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Persian Mirrors: The Elusive Face of Iran

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  549 Ratings  ·  58 Reviews
The book that revealed Iran to the West, now with a new Afterword. Elaine Sciolino updates Persian Mirrors to include coverage of the 2005 presidential election in Iran.
As a correspondent for Newsweek and The New York Times, Sciolino has had more experience covering revolutionary Iran than any other American reporter. She was aboard the airplane that took Ayatollah Ruho
Paperback, 418 pages
Published September 1st 2005 by Free Press (first published October 3rd 2000)
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The blurb says it the best. Iran is one of the countries I would love to visit one day. A beautiful, multi-cultural, architectural gem where intellectual debate started thousands of years ago, civilization never stopped its constant renaissance, while preserving the ancient and the unique, and where nature has a mystic quality to its diversity. Contrary to popular believe, Iran is an ancient old wine-making country, an art form which never bowed completely to the new theocracy of recent decades. ...more
Mar 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Being Iranian myself, I usually steer clear of books about Iran written by media personalities and the like, but Ms. Sciolino's take on Iran was a breathe of fresh air. Most writers focus on the government and take the people and their chants of "Death to America" at face value. Ms. Sciolino chose to dig deeper and really see what Iranian society is made up of (the past and present)....and her openness and desire to find the real Iran in the myriad of elusive mirrors really shines through in her ...more
I am glad to be done with Persian Mirrors: The Elusive Face of Iran and will put it on the 3 Star shelf. Stories of the Middle East are often sad and depressing. I hoped it would be different here, with the magnificent history of Persia lending an exotic flavor to this travel and adventure tale. Unfortunately, that is not the case:

The sadness of young people shows up in other ways. A young Iranian-American friend of mine who grew up in the United States but returned to Iran for a visit prided hi
This was a long haul. I'm glad I picked it up this last month, given all that going on in Iran right now. I really feel like I have a better understanding of the country (which isn't saying much, since I had almost no understanding of it before). Elaine Sciolino has used her experience of more than twenty years as a correspondent in Iran to write a book about the modern face of the nation. It's extremely detailed, covers a wide variety of subjects, and stays interesting all the way through. I wo ...more
Cecily Robertson
Feb 04, 2010 rated it liked it
I hated History in high school. I just assumed I always would, but now I can see what I hated about it. American History was boring--Americans have learned about it all their lives. Government was boring--it was about the American Government. World History was boring because it was told from the American perspective. I read this for my Global Awareness class and found it interesting, fascinating at some parts. As an American I have almost no knowledge of Middle Eastern countries and this book ea ...more
Julie Christine
Elaine Sciolino is a long-time international correspondent for the NY Times and Newsweek. The book is an in-depth, first-hand look at Iran since the revolution- Elaine was on the jet that returned Khomeini to Iran to overthrow the Shah- she knew NOTHING about Persian culture/history/politics when she started that assignment 20 years ago, but is now considered an expert on the region. The book really opened my eyes and piqued my curiosity about this amazing country and its people. She spends a lo ...more
Vasil Kolev
Jan 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
While reading this, at some times when I saw what the people there endured and even liked, I got reminded of something from Pratchett ("Interesting times"):

"You know their big dish down on the coast?”
“Pig’s ear soup. Now, what’s that tell you about a place, eh?”
Rincewind shrugged. “Very provident people?”
“Some other bugger pinches the pig.”

Maybe there's a chance for this people.

The book itself is great, and has a lot more depth than what's expected from journalists.
Oct 09, 2008 rated it liked it
2.5 stars really... It's a great way to see inside contemporary Iranian society, but as far as her focus and translation of Islam or political happenings, they are quite funny and a little warped. She has no ability to see the grammar of Iranian, neh Islamic, societies and customs. I'll put up some funny quotes...
Elizabeth Theiss
Mar 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A friend traveled to Iran to give a philosophy paper and recommended this book. Sciolino is a journalist whose curiosity and acute observations make this a fascinating book and a nice introduction to Persian society, especially the society of women.
David Harris
Oct 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I studied Farsi in college but have never had an opportunity to visit Iran. I was looking for a book which would give me a sense of what it's like there. This book, which is perhaps a little dated now (although I wouldn't let that stop you from reading it), contains a wealth of information about politics, daily life and religion in Iran. It goes into great detail about political personalities and the struggle between conservatives and reformists. There are also all sorts of great details about w ...more
Mar 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I've read many books on Iran but it never came from the perspective of non iranian or foreigner. This book is somewhat interesting. Ive read Shirin Ebadi, Houshang Asadi, Marjane Satrapi, their book is the manifestation of their personal story ; It might involve other people but at the end of the day, they are the star of their own book. Sciolino's approach of writing is simply based on her observation of what's Iran like on the daily basis. She ventured into the country that she had little know ...more
michellé .c
Mar 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
I'm glad I got through Persian Mirrors because, as with every book, there were many takeaways from it. Albeit slightly outdated, I feel like I've learnt a great deal about Iran, its people - ranging from those in courts to those in the foundations to those at grassroots level, about its relations with the US, and slightly more about the Middle East in general. This was an engaging and rapturous read that combines travelogue with history and politics without oversimplifying aspects of the latter!
May 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
As this book was written approximately 18 years prior to my visit to Iran, it was interesting to note the changes in culture since 1999. Through her various contacts with her job, Ms Sciolino was able to enjoy opportunities that many would have not been privy to. It is these events which gives the author the first hand account of what was really happening in Iran in the years leading up to the revolution in 1979. The book is aptly named which becomes apparent after its reading.
Jun 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Good background through 2000 and on Iranian culture and pride. Makes me want to read a follow-up to current Iranian politics and public opinion - can anyone recommend one??
Wesley  Gerrard
Feb 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Elaine Sciolino is a female New York Times journalist who had the good fortune of being present in Paris with the exiled future leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomenei. When he seized power from the Shah in the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Sciolino was one of the first Western journalists on the ground and she enjoyed privileged access to the new Iranian clerical elite. Iran is a country so alien to us in the West and the lack of knowledge of this ancient culture that is expressed to us in our news an ...more
Jun 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2015
What an incredible, if very limited, insight into a culture. While it is written by an outsider, it is an educated, thoughtful, and considerate one. The main focus of this book is on the political changes of Iran, mostly focusing from the revolution to 2000, though with extended commentaries of the time before, for context, and full of cultural, personal, and historical tidbits.

