The Coup

1953, the CIA, and the Roots of Modern U.S.-Iranian Relations

An “absorbing” (Harper’s) account of the CIA’s 1953 coup in Iran—essential reading for anyone concerned about Iran’s role in the world today

“Not only is this book important because of its presentation of history. It is also important because it might be predicting the future.” —Counterpunch

Selected, Choice's Outstanding Academic Title list

In August 1953, the CIA orchestrated the swift overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected leader and installed Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi in his place. Over the next twenty-six years, the United States backed the unpopular, authoritarian shah and his secret police; in exchange, it reaped a share of Iran’s oil wealth and became a key player in this volatile region.

The blowback was inevitable, as this “relevant, readable” (Kirkus Reviews) history by noted Iran scholar Ervand Abrahamian shows. When the 1979 Iranian Revolution deposed the shah and replaced his puppet government with a radical Islamic republic under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the shift reverberated throughout the Middle East and the world, casting a long, dark shadow over U.S.-Iran relations that extends to the present day.

In this “well-documented account [that] will become indispensable reading for students of the modern Middle East” (Choice), Abrahamian uncovers little-known documents that challenge conventional interpretations of the coup. Offering “new insights into this history-shattering event” (, his riveting account transforms America’s understanding of a crucial turning point in modern U.S.-Iranian relations.


“In this thorough, well-researched work, Abrahamian (Iranian & Middle Eastern history & politics, CUNY) breaks down the generally accepted understanding of the details behind the 1953 CIA-run coup that ousted Iran’s prime minister, Muhammad Mossadeq, and supported the shah. The author reveals some of the primary motivations behind the current Iranian hostility toward the United States and other Western governments. Through his well-documented research, Abrahamian paints a picture of the coup in the context of British and U.S. oil interests, contrasting these motivations with the desire to curb the spread of Soviet influences. In his examination of information recently made available from the British Foreign Office, the U.S. Department of State, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now BP), and other government documents, Abrahamian pieces together the intricacies of the relationships among these parties and provides a sound argument for the control of oil resources as the dominating issue behind the coup. VERDICT This latest research from Abrahamian is a must-read for anyone wanting a clearer understanding of the history behind current U.S.-Iranian relations. Recommended for Middle East–history enthusiasts and specialists, as well as those seeking a full understanding of current international affairs.”
Library Journal
“A relevant, readable study of the foreign-engineered 1953 Iranian coup reminds us of the cause that won’t go away: oil.”
“A valuable corrective to previous work and an important contribution to Iranian history.”
American Historical Review
“The CIA-sponsored coup in 1953 that deposed Muhammad Mossadeq, Iran’s popular prime minister, is often noted as a failure of interventionist foreign policy. In this slim, readable volume, Iran scholar Abrahamian (A History of Modern Iran) delves into the genesis and aftermath of that operation, challenging the idea that Mossadeq’s intransigence made the putsch inevitable. Making extensive use of recently declassified diplomatic cables and the archives of multinational oil companies—especially the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, now BP—the author makes the case that the U.K. and the U.S., unwilling ‘to back down over the hard issue of nationalization [of the oil industry] . . . were the main stumbling blocks’ in the relationship between Iran and the West . . . his primer skillfully weaves together primary sources to tell an engaging tale of the machinations, intrigues, and personalities at the heart of the crisis.”
Publishers Weekly
“Subtle, lucid, and well-proportioned.”
The Spectator

News and Reviews


CounterPunch reviews The Coup

The Guardian

The Coup author Ervand Abrahamian is quoted in an article on the CIA's role in the 1953 Iranian coup

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Goodreads Reviews