautiful and timely exploration of devastating loss, unbreakable family bonds, and the overwhelming power of love.


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The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran

By Hooman Majd

The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran

Why this book?

The grandson of an eminent ayatollah and the son of an Iranian diplomat, Hooman Majd offers perspective on Iran's complex and misunderstood culture through an insightful tour of Iranian culture, introducing fascinating characters from all walks of life, including zealous government officials, tough female cab drivers, and open-minded, reformist ayatollahs. It's an Iran that will surprise readers and challenge Western stereotypes.


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The Persian Boy

By Mary Renault

The Persian Boy

Why this book?

The Persian Boy centers on the most tempestuous years of Alexander the Great’s life, as seen through the eyes of his lover and most faithful attendant, Bagoas. The Persian Boy takes place before the Arab invasion, a time in Persian history that altered the religion, culture, and people in profound ways. The result is a riveting account of a great conqueror’s years of triumph and, ultimately, heartbreak.


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Harem

By Dora Levy Mossanen

Harem

Why this book?

The novel is a seductive and intriguing journey from the humble Persian Jewish quarter to the fascinating world of shahs, soothsayers, eunuchs, and sultanas. An exotic world that is unfamiliar to the western reader.

I loved the process of researching Harem, learning about the dangerous politics, magic, jealousies, and rivalries of 350 women who waited for the shah’s invitation that rarely came. And I loved writing about three generations of strong-willed and cunning women: Rebekah—a poor girl married to the abusive blacksmith, Jacob the fatherless—who emerges from her disastrous match with a mysterious brand between her breasts; Gold Dust, Rebekah's treasured daughter, who enters the opulent and perilous world of the harem and captivates the shah with her singing bones; and Gold Dust's daughter, the revered and feared albino princess Raven, who will one day rule the empire.


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