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Shah of Shahs

4.19  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,510 Ratings  ·  205 Reviews
In Shah of Shahs Kapuscinski brings a mythographer's perspective and a novelist's virtuosity to bear on the overthrow of the last Shah of Iran, one of the most infamous of the United States' client-dictators, who resolved to transform his country into "a second America in a generation," only to be toppled virtually overnight. From his vantage point at the break-up of the o ...more
Paperback, 160 pages
Published February 4th 1992 by Vintage (first published 1982)
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The Doll by Bolesław PrusImperium by Ryszard KapuścińskiThis Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen by Tadeusz BorowskiOgniem i mieczem by Henryk SienkiewiczSolaris by Stanisław Lem
Polish Books Published in English
8th out of 167 books — 67 voters
Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi AliThe Complete Persepolis by Marjane SatrapiReading Lolita in Tehran by Azar NafisiFrom Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas L. FriedmanThree Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson
Best Middle East Nonfiction
33rd out of 289 books — 247 voters

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Community Reviews

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May 27, 2014 Douglas rated it really liked it
“The causes of a revolution are usually sought in objective conditions - general poverty, oppression, scandalous abuses. But this view, while correct, is one-sided. After all, such conditions exist in a hundred countries, but revolutions erupt rarely. What is needed is the consciousness of poverty and the consciousness of oppression, and the conviction that poverty and oppression are not the natural order of this world.”

This is the story of the rise and fall of the last Shah of Iran, Mohammad R
Gar Ver
Sep 29, 2009 Gar Ver rated it it was amazing
I like to think of Ryszard Kapuscinski as the Polish Hunter S. Thompson, and, perhaps sacrilegiously to some, I also think the former deserves the fame and iconic recognition much more than the later. While Thompson was rightfully investigating the (hardly veiled) seedy underbelly of the American story, Kapuscinski was personally soaking in, on location, 27 revolutions in various third world countries. During his lifetime he was jailed 40 times and survived four death sentences.

Shah of Shahs is
In a brief exchange with Elizabeth just now about King Leopold's Ghost, I admitted that books like that one make me feel I need a novel afterwards, to help me get back my equilibrium or faith in life and human beings or something like that. And it's true: I really like nonfiction and in many ways I do prefer it -- even if a nonfiction book's not that great, when I'm done at least I've learned something, whereas reading a crappy novel usually just feels like wasted time.

But a diet of all nonficti
Mieczyslaw Kasprzyk
Kapuscinski is a wonderful writer, a craftsman of words and ideas. In true Polish fashion he writes short stories, brief passages in easy-to-glean chapters. His style not only grew out of his training as a journalist, it was born for that profession. "Shah in Shah" is the story of a revolution, the overthrow of the Pahlavi dynasty in Iran but Kapuscinski does not write as a historian, nor even as an observer of events as they unfold - no, he opens doors and shutters, revealing the mosaic or the ...more
Jan 31, 2015 linhtalinhtinh rated it liked it
Shelves: other-lit, non-fic
Kapuscinski does his best being a journalist, that is, reporting whatever he feels and sees in foreign lands, sharing with readers his very personal notes. Well, at least, that is part of his writing that I like.

Yet in this book, he was trying to do something else: interpreting history. He was giving pieces of understanding of Iran, some brief account of the country's history that goees up until the Iranian evolution and the deposition of the last Shah, using, for sure, a lot of secondary source
Jul 10, 2014 Louise rated it it was amazing
Shelves: iran
This short eloquent book will give you a history of Iran up to the immediate aftermath of the 1979 Revolution. If you want one short book on this subject – this is the one for you. Those who know about the Revolution and want a perspective from an informed outsider who has seen government building attempts in Bolivia, Mozambique, the Sudan and Benin will also appreciate this short narrative.

It begins like a novel. The stage is set through 12 photographs, a series of notes and a cassette. Each ph
César Lasso
Mar 24, 2016 César Lasso rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What can I say? I killed two birds with one stone – I have some dear Iranian friends and this is my beloved author's insight into the country. I loved the read - the first thing I'll say is that I can perfectly recommend it. Even if your impressions are different from mine, it would be difficult for you to get tired of this work, for it is not a long one.

