Bill reviews the history- of relations between America and Iran, then analyzes the reasons for their turning out so badly. Though the effort put into this volume represents nearly three decades of work, it is work vitiated by flaws deep and numerous. Deepest of all is the complete one-sidedness of Bill's approach, always blaming Americans and never Iranians for mistakes. The terrible state of relations since 1979, for example, results only from U.S. "malevolence," and not from Iranian hatreds. The author's one-sided, blame-America treatment distorts the dynamics of a complex tie and renders his book far too unbalanced to be trusted.
In his most unpleasant chapter ("Pahlavism in America"), Bill transparently sets out to settle old scores with those Americans who crossed his path. The resulting mix of gossip and envy has no place in a scholarly study. Bill's impatience with U.S. policy at the time of the Iranian Revolution is particularly vexing, given that his own analysis on the eve of the shah's fall unambiguously predicted that the religious leaders "would never participate in the formal government structure." Worse, he thought they sought the restoration of a liberal order and that the "professional middle classes" dominated the opposition to the shah.
Although Bill is a specialist on Iran, he understands exceedingly little about that country; indeed, he does not seem interested in it. Instead, he falls into the trap of seeing the world only in terms of U.S. foreign policy. The result is a thin, unsatisfactory analysis. Barry Rubin's Paved With Good Intentions, although now eight years old, remains the standard account of U.S.-Iran relations. Skip this one.