MY RATING: 4/5 Stars
FTC NOTICE: Library Book
REVIEW: “All the Shah’s Men” serves as the second book I have read by Stephen Kinzer, and it was full of intrigue, micro-histories, and biographies that left me with the desire to research and read more about the Middle East as well as additional books by this author.
It is not unusual for history books to discuss timelines and people; but, what I appreciated most in this text was Kinzer’s differing approach to historical data. He was generous with details about a significant array of people that were involved with multiple coups. There were names of people in his book that I did not recall seeing in other compendiums pertaining to Middle East history and/or Iran. Kinzer shared what their individual philosophies were and how they affected their decisions and the resulting behaviors.
One challenge I experienced while reading this book, and that which prevented me from giving it five stars in lieu of four of them, was that there was too much going back and forth in history. A political leader’s history and interactions with others was/were very well described; but, at the end of that history, the reader was then re-introduced to a character at the beginning or middle of the previous history and all within the same chapter. Segmentation via a few extra and short chapters would have helped.
Despite the back-and-forth of histories, Stephen Kinzer has a great way of making a reader take a look at a situation and evaluate what could have been done differently. Unfortunately, he waited until over 200 pages into the book for any analysis or extrapolation to occur. This was coupled with a whole series of “if” and “if” and “if-then” and “if.” In doing so, Kinzer inadvertently de-valued what he was trying to accomplish, and the history could no longer be evaluated as a reality. Thankfully I had already read another book by Kinzer, called, “Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America’s Future,” so I knew what he was trying to accomplish, and I didn’t want him to think that this was lost on me. He wanted the reader to imagine how things could have been done differently; what would have happened if one or all of these things did not occur?
The author is also quite talented when it comes to creating imagery. He does this thoughtfully, purposely, and respectfully. Kinzer shares the details of his trip to Iran and his visit to Mossadegh’s final home. There are descriptions of colors, flowers, and buildings, and he places them in the context of what they experienced and looked like in history and how they had changed by the time of his visit. There is a certain romanticism about how he goes about interviewing people who were employees, villagers/neighbors, friends and family of Mossadegh. Stephen Kinzer makes it clear that with the Mossadegh name, there is a legacy, and there is a responsibility to keep the name pure.
Purity and the instability of relationships were prevalent themes in this book. The intelligence that the American government received was not consistently pure. There were people who wanted to make a name for themselves and leveraged “The Cold War” and its threat of spreading communism as a way to convince an American president that it was time to start supporting the British government in its efforts to take back Iran’s newly-nationalized oil company. Kinzer did a good job of “calling out” these people, namely The Dulles Brothers.
There were good people on all sides who had good intentions, and they were coupled with individuals or groups filled with mal-intent, which ultimately led to a surpise coup of Mohammed Reza Shah and the promotion to leadership and ultimate power of and for the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran. There were well-described changes in alliances that ultimately put the United States in an unsavory position with countries in the Middle East…definitely an unfortunate stance and one that can hopefully be corrected.