Books for the Crisis
The first is The Mantle of the Prophet, by Roy Mottahedeh. This fall at Shippensburg University I'm teaching a course called "Islam and Politics in the Modern Middle East," and this is the first book we'll read after the background material. The book is written in two voices. One is based on interviews with Iranian mullahs in the 1970's and '80's, and tells the life story of one of them and his circle of friends from their earliest education through the 1979 revolution as they react to the new ideas and changes in the world around them. Interspersed with this is Mottahedeh's highly lucid, scholarly (not mutually exclusive!) account of aspects of Islam and Iranian culture, as well as the historical developments which have shaped modern Iran. If you want to know what an "ayatollah" actually is, this book will tell you. The result is a excellent guide to the world of Iran's post-revolutionary ruling class, including the leaders of both sides of the present turmoil.
The other is Iran under Ahmadinejad, by Ali Ansari. In fewer than 100 pages, Ansari, who is both extremely well-connected and one of the top historians of modern Iran out there, places Ahmadinejad in a historical context and highlights the major issues, trends, and developments to paint a profile of the government at the center of today's crisis. I previously reviewed this here; I wish I had a copy to hand so I could glance through it again and see if I noticed any previously overlooked parts relevant to what's happening.
(Crossposted to American Footprints)