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Book Review: 44 Days: Iran and the Remaking of the World by David Burnett

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The events that marked Iran at the end of 1978 and the beginning of 1979 still haunt it today. As recently as last week, yet another of the many demonstrations that started after the June 12th election demanded the same thing the demonstrations back in 1979 asked for: change. This makes the images in the book 44 Days all the more poignant.

Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s Chief International Correspondent, still lived in Iran at the time and remembers it in the following words, part of the forward she penned for the book: “In the summer of 1978, revolution was rumbling across my country, Iran. Sitting in the living room of our family home in Tehran, my father stared out of the window into the beyond, and said to me ‘it’s all over; nothing will be the same again.'”

The extent of the change Iran witnessed during those days is captured in this set of pictures published, many for the first time, by the National Geographic society. And if a picture is worth a thousand words, then no review could adequately describe the over 200 pages of pictures in this book, all the more poignant that, 30 years after the events they chronicle, Iran is yet again caught in the midst of another bloody struggle that will define it’s relationship with the entire world.

In a twist of fate, perhaps, many of those demonstrating today are the sons and daughters of those who demonstrated back then. Looking at the faces pictured in 44 Days, I can’t help but wonder if I saw their sons and daughter on the news in the last couple of months.

The 1979 Revolution was the first modern Islamic revolution. It changed everything, not only inside Iran, but also outside it. The consequence of this impact can still be felt throughout the world. It inspired millions. It scared others. It resolved old conflicts and ignited new ones.

Nothing about Iran is simple. Trying to understand it is a long and arduous process. It might just be a historical consequence of a world coming together too fast, but it does make appreciating a book such as 44 Days harder.

But for those of us who either don’t understand Iran or don’t understand it entirely, the editors kindly provided us with a concise yet detailed historical background which, while only providing a nugget of Iran’s rich history, allows for a great background to put the pictures in perspective. And whatever the reader’s knowledge of Iran is, the pictures within this book will leave an indelible mark on whoever spends time perusing it — and just might inspire the reader to dedicate some time in getting to know Iran.

Seriously, we’re really not all about beards and turbans.

The pictures in the book are arranged in chronological order and accompanied by diary-like entries in which the photographer, David Burnett, remembers the events surrounding each shot he took. There are three parts to the book: the months right before the fall of the Shah, the days right after his fall, and the emergence of the new national order of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Christiane Amanpour’s forward gives an Iranian’s perspective to the events; an introduction by John Kifner provides enough historical context to appreciate what the pictures in the book depict; and the epilogue, covering the U.S. Embassy attack in Tehran, shows one of the direct consequence of the revolution that to this day affects the relationship between Iran and the U.S.

Most of the pictures in the book are in black and white, and none of them were touched up or changed in any way. Some are disturbing (like the ones of fallen Iranians), while others are powerful (the crowd of thousands marching together, united in their desire to see the Shah deposed). The photographer, David Burnett, clearly wasn’t only snapping pictures, but living the revolution. This makes the pictures in this book all the more remarkable: they depict a story within a story, as we follow Mr. Burnett’s steps during the 44 days he stayed in Tehran as one of the very few Western photographers in Iran during that historical time. And since Twitter didn’t exist back then, this is possibly the closest we will come to a real-time account of what happened during those six weeks back in 1978-1979.

For more information on the book, go here.

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