SSoP Podcast Ep. 18 — Iran: Revolution, Poetry, Storytelling, and Spices

SSoP Podcast Ep. 18 — Iran: Revolution, Poetry, Storytelling, and Spices

Monday, 2 November, 2020

Iran (formerly known as Persia) is the second-largest country in the Middle East, and its culture reaches back through the millennia. About 2500 years ago, the Persian Empire stretched from Greece to India, and its impact is still felt in the world today.

Persia was the world’s first superpower. Its leader Cyrus the Great allowed kings to continue to rule the areas he conquered, earning him the moniker ‘King of Kings’ and laying the foundation for our next remarkable fact:

Persia was the first multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-lingual empire.

Persian leaders envisioned a world in which religion was not the basis for strife and division. As long as people paid taxes, they were free to believe as they wished. And speaking of being free: the Persian empire didn’t have slavery. A bold notion in 500 BCE!

So how did this society based on equality — and wildly passionate about civic improvements, art, philosophy, food, and poetry — become the theocracy we know today?

That’s a long and interesting story that we explore in our podcast and the books we’re recommending, including a memoir of an epic trip to Iran, a graphic novel about living through the Iranian Revolution, and three novels that blur the lines between fiction and autobiography to weave irresistible tales of human resilience.


Read the full transcript of Episode 18: Iran.

Darius the Great Is Not Okay

buy | read review

The Complete Persepolis

buy | read review

Everything Sad Is Untrue

buy | read review

Searching for Hassan

buy | read review


buy | read review

Song of a Captive Bird

buy | read review

other books we mentioned


other cool stuff we talked about

  • The Paradox that is Persia: A TED talk from the Director of Iranian Studies at Stanford. Good stuff.
  • Iranian Hostage Crisis: In 1979, 52 American diplomats and citizens were held hostage for 444 days by student revolutionaries in Tehran. provides a very detailed account.

  • Persian, not Arabic! Farsi is the official language spoken in Iran.

  • Cyrus the Great: King of Kings!
  • Pre-Revolutionary Iran: Before the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the culture was more open and less isolated from the West. These photos from The Guardian and The Daily Mail show what life was like before the rise of the theocracy.
black and white photo of young people dancing in iran
Dancing the Tehran Twist in the 1960s
  • Rick Steves in Iran: In 2008, Rick Steves and his crew traveled to Iran to meet the people and demystify the country for Westerners.
  • Poetry in Iran: Rumi was a 13th-century poet, Islamic scholar, and Sufi mystic. He wrote more than 5000 poems, often dealing with themes of love and humanity. Here are 10 things you probably don’t know about Rumi. And an overview of why Iran is the land of poetry.

  • Tirajeh Shopping Center in Tehran: An enormous shoppers’ paradise with chandeliers, marble floors, 12 IMAX theaters, and a Book Garden. Atlas Obscura has more photos!

  • Secret Underground City: The hidden city mentioned in Two Truths and a Lie is Nushabad, a 1,500-year-old, 3-story underground city where ancient Persians were able to escape from danger. Atlas Obscura has the story and photos; more pics and info on Wikipedia.

  • Adib Korram: The author of our recommended book Darius the Great is Not Okay. In this video, he talks about his book and how he came to write it.

  • Quottab: Quottab are pastries filled with crushed nuts, sugar, cardamom, then deep-fried and dusted with powdered sugar. Recipe here.

  • Marjane Satrapi: The author of our recommended book Persepolis. In this video, she talks about the inspiration for all her work.

  • Daniel Nayeri: The author of our recommended book Everything Sad is Untrue. In this video, we meet Daniel and his mom!
  • Terence Ward: The author of our recommended book _Searching for Hassan. In this interview with Charlie Rose, he talks about growing up in Iran and returning to his beloved country.

  • Négar Djavadi & Tina Kover: The author and award-winning translator of our recommended book Disoriental. In this podcast interview, Tina Kover talks about how she approaches translations. And in this video, both the author and the translator do readings from the book.



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Top image courtesy of Mazur Travel.

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These Instagrammers are busting up stereotypes the rest of the world might have about Iran. City spires, colorful deserts, vibrant food, and striking fashion, these Instagram accounts showcase everyday life in Iran.
We can all agree that meat on a stick surpasses every other kind of meat. This recipe for Persian kabobs is easy to make and will transport you into the world of Darius, a teenager who's yet to recognize his greatness.
Take a suspenseful, surprising trip to pre-Revolution Iran with an unforgettable heroine. This gripping story travels from the green mountains of northern Iran to the city streets of Tehran and Paris of the 1980s.
This traditional rice dish is a feast for the eyes, glistening with spice-infused butter and gem-colored fruits. It's a celebration of hope and life and family, a delicious way to bring a taste of Persia to your table.
Burning with an intelligence and a rebelliousness that couldn't be contained, Iranian poet Forugh Farrokhzad poured her passion into words that have inspired readers for decades. Fierce, feminist, and gone too soon.

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