MY RATING: 4/5 Stars
FTC NOTICE: Free Review Copy from Library Thing Early Reviewers Program (in exchange for an honest review)
REVIEW: At first glance (and final review), I loved the layout and research elements of this “The Fall of Heaven: The Pahlavis and the Final Days of Imperial Iran,” by Andrew Scott Cooper. Prior to the “Introduction,” the reader encountered a list of key people and their roles, a “Revolution Timeline” and a 1979 map of Teheran, Iran (a critically important inclusion for any book focusing on Iran’s Islamic Revolution. Each chapter included two short, pertinent, and impactful quotes from different sources. History buffs, analysts, investigative personality types, and nerds at-hearts can greatly enjoy that the author shared his detailed research notes. He “constructed a 242-page, color-coordinated timeline that spanned the crucial twenty-month period from January 1, 1977, through August 31, 1978, that decided the Shah’s fate. The timeline expanded to include everything from weather reports and traffic conditions to movie and theater listings—anything to help me re-create daily life on the eve of the revolution. The timeline meant that I could follow the Shah, Queen Farah, President Carter, Ambassador Sullivan, and other personalities on a daily and even hourly basis during a critical two-year stretch. The timeline yielded unexpected patterns, trends, and turning points forgotten, neglected, or otherwise overlooked by other scholars” (15).
Dr. Andrew Scott Cooper, an expert in U.S.-Iran relations, wrote this text to serve as a correction of historical records. His qualifications included being a: “former researcher at Human Rights Watch, the US organization that monitors human rights around the world” (11). Perhaps it was this specific life experience that motivated him to write this compendium, which focused on following:
1. Iran’s human rights record within the context of the behaviors of other nation’s Cold War era dictators/rulers.
2. The scene that set the final stage for the revolution, revealing “two different revolutionary narratives” (15).
3. Farah Diba’s as a non-stereotypical model of a ruler’s wife.
The Shah’s human rights record included rumors that SAVAK held thousands of political prisoners. The last Shah countered that the numbers were greatly inflated. Dr. Cooper specified that “the lower numbers do not excuse nor diminish the suffering of political prisoners jailed nor tortured in Iran in the 1970s. They do, however, show the extent to which the historical record was manipulated by Khomeini and his partisans to criminalize the Shah and justify their own excesses and abuses” (11). The author deconstructed false analogies that compared the Shah to “Chile’s General Augusto Pinochet, blamed for the deaths of 2,279 people and 30,000 torture victims, and also to the Argentine military junta, held culpable for 30,000 deaths and disappearances” (11). Further details revealed that “within the context of the Cold War battlefronts in the Middle East and southwestern Asia, the Pahlavi state was not particularly repressive, especially when we consider that Saddam Hussein, in neighboring Iraq, was credited with the deaths of 200,000 political dissidents, while in Syria, President Hafez al-Assad crushed an Islamic uprising with 20,000 casualties. That Iran never experienced violence on such a scale suggests the Shah was a benevolent autocrat who actually enjoyed a greater degree of popular support among the Iranian people than was previously assumed” (11). Several explanations throughout the book included how Khomeini and his followers slandered the regime to gain his own political power; he was quoted as follows: “I can summon a million martyrs to any cause” (103)—and he did.
While the author did debunk rumors regarding Pahlavi regime behavior and the context in which the stories developed, the questions that must be asked include whether or not the uncovered facts carried enough weight to alter the world-view of the Pahlavi regime; and, would the Islamic Revolution still have occurred? Or, were they simply historical little white lies in the whole grand scheme of things? Readers must also determine whether or not such clarifications were worthy of a several-hundred-page compendium. Andrew Scott Cooper’s collection of micro-histories kept its promise to the readers; but the writing style at times seemed a bit disjointed; and, coupled with seemingly unnecessary minutiae, the piece became a bit dry at times…slowing down the reading and enjoyment of this text. Where the author truly gained writing cohesion and an energetic traction that created reading momentum revealed itself after 400 pages. Had the author utilized the same writing style more pervasively, this text easily would have earned five stars in lieu of four of them.