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Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran

3.84  ·  Rating Details ·  751 Ratings  ·  89 Reviews
An overview of the ancient nation, from the days of the prophet Zoroaster to those of the Islamic Republic.
Hardcover, 333 pages
Published April 1st 2008 by Hurst & Co.
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Cenk Gokce
Jul 27, 2015 Cenk Gokce rated it did not like it
If you think this book will tell you much about the history of Iran / Persia, save your time and money and look elsewhere.

Boring, filled with Persian poetry that does not really contribute to the subject matter, plenty of parenthetical commentary as well as ad hominem attacks at Alexander's "bisexualism" and Richard Dawkins' views on religion--neither of which is germane to a book about Iranian history.

Also, I understand that Persian is written in the Arabic script so there are multiple ways of
A rather negative and simplistic picture of Iran has been painted in some circles. Michael Axworthy, a British diplomat who served in Iran, presents us the entire history of the region to provide us with a broader perspective. It is a reasonably good read, though it can sometimes bog down with details about every dynasty. I have read other histories of Iran, and this one is not significantly different or overly controversial in my opinion.

The Persian Empire was one of the great civilizations, si
Dec 06, 2015 Oisín rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I've been meaning to learn more about Iran, its history, and its sense of identity for several years now (certainly ever since I first read "Persian Fire" by Tom Holland nearly a decade ago), and this book serves as an excellent starter to anyone who wishes for a general overview of the various historical, religious, philosophical, and literary strands that shape the modern Islamic Republic.

Right off the bat, I appreciate Axworthy's clarification on the confusion of "Iran vs. Persia". It's Iran.
Axworthy introduced the book by calling it "an introduction to the history of Iran for a general readership, assuming little or no prior knowledge." That is basically true...but if that is where you are coming from, you are most likely going to find some sections slower going than others.

The first one-third is a very good overview of ancient central Asian history through Cyrus the Great; the middle third was overwhelming for its wealth of unknown names and specialised terms that demanded one's
Jamie MacDonald Jones
This book quite simply does a disservice to Iran and its rich, fascinating history.

Notwithstanding the numerous printing errors in the book (Penguin's fault) the thesis of the book is simply poor. Axworthy mentions the notion of 'Empire of the Mind' twice in the book - three times if you count the fact it is a subtitle - and never bothers to elaborate on it in any meaningful way. The book also seems to go from Zoroastrian history to present day with barely a mention of anything in between. The
Apr 02, 2013 Yasmin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a good a history of Iran but it is by no means a masterpiece and I don't think it will make it through the test of time.

Axeworthy did an excellent job with the medieval mystical poets and included many beautiful verses throughout the text. Unfortunately there was less emphasis on intellectual and literary history in modern times and absolutely no mention of music and the arts.

As people have already mentioned, the author is very biased in matters of religion. He has a shallow understandin
Aug 07, 2009 Jessica rated it liked it
Iran has a LONG history, and this book started WAY back at the beginning. Not really knowing anything about Iran, I think I would have preferred it spent a little MORE time on the more recent stuff (for example, the Iran-Contra affair and the American hostage situation each only had one page of mention, and the Iran-Iraq war had only about 2 pages total). In contrast, there were about 18 pages on olden-day Persian poetry.

Anyway, it was an interesting book and I learned a lot. I've started anoth
Jul 27, 2011 Kash rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought this is going to be another typical book on history of Iran when I picked it up but I admit I was wrong. This book is fair, evenhanded and factual in dealing with the history of Iran. It's very brief and concise and in that context, Mr. Axworthy has done a good job explaining in simple language the history of a very complicated nation. It has little or no political agenda. It credits Iran/Persia with things it has done and more importantly it sheds light on some unknown and un-touched ...more
Stan Murai
Sep 03, 2012 Stan Murai rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Michael Axworthy’s Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran
gives readers a broad overview of Iranian history from the earliest
times to the present day. Military and dynastic matters are
covered in detail, but it also emphasizes the cultural and intellectual contributions of Iran that have shaped much of region that includes modern Turkey, the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Indian Subcontinent. It does so concisely in only about three hundred pages, but nevertheless the material provided is eng
Sep 12, 2012 Fahad rated it really liked it
Prior to reading, my knowledge on Persian history was less than basic. It covers a staggering amount of information (over 25+ centuries in only 300 pages), so it obviously lacks depth. Still, I found the language and subject-matter to be enjoyable, and definitely recommend it as an introductory book.
Mar 02, 2014 Catherine rated it really liked it
This book is a serious document, useful for research, but written in a style that means anyone can understand what is being discussed. It didn't appear to have a bias or slant towards anything - just the facts. Im a believer that you shouldn't have an opinion on a subject until you have done your homework. While I have a lot more to understand yet, as suspected the Iranians are just like us. The newspapers need to stop writing stories that make the uninformed believe that a government represents ...more
Aug 07, 2016 Bent-o rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was super interesting, and really cleared up a lot of confusion I had about cultural clashes in middle Eastern politics.

