Xanthippas apologized for not posting on the blog because he was out of town. I don't have any such excuse, but basically I was too busy reading in my extra time. I've been reading a pair of most excellent books on Iran. Rather, they cover two of Iran's most important events in recent history: All the Shah's Men, a story of the overthrow of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh and Guests of the Ayatollah, Mark Bowden's account of the Iran hostage crisis. The books dovetail nicely, and one hardly needs to read a fuller account of the Shah's reign and overthrow, although it's always good to know more than you need to.
You can read the complete reviews of these books on my other blog, but in short, All the Shah's Men reaches back to the history of Iran in the early 1900s and its exploitation by the British in the form of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and takes us up through the overthrow of Mossadegh (the democratically elected, reformist Prime Minister whose sympathies lay with the West, not religious extremists). It is a tragedy that it ever occurred, and a worse tragedy that the US took part in it. Iranians even today will say that the real crime of the US was overthrowing their government, and that backing the Shah was merely sauce for the goose. This leads into the resentment and even hatred felt by Iran towards the US which set the stage for the Iran Hostage Crisis. The embassy takeover was conducted by a group of students, one of which was Iran's current President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (in case you were wondering about the relevance of these events to the current political situation). Mark Bowden, the author of Guests of the Ayatollah and perhaps more famously, Black Hawk Down, makes a strong case that the crisis was the cause of Carter's reelection loss (thus ushering in Reagan's support of Saddam Hussein, something Carter would never have done) and that it was also the cause of the downfall of the moderate government that was attempting to form after the ouster of the Shah. Furthermore, the freezing of Iran's assets (including military hardware that we were in the process of selling them) left them vulnerable to attack, which Saddam did.
Anyway, these two books go a long way to explaining why Iran is the way it is today, and why their government acts the way it does. Take some time off of blogging and read these books.