Neha Patil (Editor)

The Persian Sphinx

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Country  United Kingdom
Genre  Political biography
Media type  Print
Author  Abbas Milani
Language  English Persian
Publication date  2000
Originally published  2000
OCLC  491803744
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Publisher  Mage Publishers (2000, 2002) IB Tauris (2000, in the United Kingdom) Atiy-e Press (2002, in Iran)
Similar  Abbas Milani books, Iran books

The Persian Sphinx is a political biographical book that provides full biography of Amir Abbas Hoveyda, who was the longest serving prime minister of Iran from 1965 to 1977 during the reign of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Hoveyda was executed in the aftermath of the Iranian revolution.


The full title of the 399-page book is The Persian Sphinx. Amir Abbas Hoveyda and the Riddle of the Iranian Revolution: A Biography. The author of the book is Abbas Milani.

Title and content

The title of the book makes an analogy between Hoveyda and sphinx which is a figure used in Persian art and sculpture. Sphinx is "a mythical creature with the body of a lion, most often with a human head and sometimes with wings."

The book provides a detailed biography of Hoveyda from his childhood in a middle-class family with aristocratic roots, his education at distinguished institutions in Beirut, London, and Brussels, his career, including his premiership (1965-1977), to his tragic end, death by execution in April 1979, following the 1979 revolution. In addition to Hoveyda's life, the book uncovers the social developments in Iran from 1918 to 1978 and the relations between Iran and the US at this period of time.

The author compiled all information about Hoveyda through analysis of archival materials that had not been examined, Hoveyda's unpublished correspondences and diaries, and also through interviews with more than a hundred of his family members, friends, and others who did not share Hoveyda's views. The last chapter of the book, which is about Hoveyda's trial, is based on the tapes recorded during the process.


The book was originally published in English by Mage Publications in 2000. It was also published by IB Tauris in the United Kingdom in 2000. The Persian version of the book was published in 2002 with the translation of Milani, entitled Moamay-e Hoveyda. The publisher of this edition is Atiy-e Press in Iran. Another Persian version of the book was published in 2001. As of 2013, English version of the book is in third print and the Persian version by Milani in fifteenth print.


George E. Gruen stated positive remarks about the book, arguing that the book provides the reader with very detailed account of Iran from 1918 to 1978 and of the relations between Iran and the US during the related period. James A. Bill adds that the book offers the reader an opportunity to fully understand the underlying mechanisms of the Iranian revolution. Mark Dankof, reviewed the book in Global News Net (GNN) and the Iranian Times, praised Milani's narration, the use of footnotes and photographs, and added that the book efficiently reflects the country during the Pahlavi era. However, he also stated that some of Milani's points in the book are either contradictory or overemphasized. Mostafa Rahimi, in his review in the journal, Jahān-e Ketāb, claimed that Milani's book attempts to present Hoveyda as an intellectual, arguing that Hoveyda was just "a power-hungry politician".

Another Iranian reviewer, Afshin Matin Asgari of California State University, describes the topic of the book as controversial without giving his specific reference. For him, the book is "disappointing" due to the author's overt bias towards the subject and events narrated. He further argues that although the sources are mostly scientific, the informants whose reports are frequently cited are often family members such as Hoveyda's brother, Fereydoun Hoveyda, and his former wife, Laila Emami. S. Cronin in his review also expresses similar views and argues that Milani could not provide the reality of the Shah regime. He also adds that the language used by Milani to describe the judges at the Hoveyda’s tribunal, such as Ayatollah Sadegh Khalkhali, is so biased that it does not help the book in enhancing his main arguments.


Milani's Persian edition was named book of the year by Deutsch Radio in 2002.


The Persian Sphinx Wikipedia