100 books like The Ayatollah Begs to Differ

By Hooman Majd,

Here are 100 books that The Ayatollah Begs to Differ fans have personally recommended if you like The Ayatollah Begs to Differ. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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

Dora Levy Mossanen Author Of Love and War in the Jewish Quarter

From my list on captivating World War II love stories.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a novelist, whose Persian family is comprised of a colorful cast of characters, who supply me with invaluable fodder for my historical novels. Years ago, my grandfather, Dr. Habib Levy, recounted how, when he was the dentist of Reza Shah Pahlavi, the King of Iran, the king commanded him to convert to Islam. Aware he might be uttering his last words, my grandfather had replied, Your Majesty, a man who turns his back to his faith is a traitor, and his Majesty will not want a traitor for a dentist. Now, after decades, this long past scene became the inspiration for my fifth historical novel, Love and War in the Jewish Quarter.

Dora's book list on captivating World War II love stories

Dora Levy Mossanen Why did Dora love this book?

Dr. Habib Levy, the author of this book, is my grandfather, who spent half a century researching and writing the first comprehensive source on the history of the Jews of Iran. 

I have often referred to this wealth of information for my historical novels. But never has it been a more important source and inspiration than for my most recent novel.

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

Betty Bolte Author Of Becoming Lady Washington

From my list on historical fiction about emotionally strong women.

Why am I passionate about this?

I “discovered” historical fiction when a teen and have devoured it ever since. When my parents took me to the Cowpens National Battlefield in South Carolina in 9th grade, I realized just how much I enjoyed learning about history in real life. I found that reading historical fiction breathed life into what can be a very dull read, so I wanted to bring history to life with my own words. Visiting historical properties has become a big passion of mine! Every trip I take includes a visit to some historical site or another. I’ve been writing historical fiction/romance/fantasy since the late 1990s.

Betty's book list on historical fiction about emotionally strong women

Betty Bolte Why did Betty love this book?

This highly recommended story is a love story between two people who should have been together all along but obstacles prevented them from sharing a life. Those obstacles include political and personal forces, but I won’t elaborate as that would count as giving away the story. I was intrigued by life in Iran back in the 1950s and how girls/women were treated then. How they were expected to behave even as those expectations began to shift to be more Western in nature. Dealing with change is never easy, especially for those who resist new ideas. I haven’t studied this time period nor this country so experiencing Kamali’s story gave me a level of awareness of the culture and the politics of the time in an easy-to-understand form.

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 Persian Boy

Ruth Vanita Author Of Memory of Light

From my list on lesbian and gay literary fiction.

Why am I passionate about this?

Thanks to my mother, I grew up immersed in English literature. I was educated in Delhi and co-founded the first nationwide feminist magazine, but same-sex love was never mentioned either in the classroom or in the women’s movement. I educated myself in Indian literature and discovered that same-sex sexuality had been practiced and written about until the British criminalized it. I wrote several books about same-sex unions in Indian literature and history and translated poetry and fiction from Hindi and Urdu to English. My first novel, Memory of Light, is a love story between two courtesans, based in pre-colonial India, where poets freely wrote about same-sex, as well as cross-sex love. 

Ruth's book list on lesbian and gay literary fiction

Ruth Vanita Why did Ruth love this book?

This is one of the first books I found when I was scrounging around for gay literature in Indian bookshops in the early 1980s. I re-read it every few years; as one of Oscar Wilde’s characters remarks, “If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.”

Renault brings the ancient Greek world to life as no other novelist has. She delineates the wonderfully erotic and moving relationship between Alexander the Great and his Persian lover, Bagoas, who narrates the story.

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.


Book cover of Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings

Olivia Milburn Author Of Kingdoms in Peril, Volume 1: The Curse of the Bao Lords

From my list on epic historical narratives from around the world.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a translator specializing in Chinese historical novels, and also an academic researching marginalized groups in Chinese history—ethnic minorities, the disabled, people with mental health issues, and so on. The treatment of marginalized people tells you a lot about what is going on within mainstream society. I’ve always been interested in stories about people from distant times and places, and I have a particular love of long sagas, something that you can really get your teeth into. Kingdoms in Peril covers five hundred years of history: I translated this for my own enjoyment and was surprised when I realized that I’d managed to write 850,000 words for fun!

Olivia's book list on epic historical narratives from around the world

Olivia Milburn Why did Olivia love this book?

