Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran

Published by Penguin on 6th November 2008

Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran tells the story of Iranian history from the earliest times up to the present day, from before the Achaemenids through to the Islamic Republic. It highlights the uniqueness of Iranian identity, as one of the oldest continuing civilisations in the world. In doing so, as well as describing political events and covering military and dynastic matters, it emphasises the role of cultural, literary, religious and intellectual movements in Iran, and the leading personalities and ideas that shaped them, in order to demonstrate the way Iran has had an influence in the Middle East and Asia (and beyond) through the power of Persianate culture rather than through conventional political and military means-an Empire of the Mind at least as much as an Empire of the Sword.

The book explains the origin of some of the paradoxes of Iran, that derive from Iran’s complex history of Empires (Parthian, Sassanid, Abbasid, Safavid), foreign invasions (Alexandrian, Arab, Mongol) and religious revolutions, giving due attention to minorities like the Jews (who have been present in Iran since before the beginning of the earliest Iranian empire), Kurds, Zoroastrians, Armenians and Azeris. Axworthy also conveys some of the under-appreciated and misunderstood aspects of the history of Iran in more modern times, from the failed empire of Nader Shah onwards, including the effects of foreign interference in the colonial period. Again, the book pays proper attention to intellectual and religious developments, ignorance of which has contributed to the bafflement with which many Westerners view the country. Finally, the book addresses the changes that have taken place in Iran since the revolution of 1979, and the significance of the nuclear dispute that currently bedevils Iran’s relations with the wider world.