Let’s Abandon Achaemenid Studies

Faravahar, the visual aspect of Ahuramazda. Relief from Persepolis.

Faravahar, the visual aspect of Ahuramazda. Relief from Persepolis.

Three books dealing with the Achaemenid Empire, all trying to show the results of Iranology to the general audience. A sympathetic aim. However…

  1. Kaveh Farrokh’s Shadows in the Desert is one of the worst books I have ever read;
  2. Tom Holland’s Persian Fire is unnecessary;
  3. Bruce Lincoln’s Religion, Empire, and Torture, although a very good book by an excellent scholar, understates its own case.

Of these books, the first one is probably the most dangerous for Iranology, as it contains hundreds of errors and even quotes political propaganda. I was shocked to discover that Farrokh holds a PhD and is working for a university. The book by Holland also contains numerous mistakes, but at least the author does not claim to be a historian.

Iranology has grown in the 1980s and 1990s. Publications are now of a higher quality than they used to be. If the discipline wants to continue to prosper, we need better books. Books that are meticulously checked – writing for a general audience is not, as Farrokh and Holland seem to think, an excuse for sloppiness. Books that say something new, and do not -as Religion, Empire, and Torture does- confirm what the general reader already knows.

I have written a long review, which you can find here.

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