Khomeini’s Ghost: The Iranian Revolution and the Rise of Militant Islam (Review)

Book cover for "Khomeini's Ghost" by Con Coughlin.Title: Khomeini’s Ghost: The Iranian Revolution and the Rise of Militant Islam

Author: Con Coughlin

Publication Year: 2010

Pages: 400

Genre: Non-Fiction

Source: Received from the publisher, HarperCollins

From the cover:

In February 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned to Tehran after nearly fifteen years in exile and received a hero’s welcome. Just as the new world order sought to purge the communist ideologies of the Cold War, the religious doctrine of Islamic fundamentalism emerged to pose an even greater threat to post-Iron Curtain stability – and Khomeini would mastermind it into a revolution.

Khomeini’s Ghost is the account of how an impoverished young student from a remote area of southern Iran became the leader of one of the most dramatic upheavals of the modern age, and how his radical Islamic philosophy now lies at the heart of the modern-day conflict between Iran and the West. Con Coughlin draws on a wide variety of Iranian sources, including religious figures who knew and worked with Khomeini both in exile and in power.

Both compelling and timely, Khomeini’s Ghost is essential reading for anyone wishing to understand what lies at the center of many of the world’s most intractable conflicts.

This book was good in some ways, but not exactly what I was expecting.

Khomeini’s Ghost gives a fabulously detailed historical account of the rise of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the politics of the Islamic Revolution, and the history of Iran’s power structure since then. I usually have a hard time following history books – ironic, since I sometimes teach history! – and this was no exception, but if you normally enjoy history, it likely won’t be a problem for you.

My bigger concern was that, despite its title, this book doesn’t really go into much depth on the “rise of militant Islam”, especially in Iran. I was expecting – and hoping – to learn more about militant Islam in Iran after the Revolution, and how it affected the day-to-day lives of Iranians. Instead, I learned about the rise of militant Islamic groups both in and outside of Iran. Not that I didn’t learn anything – just that I didn’t really learn what I thought I was going to. Rather than learning about women’s subjugation, for example, I learned about the branches of Hezbollah/Hizbollah throughout Iran, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia. Khomeini’s Ghost is mostly about the political upheavals and movements before, during, and after the Islamic Revolution, but not as much about the actual effects on “the people”.

Coughlin definitely did a great job of what he did write about, though, and it’s likely my fault that I misinterpreted what it would be about. He created a very detailed sketch of Khomeini, his followers and detractors, and how the Ayatollah twisted the Revolution to suit his desire to form an Islamic Republic where the clergy were the ultimate rulers.

If you’re interested in learning more about Iran, the Islamic Revolution, or Iranian state-sponsored terrorism, you’re in luck – this is definitely the book for you! Otherwise, though, it’s very dense and probably won’t hold your attention if you aren’t specifically interested in the topic at hand.

(Also, as a side note – there were quite a few spelling and grammatical errors in the book, enough for me to notice and sometimes to have to stop and figure out what was meant – but not enough to detract from the overall reading experience. Hopefully this will be caught in future editions.)


This book is a part of the Ramadan Reading event happening here this month.

You can find other posts in the series by clicking on the image to the right, or by taking a look at the schedule of posts and reviews.

5 thoughts on “Khomeini’s Ghost: The Iranian Revolution and the Rise of Militant Islam (Review)”

    1. Definitely interesting! I was only born in ’85, so I don’t remember anything at all about this. I barely remember a lot of the more recent stuff – I didn’t follow current events much growing up, since I went to a Catholic school, and didn’t have cable TV! I’m glad to have learning all I did from this book about the history stuff, even if it wasn’t really what I was expecting it to be.

  1. You were born on 85? Wow, we are at the same age. And oh, I’ve read this one. I love it because I love history and I love to read Islam community from other countries too.

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