Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Shah of Shahs” as Want to Read:
Shah of Shahs
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Shah of Shahs

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  5,234 ratings  ·  434 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)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Shah of Shahs, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Shah of Shahs

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.24  · 
Rating details
 ·  5,234 ratings  ·  434 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Shah of Shahs
Nov 04, 2013 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 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
Jan 30, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fic, other-lit
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
Abeer Abdullah
Easily one of the most moving books I've read this year. Even if you couldn't care less about Iran or the middle east, even if you don't give a shit about politics or revolutions or oppression. Kapuscinski tells the story of a nation which by extension mirrors so many different nations in different times and different places. Though in many ways his writing is specifically about a certain time and place, it speaks truthfully about the nature of man and trauma. Political books have been accused o ...more
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
Jun 27, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An analysis of the decline and fall of the last Shah of Iran, Muhammad Raza Pehalvi, by the Polish journalist who has seen 27 revolutions and coups in his lifetime. The book is short and it doesn't delve into the history in a mainstream way. The author skillfully weaves Iran's modern history by using several photographs and describing them, citing the reasons of Shah's downfall. The tone appears non-judgmental, the description of the scenes, and the characterization is poetic. The last Shah of t ...more
Bob Newman
Apr 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
not the shahdow of God

Ryszard Kapusciński was a great Polish journalist who covered, by his own count, 27 revolutions in the Third World (as it was called back in the day). He also wrote about the Soccer War in Central America and later, about the collapsed Soviet system. Whether he was a master of historical facts and cultural knowledge about each of the countries he wrote about is another question. I would not read this book, for example, to know about Iran and its history. I feel he gives it
Nov 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"A dictatorship depends for its existence on the ignorance of the mob; that's why all dictators take such pains to cultivate that ignorance. It requires generations to change such a state of affairs, to let some light in."

I loved this book. At first it seemed a bit untidy, aimless description of post revolution Iran, but then Ryszard begins to unfold the history behind the ascension to power of Pahlavi Shahs. Then he went back to the past and connected to Persia's rulers' traditions, and the cul
Jul 10, 2014 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
Ali Nazifpour
Jun 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books written about Iran. Its analysis is on point, and in these days when Iranian royalists have overtaken ex-pat media and keep putting out propoganda to whitewash the Shah, these honest accounts are necessary. But more importantly, really well-written. Even for someone like me who didn't learn much the writer's wit and narrative strength pulled me along, and beyond informing you, it makes you feel and experience the revolutionary Iran. ...more
Aug 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I cannot imagine that much cruelty, strangulation, suffocation and dictatorship in those days. It is either I have been brain washed by media and history books or the writer has been influenced by the new born revolution; as the book was written early 1980’s.
However, the book is very well written and informative. It tells the story through several witnesses which prevent the usual monotonousness of history books.
Feb 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, journalism
Been a while since I've read a book cover to cover in a single day, but a long flight and Kapuściński's brilliant writing helped. Amazing insight into the Iranian Revolution which toppled the last of the Shahs, with a few detours here and there to talk about Islamic history. ...more
Jack Horan
Mar 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Light on the facts but brilliantly evokes the paranoia caused by the secret police which eventually bubbled over into revolution. The Shah was a complete spoon
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
May 06, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fic
I have some issues with the format of this book. The author takes up an item - a photo, a recording, his notes - and then goes on to describe the content and thereby tell the story of Iran. For ex., he takes up a photograph of people standing at a bus stop. He describes the people, their expressions, their body language etc. Then he goes on to talk about Savak (Shah's secret police) and the stifling curtailment of freedom of speech. In the next section, he moves on to another topic. This format ...more
Michal Mironov
Mar 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kapuściński always balance between verified facts and pure impressions, yet it’s exactly this style of writing which turns his reports into attractive thrillers. Sometimes, he can construct a whole story based on studying details of a single photograph. Sometimes, he acts as educated scholar, impressing you with his wide knowledge of history and culture. Doesn’t really matter which concept do you prefer because Shah of Shahs is perfect mixture of both. A thin, but extremely useful book not only ...more
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
Oct 23, 2012 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. ...more
Hemant Joshi
May 31, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Got the details of what led to revolution in Iran in 1979. I felt that his method of explaining is very unique. This book definately motivated me to read more about the Irani Revolution and how Iran's relations turned sour with the western world. ...more
César Lasso
Jan 21, 2013 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
Amor Asad
Dec 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was a great read and a collection of thoughtful insights in revolutions in general. I want to write a proper review on it.
“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 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
Hau Le
Apr 25, 2014 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
Nov 06, 2007 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
May 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
The revolution in Iran was the 27th that Kapuscinski covered and he uses all of this experience to write not only about events leading up to it but also his thoughts on the origins of revolution and the societies and situations in which they evolve. On top of this, the writing is beautiful. This is a short book and I have no idea how he manages to pack us much in as he does, but this is one of the best books that I have read on revolution and dictatorship. There is a lot to be left thinking abou ...more
Oct 07, 2014 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. ...more
Dave H
Mar 10, 2015 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.
Jul 05, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Ryszard Kapuściński can make a place you have never seen seem as real as your fondest memory. In this slim volume he presents the Shah's Iran, and what happened to it.

I found this book so engrossing that I missed my bus stop one morning by about half a mile.

A terminal political junkie gave me this book. Thanks Dirk!
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
1:05 4 19 Mar 25, 2013 07:16AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Pol Pots leende: Om en svensk resa genom röda khmerernas Kambodja
  • Americký cisár
  • Like Eating a Stone: Surviving the Past in Bosnia
  • Všem sráčům navzdory aneb Válka, o které nechcete nic vědět
  • Zabójca z miasta moreli. Reportaże z Turcji
  • Ku Klux Klan. Tu mieszka miłość
  • Donbas: svadobný apartmán v hoteli Vojna
  • Witajcie w raju. Reportaże o przemyśle turystycznym
  • Planeta Kaukaz
  • Slon na Zemplíne
  • Trochu oheň, trochu voda
  • Gringo wśród dzikich plemion
  • Kapuściński non-fiction
  • Modlitwa o deszcz
  • Siwy dym albo pięć cywilizowanych plemion
  • Wszystkie wojny Lary
  • Oczy zasypane piaskiem
  • Milo nemilo
See similar books…
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

News & Interviews

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.” So, this January, as we celebrate Martin Luther King...
13 likes · 5 comments
No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »
“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.” 18 likes
“Development is a treacherous river, as
everyone who plunges into its currents knows.”
More quotes…