Summary and Info
Haj Muhammad Hassan Amin al-Zarb (1835-1898) rose from humble beginnings to become one of Iran's wealthiest and most prominent merchants, eventually achieving the post of Master of the Mint in the Shah's government. Shireen Mahdavi's For God, Mammon, and Country is the first major account of Amin al-Zarb's life and times. Mahdavi's portrait of Amin al-Zarb provides important insights into the economic, social, and political role played by merchants in Iran, and elsewhere in the Middle East, during the nineteenth century. Drawing on hitherto unpublished family archives, Mahdavi has written not only a biography of a fascinating individual, but also a social history of nineteenth century Iran, illuminating the customs and lifestyle of the period in a manner which brings the era to life. This book is the first major account of the life and times of a merchant in nineteenth-century Iran or in the Middle East. Haj Muhammad Amin al-Zarb (1834-1898) rose from humble beginnings to become one of Iran's wealthiest and most prominent merchants. He built up his wealth as a money changer, a trader in textiles, precious stones, opium, carpets, agricultural products, and staple foodstuffs amongst other goods, and judicious transactions in land. Adept at cultivating powerful connections, he became the principal supplier of luxury goods to the Shah, his court, and members of the ruling elite; served as private banker to the Shah, his prime minister, and influential bureaucrats; and became Master of the Mint. He had agents in all the main towns of Persia and Europe with correspondents in Asia and America. Amin al-Zarb was also an entrepreneur, industrialist, and innovator. Determined to bring to Iran the advances he had witnessed in Europe, he invested in mining, established factories with imported machinery (such as glass, china, and silk reeling), built a railway line, and urged the Shah to establish a national bank. He also became an advocate of reform and curbs on arbitrary rule. He befriended the famous Islamic reformer, Jamal al-Din Afghani. An innovator in business, Amin al-Zarb led a very traditional life at home. Gifted at making money, he was nevertheless a pious man who contributed generously to religious and charitable causes. Shireen Mahdavi draws on hitherto unpublished family archives to write not only a biography of a fascinating nineteenth-century merchant but also a social history of the period. Her portrait of Amin al-Zarb also provides important insights into the economic, social, and political role played by merchants in Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East in the nineteenth century. "The importance of the role of the merchant in the Iranian constitutional revolution of 1906 has been frequently remarked but the merchants themselves have been little studied. Now at last we can welcome a scholarly biography of the leading merchant, Amin al-Zarb." -Malcolm Yapp, Emeritus Professor of the Modern History of Western Asia, University of London "Shireen Mahdavi has written a fascinating book, based on original archives, about the most important Iranian merchant of the late nineteenth century, Amin al-Zarb. She effectively recounts both his rags-to riches life and his role in the changing economy and politics of late Qajar Iran." -Nikki Keddie, University of California, Los Angeles "Shireen Mahdavi investigates the economic, financial, commercial and industrial activities of Haj Muhammad Hassan Amin al-Zarb, perhaps the greatest Persian entrepreneur of his time. Dr. Mahdavi's book fills in a major lacuna in late nineteenth century Persian history." -Michel Mazzaoui, Professor of Persian History, University of Utah "Shireen Mahdavi has written a fine scholarly biography which makes an important contribution to the social and economic history of the Middle East and is an essential work for anyone interested in the area. The author has done painstaking first hand research of private and public archives. To my knowledge there is no comparable study for Iran or the Middle East." -Farhad Kazemi, New York University "This is a richly-crafted portrait of Amin al-Zarb, Iran's leading merchant in the second half of the nineteenth century. The book considerably deepens our knowledge of the role of the merchant in politics and the economy in the Qajar period, the sources of their wealth, their complex relationship, both cooperative and adversial, with the Shah and the powerful men of the state, and their role as transmitters of new ideas and the new technology. Students of both Iran and the Arab Middle East will find it fascinating." -Shaul Bakhash, George Mason University
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