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Iran: Empire of the Mind, By Michael Axworthy

A revolution breaks out in Iran, led by "a cleric asserting religious orthodoxy... and drawing support from economic grievances".

This, however, was in 52BC. Soon Darius, the Persian "king of kings", quashed the revolt. Over 2,500 years, the grand sweep of Iranian history shows continuity as well as rupture.

Locals always grasp that this epic past informs the present, while it eludes Western observers. At this time above all, we need a deeply informed, engagingly written history of the nation from Cyrus to Khomeini and beyond. Axworthy does the job with balance and aplomb.

Readers who fear that they may shrink in confusion will warm to his human-scale portrait of a self-renewing culture that, as with its world-beating cinema today, shows "enduring greatness" and "creative power".