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The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran

3.76  ·  Rating Details ·  1,761 Ratings  ·  220 Reviews
A Los Angeles Times and Economist Best Book of the YearWith a New PrefaceThe grandson of an eminent ayatollah and the son of an Iranian diplomat, journalist Hooman Majd is uniquely qualified to explain contemporary Iran's complex and misunderstood culture to Western readers.The Ayatollah Begs to Differ provides an intimate look at a paradoxical country that is both deeply ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published July 28th 2009 by Anchor (first published 2008)
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Apr 08, 2012 James rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is my third book on Iranian culture in the past year or so, and I'm fascinated. Tehran is on my list of places to visit.

Before I rip apart this book, let me first say I recommend it because it is an interesting, thoughtful analysis of the Iranian psyche.

Majd's writing style is maddeningly frustrating. I almost threw the book against the wall a half-dozen times during the first 100 pages. The man cannot write a simple sentence. An entire paragraph in this book may have one period, obviously
Jason Pettus
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

Like millions of other Americans, I am in the active process these days of increasing my knowledge base regarding the Middle East and Southeast Asia, from its former level of "zero" to a new level of "more than zero." But this of course immediately presents a problem to armchair scholars -- namely, with a
I liked this book, if more for the three major points he made about Iranians than the writing or the form. In fact, the form was a bit annoying. He moved back and forth between his journalistic narrative of his own visits, and history of modern Iran. But to the major points.

First, he talk about an interesting idea, that of "ta'arouf," or hospitality. This is a rough translation, because its more like polite chit-chat that one encounters with every transaction with another human being outside yo
Mar 30, 2009 S rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So I am on this Iran kick right now and this was written in the past year and I had heard the author being interviewed on NPR and he sounded pretty moderate, pro-Iranian and very educated and so I put a hold on this book at our local library and I guess it was pretty popular, because I had to wait several months for it.

Unlike all the other books that I have read about Iran, this one was not a sweet story about growing up in Iran, spending most of one's years abroad and then returning as a strang
Ali  M.
Feb 24, 2015 Ali M. rated it it was amazing
I really liked this book. Really, really liked it. The author's style is pretty hit or miss, either you'll love it or think its horrible. I thought it was very witty and funny, mostly because the sense of humor is similar to my own (and ironically, very Iranian).

For me, this was almost like reading an autobiography of myself from the perspective of a more witty, less religious, better connected person. A lot of the references were pretty funny, because I had experienced them myself and had many
Mar 12, 2009 Jen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hooman Majd says that when he travels to Iran his Persian side emerges, but when he comes back home to New York City, his fully Westernized modern man comes back. This perspective is unique and helpful as Majd attempts to explain that when the revolutionaries yelled, "Death to America" that they didn't literally want us in the U.S. all to die.
I had the serendipity of reading this book in tandem with Deer Hunting With Jesus by Joe Bageant, and the comparison between fundamentalist Christians wit
This is a far superior book to my first Majd (The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay: An American Family in Iran) and offers genuine insight to the Iranian psyche - high and low, religious and secular, political and apolitical. It's not without weaknesses though: To say Mr. Majd can be long-winded is an understatement but it's a style you get used to and it's oddly in keeping with a supposed aspect of the Iranian character Majd keeps returning to. The real annoyance is how repetitive t ...more
A fascinating (although at times short sighted and rather white-washed) look into Iranian culture under the current regime. As Iran is one of the most important topics of the day, it was vital for me to read as much as possible on the topic. Although the book provided a first hand look behind the scenes of the Iranian government, Majd is too close to power and too comfortable with his privileged position to actually critique the government or discuss the nastier aspects of fundamentalist rule.. ...more
hello marilou
Oct 15, 2008 hello marilou rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting approach to Iran's politics, religion and culture. Explains Iran's similarities and differences from the Western culture and Iranian's affinity for Islam. It dispels many notions Americans have associated with the "Axis of Evil" and describes a modern, proud, more democratic country. Majd's experiences as a Iranian-American are narrated in the book in a way that helps us understand the complexity of a great country.
Nov 04, 2015 Quanjun rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book achieves what it sets out to do: provide the westerner (this reader is barely one) with an idea of what Iran is and what Iranians feel about Iran.

