Shah of Shahs by Ryszard Kapuściński

This is the second Kapuściński book I’ve read so far this year. This author has a poetic way of describing current events, and turns them into a Homer-esque epic. This book is about the last Shah of Iran that was eventually kicked out of power in 1979. I don’t know much about this part of the world but Kapuściński puts things together in away that gives me the narrative of what happened.

This novel wasn’t as amazing as his book The Emperor. The Emperor is written in a more linear style, with more ‘quotes’ from people working closer to that dictator. This book didn’t have as clear of a timeline to follow which at times almost disorients you. I wasn’t even born when the events in this book are talked about so I have never even really heard of this Shah.

I wouldn’t call this book a ‘history’ book, but it’s a beautiful blend of wit, poetry, and history. I’ve been reading a lot about dictators lately it seems. In a lot of this book, there are quotes that I think could apply quite nicely to the CCP regime in China.

A despot believes that a man is an abject creature. Abject people fill his court and populate his environment. A terrorized society will behave like an unthinking, submissive mob for a long time. Feeding it is enough to make it obey. Provided with amusements, it’s happy. The rather small arsenal of political tricks has not changed in millennia. Thus, we have all the amateurs in politics, all the ones convinced they would know how to govern if only they had the authority. Yet surprising things can also happen. Here is a well-fed and well-entertained crowed that stops obeying. It begins to demand something more than entertainment. It wants freedom, it demands justice. The despot is stunned. He doesn’t now how to see a man in all his fullness and glory.

As the passage above shows, he brings an passionate narrative to the events, but it also feels at times that he’s writing a book about dictators in general and sometimes comes back to the Shah to use as an example. Does this detract from the book? Not really, it’s still a solid book that captures the spirit of the rise and fall of the Shah and the attitudes and feelings of the peopel at the time.

Rating: ★★★★★

Book #25 in my My 2020 Reading Challenge

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