This is detailing the life of an Iranian scholar who was educated in Berlin just prior to the Nazis taking over Germany. Since there was barely any records or his personal writings left behind for research, Jalali simply provides the historical contexts behind Erani’s life. It was very much distracting, since I was anticipating more details about Taghi Erani himself, though it is tragic that there was barely enough to write more about him.
He studied what would become chemistry in Persia, then he proceeded with his studies in Germany. During this time, he started developing socialistic views contrary to the far-right politics that had been brewing in Germany until it took over. While he had a contentious relationship with his father, he had a good relationship with his mother, who taught him some of the religious material. He also provided connection to his native Persia by translating Persian works into German.
There is a lot of historical context involved in this book, specifically when it dealt with Persia and Germany. It eventually details Germany’s slide towards Nazism, and since Persia was a major ally of Germany, they started adopting eugenics based on the history of the Persian imperial history. There is also the division that had been occurring in Persia, whether it should remain a European protectorate or an independent state.
Erani’s Persian identity is a cornerstone since it follows him throughout Persia and Berlin, even though he was of Azeri descent, since his family originated from Azerbaijan. This was especially in Berlin, where he got to meet members of the diaspora and started agreeing with each other on politics. He would also point out the repulsion and the inconsistencies of Nazism and racism in general. He swore that he would return to Persia and take it back from the European powers’ grasp.
While studying and working in a print shop in Germany, he got to meet many intellectuals, some of whom would become his mentors. This also helped him, since he was struggling to find any other work beside the print shop. There were also friends and acquaintances that he knew in Berlin and Persia who provided membership to his inner circle of fellow leftists. However, many of them would suffer tragic fates due to their views.
I was hoping to learn more about Erani’s life pursuing a polymath path, though it only happens in the first 60 pages of the book. However, Rosen had his own interdisciplinary project that he wanted to embark in, and discovered that Erani was a good partner to have in it. He attempted to work with both chemistry and psychology, though his independent research into psychology was what led him to his political zeal. Though, it was clear that was valued since he was made a Vice-Minister of Industry when Reza Shah took power.
However, the book does explain Erani’s inspirations behind his writing; as well as his experience in publishing his own poems and articles in the Berlin print shop he worked at.
Erani’s ascension as Vice-Minister of Industry is quite similar to Leonardo da Vinci being hired by Cesare Borgia in order to survey a city. It was clear that Erani was valued based on his education, since he would have been needed to help modernize and industrialize Persia as a competitive power. However, he would become swept up in a political purge and ultimately died in the midst of it. This is unlike what happened to da Vinci.
It is also understandable that there is not a lot of detail available to fully describe Erani’s life, rather using historical context to make inferences. This is similar to the biography of Imhotep, which sought to humanize him in spite of lack of substantial historical records by inferring what he may have done during his time as Vizier and during Egypt’s great plague.
When trying to understand Iranian history, it was helpful to note how some intellectuals were described as the “Shakespeare” or the “Rembrandt” of Persia.
There are plenty of Persian words that are italicized throughout the book, whether they pertain to religion or politics. The book decently translates these words in order to make them understandable.
There are also some of Erani’s own writings that were shown in the book. There is also information about Erani which come from interrogation documents.
The book ends in a somber note, noting that the legacy of Erani should continue, that the equilibrium between the nation’s wealth and the people should be harmonious in order to advance social progress. This is definitely something to keep in mind, since it is for that reason why a grandson of an Azeri immigrant family was able to become successful in his field. Had he lived long enough, he would have become known for his polymathy and would have became an inspiration to all Iranians and Azeris.
Recommend This To…
- Anyone interesting in the history of Persia, specifically of the transition from Persia to Iran. I would not think that anyone would get any substantial information about the life of the polymath.
- Hurry, Jamieson B. “Imhotep.” Special Edition. Oxford University Press. 2000.
- Isaacson, Walter. “Leonardo da Vinci.” Simon & Schuster. 2017.
- Jalali, Younes. Taghi Erani, A Polymath In Interwar Berlin. Palgrave MacMillian. 2019.