My only big criticism is, as with a lot of overview histories, this went from narrative history to themes and back again. The period between the rise or the Abbasid caliphs and the Savafid dynasty was mostly taken up by a discussion of Iranian poetry, which while interesting, left me slightly confused as to what exactly happened in a 1000 year period that was pretty busy e
Jun 05, 2016 Amit rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Iran is probably the most fascinating country in the world. One of the oldest civilisation in the true sense of the world, a land with a history of intellectual vigour and a tradition of defiance to the western world. While the book sweeps through the four millenia of Persian existence with detail, I would have preferred a more simple and fluid output to describe this complex but extraordinary nation. To me, it appears, despite a brilliant tapestry of the poetry, mysticism and religion which Axw ...more
Feb 11, 2016 D rated it liked it
Shelves: history, iran
+ Разбираемо написана.
+ Без излишни подробности.
+ Накратко и ясно обяснени основни неща от исляма и разделенията в него.
- За периода след 1905 година Revolutionary Iran: A History of the Islamic Republic е по-добра.
- Прекалено много поезия за моя вкус към исторически книги.
- Видни сериозни проблеми с транслитерацията на различни персийски, тюркски и арабски имена и думи към английската азбука.
Oct 15, 2008 Blake rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: No one
Recommended to Blake by: No one
Shelves: middle-east
The author's knowledge of Iran is eclipsed by this book's poor organization of topics. Empire of the Mind tries to pack every detail of persian history into 300 pages, skipping between intellectual movements, poetry, religion, philosphy, court intrigue, and political/military history. My interest quickly faded everytime I picked up Empire of the Mind, simply because the narrative is so disjointed.
Jul 27, 2011 Cameron rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
About as superb a history of Iran from Zoroaster to Ahmedinejad as can be crammed into 300 pages.

Well worth reading.
Graham Mulligan
Nov 22, 2012 Graham Mulligan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A History of Iran; Empire of the Mind.
Michael Axeworthy, Basic Books, 2008.

The division between nomadic or semi-nomadic peoples and settled, crop-growing agriculturalists, created a tension that drives history. Nomadic wealth was in livestock, which meant it was moveable and they could escape threats or attack. By contrast peasant farmers were vulnerable, especially at harvest time, when the accumulated value of a year’s work could be lost. In happy times trade (meat and wool for grain) between
Dave Schoettinger
Nov 16, 2016 Dave Schoettinger rated it liked it
Michael Axworthy is a former member of the British Foreign Service who is now a lecturer at the University of Exeter in Arab and Islamic Studies. Unsurprisingly, his specialty is Iran and in this book he presents a well-organized chronology of the area now known as Iran and the peoples that have inhabited it over the past 3,000 years. If you finish this book not knowing your Seleucids from your Sassanians from your Safavids, it's not Professor Axworthy's fault. He has included enough tales of go ...more
Feb 06, 2015 Salma7-1 rated it it was amazing

Sunday, 15th February, 2015

1. The History of Iran, may have involved a lot of war and blood but it was one of the first civilizations to emerge. The Iranians or also known as the persians back then did a lot of great things. Since the Persians were one of the first civilizations, most european languages nowadays come from early Persian languages. "It has no structural relationship with Arabis or the other Semitic languages of the ancient Middle East" (Axworthy 2). The only regions who's language
Chuurun Ien
Dec 25, 2016 Chuurun Ien rated it did not like it
What was in the book is clearly this very unimportant details without the big picture. It's like a scattered thoughts poured down in a book. Also if you search hard enough in blogs, you can find almost everything written in this book. No, I'm not saying the author plagiarized anything, it's just it was all common facts here.
The only thing new is a ton of Persian poems. The boring ones.
So I suggest you to save your money and time, there's nothing really interesting with this book.

Anyway, if you w
Dec 05, 2016 Beverly rated it really liked it
For the casual reader, this book's level of detail can be mind-numbing. Nevertheless, I highly recommend it for its account of Persian literature (especially Safavid poetry), religion (Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism), the relationship between the Persian Empire and Rome, and of course, the events of the twentieth century. From a political point of view, the book couldn't be more timely, and the author -- a British scholar and statesman -- seems eminently fair in his analyses.
Jan 30, 2017 Anders rated it really liked it
This is the first overview of the Persian empire I've read, so I've not much to compare it to. Learned quite a bit from it and think it's good to have read it first in order to focus on various periods moving forward.
Feb 11, 2017 Mehrsa rated it it was amazing
A very good history of Persia/Iran. He goes fast through thousands of years of history, but really captures the identity of the country and its conflicts and issues with the west. If you want to understand the modern conflict, you have to at least go back to 1907 or even 1951.
Feb 18, 2013 Maitrey rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran (EotM) by Michael Axworthy was a comprehensive history of Iran right from around 2000 BCE to the present.