Refreshingly honest and funny, it's very well done. Learned a lot. Will recommend to anyone who's interested in the subject matter.
Jan 02, 2013 Savindi rated it really liked it
Shelves: middle-east
Cover Gushing Worthiness: I’m not quite fond of the cover for the paperback edition which is also the edition I own. I don’t think it captures the essence of Iran quite well because Iran is a country with more than just women dressed in Black Chadors. This cover The Ayatollah Begs to Differ The Paradox of Modern Iran by Hooman Majd captures Iran much more vividly, with its eye of Ayatollah Khomeini; a household name and prominent religious and political figure in Iran’s contemporary history and the people moving about. So in conclusion, the hardcover edition get’s ...more
Mar 22, 2017 Mehrsa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked the book because it was a nice contrast from so many of the anti-Iranian books out there, but it's a bit of an apologia for the regime. The author is able to get access to some of the top clerics, but he seems a bit too close to them to be objective? Anyway, it's a useful antidote to so many cartoonish depictions of the crazy evil clerics of Iran.
Mar 25, 2014 Nina rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: middle-east
An okay introduction to the Iranian psyche and the way in which it affects politics, political rhetoric, and the population’s tolerance for a conservative theocracy. The topic is fascinating, and Majd makes a compelling case that Westerners routinely misinterpret the nature and nuance of Iranian issues due to their lack of cultural fluency. For example, Westerners react strongly to the hijab and other enforced women’s clothing standards as a powerful (*the most* powerful?) embodiment of theocrat ...more
"I thought of Fuad, my Jewish-Iranian friend from Los Angeles who had explained to me his perspective on Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial with no small measure of admiration for what he saw as the finest example of Persian ta'arouf one-upmanship. Ahmadinejad, Fuad reasoned, had in effect said to the Europeans...that he couldn't believe that Europeans had been or could be such monsters (and this at a time when Iran was being portrayed as monstrous). "You're not monsters," Ahmadinejad was s
Nov 06, 2008 Joel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: iran, middle-east
Hooman Majd, born in Tehran but educated in the West has written a book that is simultaneously from an insider perspective as well as from an outsider perspective. His father was an Iranian diplomat, but Hooman Majd is now a US citizen.

He traveled through Iran and across the US with various Iranian political figures and met with the likes of current Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as well as former presidents like Mohammad Khatami. Because of Majd's family's history (his grandfather was a
May 13, 2009 Janet rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Ta'arouf and haq. If for no other reason (and there are a lot of other reasons,) Americans like me, should read this book (it's good) to learn the depth of these two thought systems in Persian culture. Ta'arouf is the practice of extreme self-deprecation in very polite society, as in an exchange that might sound like this: "Please, you first." "No, after you, I am not deserving as you,..""No, you are great, I am a dog..." It's used to advantage in politics and business.

To really understand the n
Third book on Iran in a year perhaps...after Empire of the Mind and Iran Awakening. Most enjoyable. An endearing book - more about Iranians - than perhaps about Iran. Examines Persian traits like taarouf, their sense of pride and privacy, their conflicts with the society and their interface with the world at large. While, one might argue that the book offers a window to the upper class (maybe even ruling class), Tehran culture but is an honest portrayal of a nation - quite unfairly bracketed as ...more
Jul 05, 2009 Eric rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Hooman Majd is an Iranian who now considers himself a westerner. The book is part travelogue and part memoir. His insight into Iran is unique, but at times dull, and in this kind of book goes unchallenged. In its best moments, the book captures well the current youth movement of this country that has set itself up to be in a constant state of revolution. It's a great look into this country's culture, I just wish it were boiled down a bit more.
Oct 17, 2008 Golzar rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: shah
Reading it now, but so far it seems like a great way to show the world what Iranians are really like. Such diversity, culture, history, and beautiful and fun people can not be defined by the word "terrorist" nor the phrase "axis of evil". Maybe if people care to read this book there won't be a "war" with Iran.
So far, I love it.
Mar 05, 2009 Randy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Lots of mullahs, ayatollahs, some opium, more mullahs, religious observances, upper class cocktail parties, former presidents, bureaucracies, well-connected author. It's all pretty boring. Couldn't get up the energy to finish it. Learned a couple things but didn't really change the impression of Iran that I had already.
May 29, 2013 Don rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
(FROM MY BLOG) Here in the West, we have conflicting images of Iran. We've heard the medieval Persian poets (in translation), singing of food, wine and romance, while simulataneously praising and questioning their God. We've seen the scowling faces of the ayatollahs, denouncing America and its allies, and all their works. And, if we remember our history, we have vague recollections of the Persian Empire in its various forms; of the stout-hearted defense of the Greek city states against Persian i ...more
May 15, 2017 Lee rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book can hardly be called a book. It's a string of disconnected anecdotes, few of which resemble anything near a portrait of modern Iran.
Feb 05, 2017 XO rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Careful now, this book could show you a different point of view... very dangerous, right?
Aug 20, 2009 Dinah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book could be read as a primer on Persian character and Persian societal contradictions.

