Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Staff Pick: Shah of Shahs

Book Cover

Shah of Shahs by Ryszard Kapuściński

Published in 1985, this book is a pithy, revelatory reconstruction of the Iranian Revolution of 1979 by an eyewitness. The book, which the original New York Times book review called “insightful and important” is remarkable as both an historical document and allegory for revolution anywhere, but is especially gripping because of the insight it offers into the Iran of today.

Ryszard Kapuściński’s (Rish-ard Kap-ush-chin-ski) writing can be a marvel of selection and condensation. Anything non-essential is seemingly left out, but his prose hardly becomes dry or journalistic. If anything, the brevity of the writing adds to its odd lyricism. Shah of Shahs, like many of Kapuściński’s other books, reads more like a novel than a work of nonfiction. Lasting only 152 pages, it is a short novel at that.

Kapuściński was a Polish journalist. Over the course of his career reporting from Asia, Africa, and Latin America he was jailed forty times, witnessed twenty-seven coups or revolutions, and survived four death sentences. Though sometimes criticized for straying from the strictly factual, his books are widely praised and have been translated into thirty languages. The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat and The Soccer War are also highly recommended.

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