Like any history that tries to pack so much time into so few pages, EotM suffers from being too brisk and therefore a little confusing at times. Axworthy is no trained historian but rather a British diplomat who has served in both Iran and many parts of the Middle East. This gives EotM a unique perspective and makes for an excellent, easy to read introduc
Jan 04, 2017 Simon rated it liked it
My advice - skip the last two chapters where his FO experience renders him incapable of seeing truth rather than the comforting lies that the UK and US establishments like to spread about their interventions in the wider world.
frisco - فریسکو
E' difficile condensare la cultura plurimillenaria persiana, una delle più antiche civiltà del mondo, in un solo libro.

Riconoscendo una simile premessa è quindi normale che ad esempio, per quanto mi riguarda, avrei voluto maggiori approfondimenti sulla storia più recente della Persia/Iran, come ad esempio l'Irangate e il colonialismo statunitense, il Tudeh, lo sciismo rosso di Ali Shariati, e anche la stessa Velāyat-e faqih (ولایت فقیه) dell'ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, vera e propria rivoluzio
Michael A
Dec 29, 2013 Michael A rated it liked it
For me, this is a 3 to 3.5 star book.

This is a breezy book, in that you can read it in a short amount of time and learn a lot. I think it achieves its stated goal of introducing the neophyte to the overall arcs of political and some social history of the modern day Iranian area. I am a fan of it in the sense that it tries to cover more than just names and dates - it tries to get into the artistic and intellectual achievements of some of the empires and time periods as well. That's a worthy effor
Antti Salovaara
Jul 18, 2013 Antti Salovaara rated it it was ok
Arvio Tapani Kilpeläisen suomennoksesta (Into Kustannus 2013).

Axworthyn teos ansaitsisi monilta osin enemmän kuin kaksi tähteä, mutta sitä vaivaa ajoittain paha epätasaisuus, sekä koko ajan voimistuva kirjoittajan oma ääni. Esimerkiksi Iranin viime vuosikymmenten tilanne peilataan jo täysin subjektiivisten linssien läpi.

Vaikka historiaa ei olisikaan mahdollista kirjoittaa täysin objektiivisesta lähtökohdasta, vaikeuttaa poliittisten suosikkien esiinnostaminen ja yksinkertaistava kiistaosapuolte
May 02, 2009 Eleanor rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The subtitle of this book, "The Empire of the Mind," should have been its main title: while the narrative does cover the political and military events that formed Iran's history, its focus is on the literary, cultural, and intellectual history of Persia. The Iranians once occupied an empire that encompassed what is now modern Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Tajikistan,Kazakhstan, and parts of Greece, Egypt,and Libya. They were proudly nationalistic and scorned attempts by their Arab conquerors follow ...more
Sensei Sage
Jan 25, 2011 Sensei Sage rated it it was ok
I deliberated for a while whether to give this book 2 or 3 stars.

As a work of a historian, I think this book is good. It delivers a lot of fact and it's easy to go through. Sadly though, this author as a Western academic, was quite ignorant of all religious matters and in a book on Iran, they are very key. Then there is the issue of his obvious political bias. He would have done a much better job to never express his subjective opinions, yet he does exactly on the subjects he is most ignorant ab
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In the 1980s Michael Axworthy studied history at Peterhouse, Cambridge before joining the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in 1986. After a variety of work in London and overseas, he served as the Head of Iran Section in the FCO from 1998-2000, coinciding with the improvement in UK/Iran relations at the beginning of the Presidency of Mohammad Khatami. Since 2000 he has been working in Cornwal ...more
More about Michael Axworthy...

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“We have made enquiries about the rules of the inhabitants of the Roman empire and the Indian states. . . . We have never rejected anybody because of their different religion or origin. We have not jealously kept away from them what we affirm. And at the same time we have not disdained to learn what they stand for. For it is a fact that to have knowledge of the truth and of sciences and to study them is the highest thing with which a king can adorn himself. And the most disgraceful thing for kings is to disdain learning and be ashamed of exploring the sciences. He who does not learn is not wise. —Khosraw I Anushirvan (according to the Byzantine historian Agathias)” 1 likes
“At first impression, the interminable series of wars between the Roman Empire and Persia (both in the Parthian period and again in the Sassanid period) look almost inexplicable. They went on and on, century after century. There was a potential economic gain for both sides—the disputed provinces were rich provinces. But it was evident, certainly by the time of Ardashir, that the wars were very costly, that it would be very difficult indeed for either party to deliver a knockout blow to the other, and that any gains would be difficult for either side to hold permanently. The wars and the disputed provinces had taken on a totemic value—they had become part of the apparatus by which Persian shahs and Roman emperors alike justified their rule. This explains their personal participation in the campaigns, the triumphs in Rome and the rock-reliefs carved on the hillsides of Fars. Upper Mesopotamia, Armenia, and Syria had become an unfortunate playground for princes.” 0 likes
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