It was not my favorite by Kapuscinski – those are "Heban" (English translation: "The Shadow of the Sun") and “Imperium”. In those two, the auth
Apr 26, 2015 Sandra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: saggistica

Ho scoperto un grande giornalista e scrittore. Ha una dote, Kapuscinski: riesce a spiegare un evento complesso come la rivoluzione khomeinista che ha rovesciato il regime dello scià in una forma chiara e semplice, tale da essere comprensibile pure da chi, come me, non ne sapeva molto.
Prende lo spunto, per raccontare, da fotografie ed appunti trovati nella sua camera d'albergo.
E così veniamo a conoscenza della personalità dello scià, un ometto innamorato di sè stesso e bisognoso dell'approvazione
Maria Grazia
La caduta dello Sha di Persia e l'acesa al potere degli Ayatollah fino alla creazione della Repubblica Islamica.
Attraverso la memoria di uno dei più grandi giornalisti mai vissuti, l'analisi sociopolitica di quel che fu e di quel che è stato, con molti indizi su quel che sta accadendo e accadrà.
Un libro che consiglio a tutti coloro che sono assolutamente convinti della bontà delle loro scelte.
Ryszard Kapuscinski is known as a dedicated journalist, one who puts himself in the situation, rather than analysing it from a distance - and he is somewhat a specialist in revolutions! When other journalists fled Iran, Kapuscinski hung around, observing, but also, it seems, living in the situation he was reporting on.

This book reads as journalism much more than the narrative of a book. It has a strange format - it is made up of three parts. The first and third parts - relatively short, are comm
The Emperor is a bizarre and at time grotesquely comic portrait of the last Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie. It is also a detail and evocative exploration of tyranny. Kapuscinki in a much more impressionistic mood details the rule and fall of another tyrant the last Shah of Iran in the Shah of Shahs. By focusing on tyrants of U.S. client states he uses a trick employed by other Iron Curtain writers (Ex. Kadare) to critique autocracy in genera,l as in general most dictatorships are the same wh ...more
“All books about all revolutions begin with a chapter that describes the decay of tottering authority or the misery and sufferings of the people. They should begin with a psychological chapter, one that shows how a harassed, terrified man suddenly breaks his terror, stops being afraid.”

On its surface this is a book about the Iranian Revolution of 1979. But it’s really much, much more. With superb writing style, fascinating structure, and an incredible eye for the wider context and the human deta
Dec 14, 2011 Shane rated it it was amazing
Kapuscinski, ever the poetic journalist, has written a compelling little book here. This book is a convincing argument that the Shah was worse than the Islamic republic. I don't know that I've ever heard anything as bad as burning the eyelids off of a mullah in order to force him to watch his own daughter being raped. He gives a good sense of life under the shah, which is strangely the cynical opposite of Iran today: now hijabs are mandatory, before they for forbidden; now, turbans are a mark of ...more
Babak Fakhamzadeh
Nov 29, 2012 Babak Fakhamzadeh rated it liked it
Shelves: memoires, history, iran
Written shortly after the fall of the shah, by a journalist who had, then, already experienced and reported on some 20 revolutions. This short book's an interesting enough read.
The story contains three parts. The first briefly describes some of the author's experiences, shortly after the fall of the shah. The third part, totally useless, is a collection of ramblings on political science.

