Patriot of Persia
Muhammad Mossadegh and a Tragic Anglo-American Coup
By Christopher de Bellaigue
(Harper, Hardcover, 9780061844706, 320pp.)
Publication Date: May 2012
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
Enter your zip code below to find indies closest to you.
On August 19, 1953, the American and British intelligence agencies launched a desperate coup in Iran against a cussed, bedridden seventy-two-year-old man. His name was Muhammad Mossadegh, and his crimes had been to flirt with communism and to nationalize his country's oil industry, which for forty years had been in British hands. To Winston Churchill, the Iranian prime minister was a lunatic, determined to humiliate Britain. To President Dwight Eisenhower, he was delivering Iran to the Soviets. Mossadegh must go.
And so he did, in one of the most dramatic episodes in modern Middle Eastern history. But the countries that overthrew him would, in time, deeply regret their decision. Mossadegh was one of the first liberals of the Middle East, a man whose conception of liberty was as sophisticated as any in Europe or America. He wanted friendship with the West—but not slavish dependence. He would not compromise on Iran's right to control its own destiny. The West therefore sided against him and in favor of his great foe, Shah Muhammad-Reza Pahlavi.
Who was this political guerrilla of noble blood, who was so adored in the Middle East and so reviled in the West? Schooled in Europe of the Belle Epoque, Mossadegh was pitted against dictatorship at home, a struggle that almost cost him his life and had tragic consequences for his family. By the time of the Shah's accession in 1941, Mossadegh had become the nation's conscience, and he spent the rest of his life in conflict with a monarch whose despotic regime was eventually toppled in the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
Here, for the first time, is the political and personal life of a remarkable patriot, written by our foremost observer of Iran. Drawing on sources in Tehran and the West, Christopher de Bellaigue reveals a man who not only embodied his nation's struggle for freedom but also was one of the great eccentrics of modern times—and uncovers the coup that undid him. Above all, the life of Muhammad Mossadegh serves as a warning to today's occupants of the White House and Downing Street as they commit to further intervention in a volatile and unpredictable region.
Christopher de Bellaigue was born in London and now lives in Tehran with his family. He has spent the past decade working as a journalist in the Middle East and South Asia, and his work appears in The Economist, the New York Review of Books, Granta, and The New Yorker.
“A compelling biography… Bellaigue…writes with economy and a lightly ironic touch…The result is a three-dimensional profile of Mossadegh that contrasts sharply with the heroic democrat mythologized by his supporters.”
-Wall Street Journal
“Economist Tehran correspondent de Bellaigue uses plenty of local insight to provide general readers with an intriguing combination of biography, history and strategic study.”
“…a major strength of the book is that it does not seek to lionize the protagonist.”
-Washington Independent Review of Books
“Brilliant…A sweeping new biography…also a rich portrait of Iran amid the revolutionary upheaval of anti-colonial reform movements…-the antecedent, in many ways, of today’s Middle East uprisings.”
“…thanks to veteran journalist Christopher de Bellaigue’s brisk, engaging 300-page biography, Mossadegh’s strange personality and at times baffling motives come into clearer focus.”
-The Daily Beast
“A timely book…elegantly written…feels both fresh and relevant…highlights the dangers of a foreign policy that ignores the perceptions of those with memories longer than our own.”
“Superbly timed…portrays some fascinating, and often farcical, stories of political life in Iran”
“Compelling… the West has handled its relationship with Iran as badly as possible… we have little leverage with its people…de Bellaigue’s book goes far to explain why.”
-Max Hastings, Sunday Times (London)
“De Bellaigue’s book is unsurpassed as a rounded portrait of Mossadegh.”
-Times Literary Supplement (London)
“Authoritative…a politically astute biography”
-Pankaj Mishra, London Review of Books
“Portrayed by Bellaigue as a classic tragic hero…the book presents a nuanced portrait of an enigmantic man whose brilliance and fairmindedness fatally collided with his pride and rigidity.”
-Tara Bahrampour, Washington Post
“Brilliant…deft…De Bellaigue, fluent in Farsi, draws on previously unused Iranian sources to bring Mossadegh to vivid life…De Bellaigue’s powerful portrait is also a timely reminder that further Western recklessness toward Iran…would only pile tragedy upon tragedy.”
-Roger Cohen, New York Review of Books