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

Why am I passionate about this?

I was born in Israel, but spent my formative years in Iran, a country rich in culture, superstition, and a history that is nothing short of an author’s dream. I also joined a large, colorful family, whose members possessed their own quirks and habits, which my future fictional characters inherited in one or another of my novels. Although the Iran I knew during the reign of the Shah was quite different than the Iran I had to flee at the onset of the Islamic revolution and the arrival of Ayatollah Khomeini, her history remains ever timely, and never ceases to captivate me.


I wrote...

Book cover of Harem

What is my book about?

A seductive and intriguing journey from the humble Persian Jewish quarter to the fascinating world of shahs, soothsayers, eunuchs, and sultanas...

Harem follows 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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The books I picked & why

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

Dora Levy Mossanen Why did I love 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.

By Habib Levy, Hooshang Ebrami, George W. Maschke (translator)

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Comprehensive History of the Jews of Iran as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

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


Book cover of The Stationery Shop

Dora Levy Mossanen Why did I love 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.

By Marjan Kamali,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A poignant, heartfelt new novel by the award-nominated author of Together Tea—extolled by the Wall Street Journal as a “moving tale of lost love” and by Shelf Awareness as “a powerful, heartbreaking story”—explores loss, reconciliation, and the quirks of fate.

Roya, a dreamy, idealistic teenager living amid the political upheaval of 1953 Tehran, finds a literary oasis in kindly Mr. Fakhri’s neighborhood stationery shop, stocked with books and pens and bottles of jewel-colored ink.

Then Mr. Fakhri, with a keen instinct for a budding romance, introduces Roya to his other favorite customer—handsome Bahman, who has a burning passion for justice…


Book cover of The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran

Dora Levy Mossanen Why did I love 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.

By Hooman Majd,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Hooman Majd, acclaimed journalist and New York-residing grandson of an Ayatollah, has a unique perspective on his Iranian homeland. In this vivid, warm and humorous insider's account, he opens our eyes to an Iran that few people see, meeting opium-smoking clerics, women cab drivers and sartorially challenged presidential officials, among others.

Revealing a country where both t-shirt wearing teenagers and religious martyrs express pride in their Persian origins, that is deeply religious yet highly cosmopolitan, authoritarian yet reformist, this is the one book you should read to understand Iran and Iranians today.


Book cover of The Persian Boy

Dora Levy Mossanen Why did I love 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.

By Mary Renault,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Persian Boy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Persian Boy traces the last years of Alexander's life through the eyes of his lover, Bagoas. Abducted and gelded as a boy, Bagoas is sold as a courtesan to King Darius of Persia, but finds freedom with Alexander the Great after the Macedon army conquers his homeland. Their relationship sustains Alexander as he weathers assassination plots, the demands of two foreign wives, a sometimes mutinous army, and his own ferocious temper. After Alexander's mysterious death, we are left wondering if this Persian boy understood the great warrior and his ambitions better than anyone.


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A Sparrow Falls

By Vicki Olsen,

Book cover of A Sparrow Falls

Vicki Olsen Author Of A Sparrow Falls

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Air Force brat World War 2 junkie Gallivanter Beret-wearing Francophile Book hoarder

Vicki's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

In this book set against the backdrop of a changing America, Sarah must find the courage to confront the ghosts of her past and come to terms with her future. Sarah, a young woman from the rural town of Tolerance, Arkansas, has endured an impoverished and painful childhood.

But now, as the innocence of the 1950s transforms into the turbulent 1960s, Sarah must find the strength to overcome her traumas, forgive those who have wronged her, and discover her true self. With its moving and often disturbing narrative, A Sparrow Falls is an evocative account of a young woman's journey…

A Sparrow Falls

By Vicki Olsen,

What is this book about?

A moving, sometimes disturbing, beautifully written book...Amazon Customer Review
Set in Arkansas as the innocence of the 1950s morphs into the turbulent ‘60s, A Sparrow Falls is an evocative account of a young woman emerging from an impoverished and traumatic childhood as she finds the inner strength to overcome her past. Te ghosts of the past and come to terms with her future is in the strength to forgive those who have wronged her?
Content Advisory: This book is intended for mature audiences and contains child sexual abuse and disturbing imagery.


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