The Persians: Ancient, Mediaeval and Modern Iran, By Homa Katouzian

Click to follow

Homa Katouzian's vast history relies mainly on one argument: that what we know as Iran has always been an unstable, fluctuating state, with revolts "a familiar feature"; mainly because, historically, when kings ruled, royal legitimacy "lacked a firm legal basis", so anyone with a big enough army could take charge.

Katouzian's overview stretches from the earliest myths and legends, through Cyrus the Great of the Achaemenids, Alexander the Great, and the defeats inflicted on a beleaguered Athenian state when Persia was at its most powerful, to the country's decline during Mongol invasions, its Islamic make-over, damaging 19th-century British rule, the deposing of the Shah in the late 20th century, and its present state. Katouzian also argues that the people will not support a state that inflicts pain on them: this is a country with a history of deposing its autocrats, even though there is little precedence for a truly democratic alternative.

Unfortunately, Katouzian's style is like that of a dry David Starkey, offering up history dominated by individual characters – a linear approach that numbs when so much history has to be covered.