Beware of the man with just one book. Having seen what Osama bin Laden’s misinterpretation of a single text has inspired, many fear single-minded Islamists going nuclear in Iran. Fortunately for the world, Iranians have another well-thumbed book on their shelves. Persia’s classic Book of Kings, Shahnameh, is a national epic par excellence, an Iliad, Anabasis, Aeneid, and Paradise Lost all rolled into one. It, too, has done a lot of mischief in the wrong hands, but the nation whose real and legendary history it relates is not the one whose borders we see today. So perhaps what we need fear most in considering policy between the Caspian and the Indus is the counsel of those who have yet to read it—there is no one book as bad as none.

Unlike Western epics that grasp the events of a single generation, whether of men or angels, Persia’s Book of Kings encompasses whole ages of the...

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