Shahnameh is the story of the birth of the Iranian people, told in a series of wonderful stories.

In the beginning, in a time of myth and legend, the Persian kings fight the devil, and sometimes they win and sometimes they are tempted into sin. Here are great heroes like the paladin Rostam, wicked queens like the young and beautiful Sudabeh, endlessly scheming against her husband’s son and heir, and the evil serpent-king himself, Zahhak.

These are the legends that have shaped Iranian culture for more than a thousand years, given definitive form in Ferdowsi’s epic tale.

By Abolqasem Ferdowsi, Dick Davis (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Dick Davis, "our pre-eminent translator from the Persian" (Washington Post) has revised and expanded his highly-praised translation of Ferdowsi's masterpiece, including more than 100 pages of newly translated text. Davis's elegant combination of prose and verse allows the poetry of the Shanameh to sing its own tales directly, interspersed sparingly with clearly-marked explanations to ease along modern readers. Among the greatest works of world literature, this prodigious narrative, composed by the poet Ferdowsi in the late tenth century, tells the story of pre-Islamic Iran, beginning in the mythic time of creation and continuing forward to the Arab invasion in the…


Book cover of A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind

Richard Foltz Author Of Iran in World History

From my list on Iranian history and culture.

Why am I passionate about this?

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.

Richard's book list on Iranian history and culture

Richard Foltz Why did Richard love 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.

By Michael Axworthy,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Iran is a land of contradictions. It is an Islamic republic, but one in which only 1.4 percent of the population attend Friday prayers. Iran's religious culture encompasses the most censorious and dogmatic Shi'a Muslim clerics in the world, yet its poetry insistently dwells on the joys of life: wine, beauty, sex. Iranian women are subject to one of the most restrictive dress codes in the Islamic world, but make up nearly 60 percent of the student population of the nation's universities. In A History of Iran, acclaimed historian Michael Axworthy chronicles the rich history of this complex nation from…


Book cover of Censoring an Iranian Love Story

Richard Foltz Author Of Iran in World History

From my list on Iranian history and culture.

Why am I passionate about this?

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.

Richard's book list on Iranian history and culture

Richard Foltz Why did Richard love 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.

By Shahriar Mandanipour, Sara Khalili,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Censoring an Iranian Love Story as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Truly original, Censoring an Iranian Love Story is an incredibly imaginative yet always charming love story set in contemporary Iran that crackles with wit, verve and social comment: Sara falls in love with Dara through secret messages hidden in code in the pages of books that have been outlawed, but then something quite extraordinary and unexpected happens. Through adeptly handled asides to the reader, as well as anecdotes, codes and metaphors, and cheeky references to the wonderfully rich Iranian literary heritage, the novel builds to offer a revealing yet often playful and hopeful comment on the pressures of writing within…


Book cover of The Blind Owl

Em Strang Author Of Quinn

From my list on short reads that dare to offer something deep.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a poet and creative mentor, and it’s the intensity of poetic language – its expansiveness and limitations – that shows up in my fiction and in the novels I love. Quinn is an exploration of male violence, incarceration, and radical forgiveness. I’ve spent a decade working with long-term prisoners in Scotland, trying to understand and come to terms with notions of justice and responsibility: does guilt begin and end with the perpetrator of a violent act or are we all in some way culpable? How can literary form dig into this question aslant? Can the unsettled mind be a space for innovative thinking?

Em's book list on short reads that dare to offer something deep

Em Strang Why did Em love this book?

Hedayat (1903-1951) was an Iranian writer who knew that death and the mythic experience of Kairos time exists a hair’s breadth away from what we commonly experience as human life.

The Blind Owl was the book that gave me permission to write fiction: instead of writing a novel in standard form, I wanted to create a liminal space, a threshold world between real and unreal; to invite readers into an unfamiliar (and hopefully transformative) vision of humanity.

This is exactly what Hedayat does in The Blind Owl: we are immersed in a fable of otherworldly, repetitive, poetic, dark, and mesmerising power. The story (of jealousy, despair, the cyclical nature of life and death) has a rare depth and a sense of universal reach precisely because it has one foot in the liminal.

