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In vividly readable style Majd gives us what's been missing for so long: a nuanced, in-depth portrait of a country both far more sophisticated and far less rigid than western policymakers have yet appreciated. No writer knows more about modern Iran than Hooman Majd. Nor does any other commentator write more cogently, or more beautifully.

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Can you elaborate on their similarities? The connection is that they like to be these blowhards who tap into a certain kind of dissatisfaction among their supporters. It's very cynical in my mind. It's a politician's move. And Ahmadinejad, you have to take what he says with a grain of salt, and I think one has to take what Sarah Palin says with a grain of salt, or Rush Limbaugh or any of those people.

The kind of incendiary rhetoric that all of these people employ is calculated, and we have to bear that in mind. At a recent event, you said that Ahmadinejad was trying to engage the U. What does that mean? I think President Ahmadinejad would very much like to see a normalization of relations, if not an alliance, with America.

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Very few Iranians want to see this heightened conflict between America and Iran, which has been going on for 30 years. It's affected the economy. It's affected people's lives.

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It's not comfortable. And Ahmadinejad recognizes that, but he would like to be the person who can be the hero and say, "I was able to talk to the United States without giving in. So his [position] is, "I want to engage, but as equals, not as a subservient power. Being well-connected in Iran and growing up abroad, do you encounter resentment for explaining how they feel?

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I've gotten some resentment, but the vast majority of feedback I've gotten has been very positive. I do get criticism from [those in] the Iranian diaspora who are active in trying to overthrow the Islamic Republic. Those people hate me.

The Ayatollahs' Democracy

But I'm a writer. I'm not an activist. I just try to observe, to see what's really going on in Iran. I try to see and talk to as many people as I can.

Despite that, I never claim to be able to say, with absolute certainty, "This is what the Iranian people want. Iran is not as simple as we imagine it to be. The Iran-American equation is not as simple as we imagine it to be.

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In this age of instant-gratification media, sound bites, headlines, of being just inundated with information on a subject that is important, like Iran, it's important for Americans to understand that it's not exactly what we imagine it to be. Let's consider a different view, outside of the sound bites, outside of the hyperbole. Who are these Iranians?