Cover: The Unthinkable Revolution in Iran, from Harvard University PressCover: The Unthinkable Revolution in Iran in PAPERBACK

The Unthinkable Revolution in Iran

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$33.50 • £29.95 • €30.95

ISBN 9780674018433

Publication Date: 09/06/2005


304 pages


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[Kurzman’s] book examines the Islamic revolution in the light of social sciences. It is a valuable insight into what he considers one of the most far-reaching events of the 20th century.—Shusha Guppy, The Times Higher Education Supplement

Charles Kurzman has presented a meticulous anatomy of the Iranian revolution and has dexterously treated the anomalies usually inherent in revolutions… The author shifts through revolution theories and shows with pages and pages of documentation and references how they related to the Iranian revolution or missed it. Kurzman’s opus is certainly a valuable contribution to the historiography and sociological analysis of an important revolution of our age that led to a large scale politicization of Islam in those parts of the world where this religion prevailed.—Syfi Tashan, Journal of Third Word Studies

Charles Kurzman has produced the definitive account of the Islamic Revolution. No serious historian can write about these events without consulting his 10-page essay on available source material in The Unthinkable Revolution in Iran.Middle East Quarterly

Sociologist Kurzman addresses five familiar sets of explanations about why the Iranian revolution took place—political, organizational, cultural, economic, and military arguments—and finds each valuable but flawed, offering instead an ‘anti-explanation’ that foregrounds anomaly and characterizes the revolutionary moment as confusing, unstable, and as unpredictable for participants as it is for outside observers. Despite this, optimism is in order; there is, after all, exciting potential in moments in which the unthinkable suddenly becomes thinkable.—Brendan Driscoll, Booklist

When Elias Canetti, the Nobel Prize–winning theorist, spoke of a people’s ‘propensity to incendiarism,’ he had in mind one of the most dangerous traits of mass gatherings: their potential for unpredictable combustibility. Iran’s Islamic revolution, like many other uprisings, was a consummate instance of this, Kurzman argues, and he continues in Canetti’s tradition by using the Shah’s overthrow to engage in his own meditation on crowds and power. Kurzman’s investigation propelled him to the Islamic republic, where he conducted countless interviews, in an attempt to chart the eddies and undercurrents of one of the world’s most complex and sudden social upheavals… The result is a thought-provoking combination of journalism and analysis that offers an atypical juxtaposition of voices: shopkeepers, lawyers and high school students share their views on what happened, as do academics and policymakers.Publishers Weekly

In the world of politics, a true revolution is the perfect storm—rare and uniquely destructive. Can the social scientist comprehend and perhaps even predict the course of such a complex phenomenon? Charles Kurzman takes a cool, dispassionate look at the many explanations of the Iranian revolution and finds them inadequate. Drawing on an impressive range of original research, he argues that mass revolutionary movements become viable suddenly—and unpredictably—as perceptions of potential success acquire popular acceptance. This book is a major addition to the literature on the Iranian revolution—and revolution in general.—Gary Sick, former member of the National Security Council staff and Adjunct Professor of International Affairs, Columbia University

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