What is striking about Sciolino's book is how careful it is to maintain its distance of authority. While she has been
Jun 16, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: middle-east
I have always been interested in Iran, and have had a copy of this book for a long time. It's written by a journalist who has been covering Iran for about 20 years, so it's sort of pieces of history and culture put together. The sad part is that it was written in 2000, when Khatami was still president and the reform movement had a lot of support and internal credibility. Of course that all changed in 2003 when our brilliant president decided that despite the progress and clear political concessi ...more
Cheryl Klein
Any journalist who covers a region for years no doubt ends up with reams of ephemera, countless anecdotes and many thoughts about the culture. This is Sciolino's compilation of those, organized in an intelligent, compelling form that puts each meeting with a mullah or visit to a private women's aerobics class in a larger cultural context. It was published in 2000, which means that the context has changed, but the overall portrait Sciolino paints--of a country marked by delightful and confounding ...more
Apr 03, 2008 rated it liked it
This is a really interesting book about recent Iranian history from an American reporter who has covered Iran for a couple decades (including having interviewed the most important leaders and clerics from the Islamic Revolution). Unfortunately, the book was written in 2000 and, given today's political climate in Iran and the US, a little overly optimistic on the future of Iran's reform movement and reconciliation with the United States. Still, it gives you a bit of an idea what life is like insi ...more
Jul 19, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: persia
Like many an older 'current affairs' book, its relevance is partly fermenting into historical significance when read in tandem with more recent fare, partly degrading outright. Most valuable in the long term will be mrs. Sciolino's personal reminiscences p. ex. her presence on the Air France flight returning Khomeini to Iran. Personally, I'm new enough to Persia to enjoy her anecdotes on the national character & customs.
Dec 25, 2013 rated it liked it
Its the feminint version of "La Divina Commedia" (specifically one aspect of it...hope Virgil is okay). I first learned about the Bahai's here: had I lived another life, that's the religion I would've taken, had I the choice to make. I want to worship out of virtue, faith, love; and thus immeasurable mercy and compassion with unparalleled wisdom, mercy, and love should be what is sought in the Divine.

I got fear, shame, regret, envy, and apathy.

Merry Christmas
Jan 20, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an insight into the recent history of Iran from the perspective of a New York Times journalist who has been there for just about every major event since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, including the Revolution, the American Embassy Hostage Crisis, the Iran-Contra Affair, and the election of a reformist president in 1997.
Lee Drake
Feb 25, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: foreign
This book details modern Iran from the vantage point of citizens of Tehran and Shiruz. It goes over perceptions ranging from cultural (Islamic rule, women's rights) to political (Shah, American involvement, and the Islamic Revolution). For Americans concerned about current US policy towards Iran, this is a must read.
Aug 11, 2008 marked it as to-read
Shelves: non-fiction
Ooh, want to read this one, I remember how this period of time affected some of my schoolmates. They, when asked where they were from, would sometimes reply "Persia" rather than Iran due to the fear of reprecussions from classmates. Finding out what was REALLY happening in Iran at the time is intriguing.
Abigail King
Sep 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: double-features, iran
Double feature with NIne Parts Desire. Fantastic and thorough exploration of contemporary Iran through the 1990's. Of course, a bit has changed since then. Sciolino took a well deserved transfer to the Paris bureau so don't expect a sequel from her, but anyone who wants to learn more about Iran (and seek context behind the headlines) will enjoy this mucho.
Aug 26, 2008 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: readers seeking a historical view of the late 90s.
Recommended to Crawfords444 by: Wevre Cooper
Lively and intriguing this book gives a 1999 view of Iranian women's fashions and politics around Khatami. As a reader seeking current political information about the new "president" the book gave outdated information. Some tales about the consequences of inconsistent rules and bribes lend interest. The copyright date is 2000.
Champaign Public Library
This is a well written book that really brings out the complications of life in Iran. It blows away the stereotypes we generally have for these people. Of course, recent changes make the information dated but it was a great glimpse into a world I did not know existed.
Kristina Hoerner
Sep 09, 2008 rated it liked it
This is a well written book that really brings out the complications of life in Iran. It blows away the stereotypes we generally have for these people. Of course, recent changes make the information dated but it was a great glimpse into a world I did not know existed.
The Tick
Nov 26, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: iran
Very readable, but it really suffered by being very out of date. Other reviews have mentioned a 2006 afterword, but the copy I read must be an older edition, since it didn't have that. And even if it did, that would still be 10 years ago anyway.
Sep 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
Very insightful book by a reporter from the NYTimes who has been covering Iran since the revolution in 1979. It being published in 2000, it's a little outdated, but it still captures the compelling history of Iran over the past 3 decades, its culture and people, and its interesting paradoxes.
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Elaine Sciolino is a writer and former Paris Bureau Chief for The New York Times, based in France since 2002. She contributes to The New York Times' Food, Culture, Styles and Sunday Review sections. In 2015 she served as the expert lecturer on the first New York Times-led tour to Iran, and will have led six Times Journeys to Iran by the end of 2016.

Her new non-fiction book, The Only Street in Par
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