Michael Cook on Iran

Michael Cook on Iran
By: Marginal Revolution Posted On: April 15, 2024 View: 14

Our primary concern in this chapter will be Iran, though toward the end we will shift the focus to Central Asia.  We can best begin with a first-order approximation of the pattern of Iranian history across the whole period.  It has four major features.  The first is the survival of something called Iran, as both a cultural and a political entity; Iran is there in the eleventh century, and it is still there in the eighteenth.  the second is an alternation between periods when Iran is ruled by a single imperial state and periods in which it break up intoa number of smaller states.  The third feature is steppe nomad power: all imperial states based in Iran in this period are the work of Turkic or Mongol nomads.  The fourth is the role of the settled Iranian population, whose lot is to pay taxes and — more rewardingly — to serve as bureaucrats and bearers of a literate culture. With this first-order approximation in mind, we can now move on to a second-order approximation in the form of an outline of the history of Iran over eight centuries that will occupy most of this chapter.

That is from his new book A History of the Muslim World: From its Origins to the Dawn of Modernity.  I had not known that in the early 16th century Iran was still predominantly Sunni.  And:

There were also Persian-speaking populations to the east of Iran that remained Sunni, and within Iran there were non-Persian ethnic groups, such as the Kurds in the west and the Baluchis in the southeast, that likewise retained their Sunnism.  but the core Persian-speakoing population of the country was by now [1722] almost entirely Shiite.  Iran thus became the first and largest country in which Shiites were both politically and demographically doinant.  One effect of this was to set it apart from the Muslim world at large, a development that gave Iran a certian coherence at the cost of poisoning its relations with its neighbors.

This was also a good bit:

Yet the geography of Iran in this period was no friendlier to meritime trade than it had been in Sasanian times.  To a much greater extent than appears from a glance at the map, Iran is landlocked: the core population and prime resources of the country are located deep in the interior, far from the arid coastlands of the Persian Gulf.

In my earlier short review I wrote “At the very least a good book, possibly a great book.”  I have now concluded it is a great book.

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