It is the second part, called 'Daguerreotypes', which is the saving grace and almost brilliant part of the b
Oct 07, 2014 Sidney rated it it was amazing
Such a short book but it really opened my eyes to the atrocities going on in Iran during the last shah's regime. I definitely have a better understanding of why that whole hostage crisis happened. But, also a book about human nature of people living in fear. Additionally, I learned that one must have experience and some scientific understanding to topple a monument correctly. That's something I never thought about before.
Nov 06, 2007 Stephanie rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who'd like to know a little more about (spoiler alert!) the country we're about to invade
Shelves: enlightening
Growing up during the 1970s, I really couldn't make sense of the Iran hostage crisis. Anytime I'd ask an adult why the Ayatollah was holding Americans hostage, I'd get a response like, "Because he hates freedom." Even at 7 years old I knew this was a dumb answer. Still, I wasn't ever able to find a satisfactory explanation until I picked up this book, which explores the Shah's reign and how it affected the cultural sensibilities of the Iranian people. (And hey, the torture squads didn't do anyth ...more
C.R. Miller
Mar 27, 2014 C.R. Miller rated it it was amazing
Well, maybe a 4.5. Mr. K. has a talent for building understanding of culture and history through short vignettes and resonant narratives. In this book he uses the description of a series of photos as a very effective device for exploring the history, culture, and Geo-politics of Iran that both put the Shah in power and led to his downfall. I learned a lot in this short book, and gained some understanding about the whole Sunni/Shiite divide in particular. I was a little disappointed, though, abou ...more
Dave Hatt
Oct 21, 2015 Dave Hatt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Before reading this I knew next to nothing about the last Shah and the Iranian Revolution. I am not sure I know much more now! At least in terms of facts, figures and key dates.

Kapuscinski's musings on the nature of this paternal autocrat and the climate of terror his goons inspired in his people is quite breathtaking. He really does get to the heart of a rotten political system.

With Kapuscinski, one most wonder how much is fact and how much is fiction! I was happy to enjoy the ride.
Buck Jones
Jul 25, 2015 Buck Jones rated it it was ok
It's a bit rich when the writer of this book, a Polish journalist for the Polish Press Agency in the 1970's, scolds the Iranian regime under the Shah Reza Pahlavi about human rights abuses done in his name by the secret police (SAVAK), and the lack of press and political freedoms. All the while the same could be said about Poland and the other countries in the Warsaw Pact up until the fall of the Berlin Wall. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The main problem I have with this short book is not th
Oct 05, 2014 Jonfaith rated it really liked it
The source material was familiar. Robert Fisk afforded a harrowing account of the SAVAK and their grip on the people of Iran. Kapuściński couches the revolutionary groundwell in almost poetic terms. The Shah's callous myopia is presented with aplomb. This torrent of elements is conveyed within the jagged continuity of its time. And with success, I hasten to add.
Joshua Parkinson
Dec 13, 2010 Joshua Parkinson rated it really liked it
Amazing read so far... Kapuściński tells the story of the '79 revolution via a series of vignettes arising from the notes, scraps, and snapshots littering his Tehran hotel room/prison cell. I can't believe I've never read him before!
A Farhat
Oct 18, 2015 A Farhat rated it really liked it
An engrossing recollection of stories, events, and personal reflections, mostly from the build-up to the revolution that overthrew the last Shah of Iran. Kapuscinski's writing mixes journalistic reporting with historical commentary on 20th century Iran, and is interlaced throughout with thoughts on revolution and dictatorship.

Apart from the historical facts, these "thoughts" are the meat of the book; on freedom, fear and social psychology under dictatorial structures, oil and corruption, terror
Nie napiszę nic nowego stwierdzając, że Kapuściński jest mistrzem reportażu, ale co tu dużo mówić, czyta się go wyśmienicie.

O historii Iranu trochę już słyszałam i czytałam w innych książkach, ale nic do tej pory nie zszokowało mnie tak jak wydarzenia opisane tutaj. Kapuściński doskonale wie co chce przekazać i nakreśla to w tak umiejętny sposób, że nie sposób nie wczuć się w tragedię Irańczyków.