The author is an American citizen and journalist but in addition, son of an Iranian diplomat, the grandson of an eminent ayatollah. Raised in the west, resident in New York City, fluent in Persian and maintaining familial ties with some of the Iran's power elite he is "both/and", and is perhaps uniquely able to translate Iran for us.

There are three or four Persian concepts he elaborates that stick in my
Nov 02, 2011 Ryan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfic-issues
Majd, an Iranian-born, American-raised journalist who returned the country of his birth several times during the last decade, is intent on providing a tour of modern Iran that cautions against any simplistic understanding of a multi-layered country and its people. Though the demonstrations of 2009 showed obvious discontent with the Islamic regime, that, according to Majd, shouldn’t be read as a sign of impending rebellion. Many Iranians, particularly the working class, are proud of their nation’ ...more
Apr 09, 2013 Parth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The introduction gives a view into "how to" read the book. The couplet:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing,

there is a field. I'll meet you there

This suggested to me that the book was not about to pass judgements on how US should approach Iran in terms of foreign policy. It was simply a book about observations.

With this is mind, I thought about what my perception of Iran was before I started to read the book. Following are the perceptions:

1. Ultra-Islamic society

2. Ultra conservative

Jan 06, 2013 Greg rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book about Iran, written from an upper-middle class Iranian's point of view. Explores some paradoxical truths about Iran (outward hate towards America combined with a private desires to emigrate to there), Iranian culture and history, as it pertains to Modern Iran (accepting of other religions, pre-Muslim Persia, Ta'rouf and Persian hospitality), and current politics and cultural climate (public perceptions about Ahmadinejad, past leaders like Khatami, the differences between Ayatollah ...more
Dec 20, 2011 Zaphoddent rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book is mostly pretentious, incoherent babble. I loathed it for the awful writing and for the absence of any intelligent, insightful analysis of anything. The entire thing just seems pointless. Somewhere in this mess, the author describes ta’arouf as a “long winded prelude to what is actually the matter at hand”. My only conclusion is that this book must be the badly written prelude and a sequel (by a good writer) exists which will presumably address said matter at hand.

This prelude needed
Jun 25, 2009 Sophia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who want to understand Iran

Iran for many Americans, myself included, is a black box with occasional outputs such as: "hostage crisis," "nuclear power," "Axis of Evil," and the "2009 elections." The Ayatollah Begs to Differ offers an illuminating glimpse into the inner workings of the only Shia theocracy in the world. Hooman Majd, the grandson of an Ayotollah and the son of an Iranian diplomant, is uniquely qualified to hold the torchlight as "100% Iranian and 100% American."

Some might not like the rambling style in which

Babak Fakhamzadeh
Jun 25, 2013 Babak Fakhamzadeh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, iran
Mostly a collection of sketches of everyday Iranian life, written by an Iranian who grew up and was educated outside Iran and indeed is well placed, due to his connections, to highlight and dissect some, particularly seemingly contradictory, aspects of Iranian life.

Though Majd's stories provide a series of nice insights, I found Majd not as insightful or enlightening as he could have been. He explains a lot of the Iranian people's apparent contradiction in terms of ta'arouf (social etiquette), h
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Born in Tehran but educated in the West, Hooman Majd is the author of The Ayatollah Begs to Differ (an Economist and Los Angeles Times Best Book of 2008) and The Ayatollahs' Democracy: An Iranian Challenge, as well as his most recent book, The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay. He lives in New York City.

Hooman Majd has also written for GQ, Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker, T
More about Hooman Majd...

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“It strikes me often while I am in Iran that were Christian evangelicals to take a tour of Iran today, they might find it the model for an ideal society they seek in America. Replace Allah with God, Mohammad with Jesus, keep the same public and private notions of chastity, sin, salvation, and God's will, and a Christian Republic is born.” 11 likes
“It is perhaps because of the Iranian concept of the home and garden (and not the city or town it is in) as the defining center of life that Iranians find living in a society with such stringent rules of public behavior somewhat tolerable. Iranian society by and large cares very little about what goes on in the homes and gardens of private citizens, but the Islamic government cares very much how its citizens behave once they venture outside their walls.” 5 likes
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