By Sadegh Hedayat, Naveed Noori (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Widely regarded as Sadegh Hedayat's masterpiece, the Blind Owl is the most important work of literature to come out of Iran in the past century. On the surface this work seems to be a tale of doomed love, but with the turning of each page basic facts become obscure and the reader soon realizes this book is much more than a love story. Although the Blind Owl has been compared to the works of the Kafka, Rilke and Poe, this work defies categorization. Lescot's French translation made the Blind Owl world-famous, while D.P. Costello's English translation made it largely accessible.…


Book cover of The Unthinkable Revolution in Iran

Eric Lob Author Of Iran's Reconstruction Jihad: Rural Development and Regime Consolidation after 1979

From my list on Iranian history, politics, and culture.

Why am I passionate about this?

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.              

Eric's book list on Iranian history, politics, and culture

Eric Lob Why did Eric love 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.       

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…


Book cover of A Companion to the Achaemenid Persian Empire

John O. Hyland Author Of Persian Interventions: The Achaemenid Empire, Athens, and Sparta, 450−386 BCE

From my list on Achaemenid Persia and its Greek neighbors.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been fascinated with ancient history since childhood, but really fell in love with the Achaemenids in college while taking classes on Greek history and wondering about the other side’s perspective on familiar stories of the Persian Wars. I was fortunate to get the opportunity to study both Greek and Persian history in graduate school at the University of Chicago, a leading center of scholarship on the Achaemenid world since the Persepolis excavations in the 1930s. Since 2006, I’ve taught in the History department at Christopher Newport University, a liberal arts university in Newport News, Virginia. I’m currently working on my next book, a new history of Persia’s Greek campaigns. 

John's book list on Achaemenid Persia and its Greek neighbors

John O. Hyland Why did John love this book?

This monumental two-volume collection, published in 2021, contains 110 accessible essays by some of the most prominent scholars of Achaemenid Persian history. It introduces the ancient evidence, including written sources, artistic materials, and archaeological remains, for every major region from the Indus to the Nile and the Aegean, and ably surveys the disciplinary history of the modern study of ancient Iran.  Thematic chapters trace numerous aspects of Persia’s imperial world, including geography, languages, gender, religion, court dynamics, administration, communications, war, diplomacy, economics, art, science, and many more. The narrative chapters place the empire’s rise and fall, including but hardly limited to the Persian-Greek wars, into a longer context of Ancient Near Eastern empire formation, setting up valuable insights through comparison with Assyria, Babylonia, and other predecessors. 

By Bruno Jacobs (editor), Robert Rollinger (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Companion to the Achaemenid Persian Empire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A COMPANION TO THE ACHAEMENID PERSIAN EMPIRE

A comprehensive review of the political, cultural, social, economic and religious history of the Achaemenid Empirem

Often called the first world empire, the Achaemenid Empire is rooted in older Near Eastern traditions. A Companion to the Achaemenid Persian Empire offers a perspective in which the history of the empire is embedded in the preceding and subsequent epochs. In this way, the traditions that shaped the Achaemenid Empire become as visible as the powerful impact it had on further historical development. But the work does not only break new ground in this respect, but…


Book cover of Ancient Persia

James Howard-Johnston Author Of The Last Great War of Antiquity

From my list on Iran, past and present.

Why am I passionate about this?

My career has taken me zero millimeters from a large college, Christ Church, to a small, adjacent one, Corpus Christi, in 1971. In my mind, though, I have crisscrossed the world, leaping back in time to late antiquity and the Middle Ages, and nowhere proved more fascinating than Iran, which I have visited twice, in 1998 and 2002. I have written about different facets of its history at the end of antiquity, in particular its dominant role in the India trade and the coming of the Arabs.

James' book list on Iran, past and present

James Howard-Johnston Why did James love this book?

In my view, Josef provides the best introduction to the history of Persia in classical antiquity–something well worth knowing, given the importance of Iran now and the influence of the past on the present.

Iranians look back with pride to those centuries when three Persian empires dominated the Middle East and western Asia. The book is clear, readable, and not too long.

I like it because he attends first and foremost to the evidence, what he calls ‘testimonies,’ and because he focuses on fundamental factors rather than simply telling a story.

By Josef Wiesehofer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Of all the great civilizations of the ancient world, that of Persia is one of the most remarkable but least understood. This is a study of the country's origins and why it collapsed so dramatically with the Arab invasions of the seventh century. Josef Wiesehofer, provides a comprehensive survey of the Persian Empire under the Achaeminids, the Parthians and the Sassanians. By focusing on the primary Persian sources - written, archaeological and numismatic evidence from Persia - he avoids the traditional Western approach which has tended to rely so heavily on inaccurate, and sometimes prejudiced, Greek and Roman sources.


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