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The Last Great Revolution
Cover of The Last Great Revolution
The Last Great Revolution
Turmoil and Transformation in Iran
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Robin Wright has reported from over 120 countries for many leading news organizations, but her perceptive coverage of Iran has garnered her the most respect and praise among her colleagues. In The Last Great Revolution, Wright meticulously describes the ongoing transformation of society, politics and religion that ranges from the empowerment of women to the blossoming of a movie industry and an independent press. She demonstrates why Iran's Islamic revolution equals the French and Russian revolutions in new ideas and impact, while standing alone as "the last great revolution" of the modern era.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Robin Wright has reported from over 120 countries for many leading news organizations, but her perceptive coverage of Iran has garnered her the most respect and praise among her colleagues. In The Last Great Revolution, Wright meticulously describes the ongoing transformation of society, politics and religion that ranges from the empowerment of women to the blossoming of a movie industry and an independent press. She demonstrates why Iran's Islamic revolution equals the French and Russian revolutions in new ideas and impact, while standing alone as "the last great revolution" of the modern era.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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    On the dusty highway south from bustling Tehran, an enormous gold dome rises importantly across the horizon. Heat from the surrounding desert makes it shiver like a mirage, even in winter. Four spiny minarets quiver rhythmically alongside it.The most ornate shrine in Iran -- and one of the largest monuments ever constructed in the Muslim world over the past thirteen centuries -- was built in record time above the burial site of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini after he died abruptly from a heart attack in 1989. Disgruntled Iranians complained at the time that its cost was greater than the annual budget of Tehran, a city of some 13 million people. Iran's devout boasted that it was finer than both the Grand Mosque in Mecca and the prophet Mohammad's tomb in Medina, Islam's two holiest sites. Their message was implicit.

    The trip to Khomeini's tomb and the nearby Paradise of Zahra has always served as a barometer of Iran's revolution. I've stopped there on every visit. The last time was almost twenty years after the revolution -- and a decade after the ayatollah's death -- when I sat in the back seat of a boxy white Paykan taxi, a warm wind threatening to blow off the big scarf that hid my hair and a tape of the Spice Girls booming from the taxi's tape deck.

    En route, my old friend Lily Sadeghi and I made plans to see a Molière farce that night at one of Tehran's new cultural centers. We regretted having missed a local production of Les Misérables, in Persian, that had just closed after a six-month run.

    "We probably wouldn't have gotten in anyway," Lily said. "It was very popular. It was always sold out."

    Then we laughed about all the American tourists who had started coming to Iran again. Another group had just checked into the Laleh Hotel, the former Intercontinental renamed for the tulip, a national symbol.

    Until just a few months earlier, the Laleh and most other hotels had big signs emblazoned across lobby walls or on entrance walkways for visitors to tread on that declared, in English, "down with the usa." They'd been put up in the heady days of 1979 after the United States Embassy seizure, at the same time that Khomeini's pledge "America will face a severe defeat" was painted across the embassy's high brick wall.

    But that morning, two decades after the revolution, I'd watched a group of American tourists assemble in the Laleh's redecorated lobby. They, too, were going to visit Khomeini's tomb.

    Like the world around it, Iran has been -- and still is -- going through a transformation. Early passions have been replaced by a hard-earned pragmatism, produced in part by revolutionary excesses that backfired against the clerics and exhausted the population. Arrogance has given way to realism. The "government of God" is ceding to secular statecraft. The passage of time has also helped to restore perspective. The shift is visible even at the tomb of the soulful Imam [a term of reverence given a Shi'ite religious leader by popular consensus rather than by formal appointment or vote. Its use is rare] who in 1979 led a widely disparate movement that ended 2,500 years of monarchy and then, over the next decade, defined what would replace it.

    The main chamber in the domed tomb is, indeed, magnificent. The foundation, walls and massive pillars are a polished white marble that reflects the light of chandeliers and gives the tomb an airy feeling. Persian carpets, all handwoven silks in richly textured designs denoting Iran's different provinces, adorn the floors.

    In the center is a cage-like chamber of glass big enough to be a room. It is canopied in green, the color of Islam. Inside, the ayatollah lies under a...

About the Author-
  • Robin Wright is an American journalist currently covering US foreign policy for the Washington Post. She has reported for the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, the Sunday Times (London), CBS News and the Christian Science Monitor, and has served as a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. She has also written for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the New York Times, and the International Herald Tribune.

    Wright received the UN Correspondents Association Gold Medal for coverage of international affairs, the National Magazine Award for reportage from Iran in The New Yorker, and the Overseas Press Club Award for "best reporting in any medium requiring exceptional courage and initiative" for coverage of African wars. For coverage of US foreign policy, she was named journalist of the year by the American Academy of Diplomacy for "distinguished reporting and analysis of international affairs" and won the National Press Club Award and the Weintal Prize for diplomatic reporting. Wright has also been the recipient of a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation grant.

    Wright has been a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Brookings Institution, Yale University, Duke University, Stanford University, the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the University of Southern California. She also lectures extensively around the United States and has been a television commentator on ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, and MSNBC programs, including Meet the Press, Face the Nation, This Week, Nightline, PBS NewsHour, Frontline, and Larry King Live.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from January 3, 2000
    Few Western journalists are more familiar with postrevolutionary Iran than Wright (In the Name of God: The Khomeini Decade, etc.). Wright first traveled to Iran as a young reporter in 1973 and has made dozens of excursions to the country since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Going beneath the veil, as it were, of contemporary Iran, Wright reveals several cultural trends that have occurred inside the political revolution itself and argues that these "revolutions within the revolution" will be lasting. She shows not just how Islam has impacted Iran but how the people of Iran have impacted Islam, liberalizing it and setting in motion changes that will be as far-reaching for Islam as the Reformation was for Christianity. Wright paints a fascinating portrait of a complex society in which women--despite headscarves--enjoy considerable empowerment in the workplace and politics, in which the arts thrive and there is greater religious tolerance than many readers will have supposed (Iranian Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians enjoy their own reserved seats in Parliament). Wright argues that the results of all these combined religious, political and cultural trends will eventually mark Iran's as the last great revolution of the modern era, on a par with the French and Russian revolutions. Wright's combination of reportorial immediacy and historical perspective makes her book the most accessible guide yet to a country where the battle between modernity and tradition is heating up. Illus. not seen by PW.

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Turmoil and Transformation in Iran
Robin Wright
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