Patriot of Persia: Muhammad Mossadegh and a Very British Coup

Christopher de Bellaigue

Patriot of Persia: Muhammad Mossadegh and a Very British Coup

On 19 August 1953 the British and American intelligence agencies launched a desperate coup against a cussed, bedridden 72-year-old. His name was Muhammad Mossadegh and his crimes had been to to flirt with Communism and nationalise his country's oil industry, for forty years 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. Here, for the first time, is the life of a remarkable patriot, written by a respected 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 is also one of the great eccentrics of modern times — and he uncovers the coup that undid him. 3.4 out of 5 based on 7 reviews
Patriot of Persia: Muhammad Mossadegh and a Very British Coup

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre History
Format Hardback
Pages 320
RRP £20.00
Date of Publication February 2012
ISBN 978-1847921086
Publisher Bodley Head
 

On 19 August 1953 the British and American intelligence agencies launched a desperate coup against a cussed, bedridden 72-year-old. His name was Muhammad Mossadegh and his crimes had been to to flirt with Communism and nationalise his country's oil industry, for forty years 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. Here, for the first time, is the life of a remarkable patriot, written by a respected 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 is also one of the great eccentrics of modern times — and he uncovers the coup that undid him.

Reviews

The Guardian

James Buchan

Patriot of Persia seems to me to break new ground in Iranian biography, and is sure to find readers in Iran. To the local tradition of sententious life stories ("Relics of Their Eminences", "Distinguished Men of Isfahan", "Anecdotes of the Scholars"), De Bellaigue adds the domestic and personal detail that is the glory of British biography.

03/03/2012

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The Observer

Lindsey Hilsum

De Bellaigue is careful not to make crass comparisons, but this is nonetheless a timely book. Whenever a British or American politician chastises President Ahmadinejad for his nuclear programme, and talks of "carrot and stick", even Iranians who loathe the current government, and disagree with its nuclear policy, recall Mossadegh and Churchill. It raises a disturbing question: will our current objection to Iran having a nuclear weapon one day look like Britain's 1950s horror at the idea that Iranian oil might belong to the Iranians and not to us? There are many reasons why not — but if you don't ask the question, you cannot understand the current Iranian government's negotiating strategy and rhetoric.

05/02/2012

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The Spectator

Charles Glass

This excellent book tells Mossadegh’s story rather than the CIA’s and MI6’s. Bellaigue used his access to the Iranian files and his knowledge of Farsi to produce a book that will be required reading to understand a country that the Western world has embargoed yet again and is threatening to attack.

03/03/2012

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The Financial Times

David Gardner

This book is full of sentences that ring like a bell, but none more so than those that tantalise us with what might have been. The Anglo-American overthrow of constitutional nationalism, however flawed, led to the tawdry Pahlavi dynasty, and that cleared the way for the theocrats of the Islamic Republic. Mossadegh, in this warts-and-all telling, was a secular reformer, “the first to try to build a modern Middle Eastern state on the basis of collective and individual liberty”. In destroying him, de Bellaigue concludes and it is hard to disagree, “an opportunity [was] spurned because of the British obsession with lost prestige and the American obsession with communism”.

09/03/2012

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The Sunday Times

Max Hastings

He creates a compelling narrative of a discreditable episode in British foreign policy, but finds it harder to make a convincing case for Mossadegh as a great Iranian: extravagantly erratic, he embodied many of the chronic weaknesses of Middle Eastern leaders, past and present. Even the author finds it impossible to defend one of his last decisions as prime minister, to dissolve parliament and rule by decree.

29/01/2012

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The Independent

Roger Howard

In general, the author's criticisms of British involvement in Iran are too one-sided. He notes disapprovingly that British administrators had a very low view of Iran's ability to rule itself, yet his book is replete with stories of endemic corruption and shocking incompetence. He fails to mention that oil was discovered in Persia, and its proceeds subsequently shared, however imperfectly, decades before other Middle Eastern countries thanks only to the astonishing efforts of British entrepreneurs, explorers and engineers. And if the British had not exerted their own imperial influence on Persia, then other countries — notably imperial or Bolshevik Russia, and later Nazi Germany — would have done so, with rather less civility and efficiency.

10/02/2012

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The Literary Review

David Pryce-Jones

Given Iran’s history and culture, a hysterical personality like Mossadegh was certain to have to pay a price for his manoeuvring and politicking. Instead, blame for everything in his dramatic rise and fall is attributed by de Bellaigue exclusively to the British. It was only normal for those in responsible positions to defend British interests, but de Bellaigue accuses all of them of the very different and deplorable motive of holding Iranians in contempt. It is almost compulsory nowadays to surrender to masochism and guilt where the British past is concerned, and de Bellaigue exemplifies this attitude, confessing to feeling that he has been ‘bearing the cross of my forefathers’ misdemeanours’.

01/02/2012

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