I approached this book not knowing really what to expect, i.e.: does the book try to justify past US policies or is it a rational discussion. It is the latter. The author tries to clear the political air in the introduction and set the record straight on why we have problems with Iran. He uses a direct quote from the Iranians regarding a speech from Secretary Albright who acknowledges the over 25 years of US interference in the politics and leadership of Iran starting with the shah in 1953 and ending with the aid to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq conflict in the 1980's. This of course is contrary to public posture at home that our actions are about promoting democracy abroad. It is clear that past actions against Iran were to promote US commercial, trade, and strategic defense interests at the expense of the Iranians. So that admission up front is refreshing. Many Iranians had expected help from the US, not a new imperial power to replace Britain and Russia that had dominated Iran for most of the 19th century and half of the 20th century. So the question now is simply this: can we build a new relationship, especially with that 200 history of mistrust with Russia, Britain, and America?
The book is somewhat long and can be described as comprehensive; it is well written suitable for the average reader and it is a fairly quick and light read. The pages seem to whiz by like a Jack London novel. It has about 428 pages of main text with five maps, and is followed by 60 pages of notes and a bibliography approximately 25 pages in length. It covers 13 subjects including a history of Iran, the shah, the rise of US influence in Iran, the hostage crisis, the Iran-Iraq war, and the post 1980 political developments in Iran.
The first chapter - about 30 pages long - presents a short history of Iran including the dealings between Iran and Britain and Russia. That takes the reader to approximately the year 1900 - 1914. After that there are two chapters that lead us through the events surrounding the ousting of the Iranian leader Mosaddeq by royalist troops in 1953. The author thinks that a certain myth has developed about the coup that overstate the American-British role and, in Iranian mind's at least, to exaggerate the role of the CIA. In the next 70 to 80 pages the author takes us through the 25 year reign of the shah, his spending, his use of terror, and the inequities in Iranian society which finally trigger the fall of the shah. The Iranians tend to equate America with the reign of the shah, and the failure of the US to apply human rights standards to that country while espousing them at home, especially by Carter.
The next 200 pages describe the developments related to Iran from 1980 going forward including many details on the primary Iranian political figures, the long and exhausting war with Iraq, the current and past Iranian views of the US in the 1990's, Islamic fundamentalism, supporting terrorism against mainly Israel, Iranian designs on controlling the Gulf region, suport of some Al Qaeda members by Iran, the Karine A incident, Hamas, the Geneva working group on Afghanistan, the Axis of Evil speech, Iranian nuclear weapons, etc.
Finally we have perhaps the most interesting chapter, a chapter on developing future US strategies. That is in fact the reason for the title of the book, The Persian Puzzle. Can we do anything to solve the problems short of a war? It is a puzzle that can be solved by either attacking Iran or more rationally attempting to develop a long term relationship with Iran, possibly following many paths in parallel. In the final analysis short of war it will be a decision to be made by Iran.
Whether you agree with everything the author presents in the book, or do not, one will find the book to be informative and stimulating. Easily 5 stars.