Friday, October 13, 2006

Foreign Adventures

Yeah, yeah, time is short and I'm at work, but I DID squeeze in one more book before tomorrow. Quick and dirty review:

#34 -- "All the Shah's Men" by Stephen Kinzer

I bought a few recent books on Iran a few months ago, keep informed and all that, then they've languished on the bookshelf since. Kinzer's acclaimed book covers an event I've always known little about -- the CIA-staged coup that overthrew Iranian PM Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953. The current relevance is obvious, in these regime-change-crazy days.

"All the Shah's Men" wasn't quite to the level that I expected. The material is interesting, but the writing style isn't terribly gripping -- not bad, but not overly exciting either. (on the other hand, I read it far faster than I've read most things lately, so there's that.) It's extremely well-researched, and extremely fair -- while Kinzer obviously admires Mossadegh and thinks the coup was a big mistake on the Americans' part (and I doubt many people will disagree by the end of this book), he's careful to lay out everyone's stake in things, and detail Mossadegh's often petty intransigence.

The subtitle is "An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror," and that somewhat overstates the book's contents; I understand (and don't necessarily disagree with) the thesis, but post-1953 Iran and global changes are dealt with only at the end of the book, and in rather perfunctory fashion. I know, I know, "Roots of Middle East Terror" is marketing.

The best chapter is the epilogue, in which Kinzer travels to present-day Iran, visiting Mossadegh's home town, speaking to relatives and those who remember him. The style just grabbed me a bit more than the rest of the book -- the personal touch, I guess.

Despite some misgivings, I at least learned quite a bit from this. Kinzer has a couple other books out on similar subjects -- "Bitter Fruit" (Guatemala's 1950s U.S.-backed coup) and "Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq." I'll probably pick both up at some point.

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