Jeden fanatyzm przechodzi w drugi, a cierpią wciąż ci sami ludzie. Smutna książka, ale bardzo potrz
Feb 03, 2016 Jack rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Different format from the other two Kapuscinksi books I’ve read, but equally enjoyable. A poetic account of the Iranian revolution, the lessons of which are still valid today. Kapuscinski is an expert on the subject having witnessed firsthand over thirty revolutions. Interesting examination on the importance of fear that is the lifeline of control for societies under rule by despots, but I would argue the same fear present in free capitalistic societies. Pity that Kapuscinksi is no longer around ...more
Feb 16, 2016 Libby rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Middle East & Foreign Policy Fans, Iran Regionalists, Religion Buffs
Review coming soon.
Tom Nixon
Apr 03, 2012 Tom Nixon rated it it was amazing
Ryszard Kapuscinski is a writer that I need to get better acquainted with- a Polish Journalist who seemed to have the best career of all time, drifting from war to war and revolution to revolution writing books about them- Shah of Shahs is his story of the overthrow of the last Shah of Iran and although it's a slim little volume, it packs one helluva punch.

This book was not at all what I was expecting. Kapuscinski could have tossed out an up-to-the-minute blow by blow account of the final days o
Feb 07, 2010 Drew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
From the cover you would believe that Shah of Shahs tells the story of Mohammed Reza, the last Shah of Iran. But in fact the destiny of this cruel, hapless and slightly silly habitué of Swiss ski resorts is only part of the picture.
Rather, Kapuściński's theme here, as in The Emperor before it, is not the person but the ecosystem of repression that keeps a dictator in power. In the Shah's case it was the villainous secret police, known as Savak, that shored up his throne with a rule of terror tha
Jul 04, 2012 Dan rated it really liked it
Kapuściński's genius lies in the heady mix of accessibility, originality and profundity. This book isn't really about the Shah, it isn't really about Iran - it is a thesis on absolute rule, the psychological affect this rule has on a population, the conditions that must prevail for the population to rise up, realise its own strength and overthrow the absolutist and, most importantly, why revolutions invariably disappoint. It is due to the latter theme that I consider myself fortunate to have rea ...more
Nancy Burns
Jul 23, 2014 Nancy Burns rated it really liked it
R. Kapuscinski is my new author discovery in 2014!

Strong point:
He combines everything I love: history, fast paced journalism writing and most importantly his refections on the situation he is writing about.

Here is my review:
Hau Le
Feb 01, 2015 Hau Le rated it it was amazing
This book is about how a revolution started, a tipping point in action. His description of how an ordinary, fearful person turned into an extraordinary, fearless protester to me personally is the most beautiful account of a revolution, even though such a revolution did not bring any good at the end for the people so enthusiastically participated in it.

One fact that is usually overlooked by Western readers is that by the time he wrote this book, Poland was still ruled by the communist party, and
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1:05 4 13 Mar 25, 2013 07:16AM  
  • Zrób sobie raj
  • Modlitwa o deszcz
  • Dzisiaj narysujemy śmierć
  • Dzienniki kołymskie
  • Gringo wśród dzikich plemion
  • Kapuściński non-fiction
  • Jutro przypłynie królowa
  • Miedzianka. Historia znikania
  • Fado
  • Inny świat
  • Zabójca z miasta moreli. Reportaże z Turcji
  • Bezsenność w Tokio
  • The Ayatollahs' Democracy: An Iranian Challenge
  • The Last Great Revolution: Turmoil and Transformation in Iran
  • Rozmowy z katem
Ryszard Kapuściński debuted as a poet in Dziś i jutro at the age of 17 and has been a journalist, writer, and publicist. In 1964 he was appointed to the Polish Press Agency and began traveling around the developing world and reporting on wars, coups and revolutions in Asia, the Americas, and Europe; he lived through twenty-seven revolutions and coups, was jailed forty times, and survived four deat ...more
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“Oil creates the illusion of a completely changed life, life without work, life for free. Oil is a resource that anaesthetises thought, blurs vision, corrupts.” 8 likes
“Oil kindles extraordinary emotions and hopes, since oil is above all a great temptation. It is the temptation of ease, wealth, strength, fortune, power. It is a filthy, foul-smelling liquid that squirts obligingly up into the air and falls back to earth as a rustling shower of money.” 4 likes
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