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Guests of the Ayatollah: The Iran Hostage Crisis: The First Battle in America's War with Militant Islamby Mark Bowden
Synopses & Reviews
Five years in the works, from the best-selling author of Black Hawk Down, comes a riveting, definitive chronicle of the Iran hostage crisis, America's first battle with militant Islam.
On November 4, 1979, a group of radical Islamist students stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Inspired by the revolutionary Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini, they hoped to stage a three-day sit-in protest of the American decision to allow exiled Iranian leader Shah Mohammed Reza to enter the United States for medical treatment. But these modest, peaceful aims were supplanted by something much more severe and dangerous. The students took sixty-six Americans hostage and kept the majority of them for 444 days in a prolonged conflict that riveted the world.
The Iran hostage crisis was a watershed moment in American history. It was America's first showdown with Islamist fundamentalism, a confrontation that hass remained at the forefront of American policy to this day. In Iran, following the ouster of the shah, a provisional government was established, and for a critical moment in the modern age's first Islamist revolution, a more open and democratic society seemed possible. But the religious hardliners on the Revolutionary Council used the hostage crisis as an opportunity to purge moderates from the leadership ranks. They altered the course of the revolution and set Iran on the extreme path it follows to this day.
The Iran hostage crisis was also a dramatic story that captivated the American people. Communities across the country launched yellow ribbon campaigns. ABC began a new late-night television program — which became Nightline — recapping the latest events in the crisis and counting up the days of captivity. The hostages' families became celebrities, and the never-ending criticism of the government's response crippled Jimmy Carter's reelection campaign.
Guests of the Ayatollah tells this sweeping story through the eyes of the people who lived it, on both sides of the crisis. Mark Bowden takes us inside the hostages' cells, detailing the Americans' terror, confusion, boredom, and ingenuity in the face of absurd interrogations, mock executions and a seemingly endless imprisonment. He recreates the exuberance and naïveté of the Iranian hostage takers. He chronicles the diplomatic efforts to secure the hostages' release and offers a remarkable view of President Jimmy Carter's Oval Office, where the most powerful man in the world was handcuffed by irrational fanatics halfway around the world. Throughout this all, Bowden weaves the dramatic story of Delta Force, a new Special Forces unit poised for their first mission, Operation Eagle Claw. This was an impossible, courageous, and desperate attempt to snatch the hostages from the embassy in Tehran, which, despite the heroism of Delta Force, exploded into tragic failure in the Iranian desert.
Twenty-six years after the hostage crisis began, Iran, and America's confrontation with militant Islam, is more relevant than ever before. Guests of the Ayatollah is a remarkably detailed, rigorously researched, brilliantly re-created, suspenseful account of the first battle in this conflict, a crisis that gripped and ultimately changed the world.
"With Iran fingered in the latest National Security Assessment as America's number one enemy, Mark Bowden's new book is particularly timely. Guests of the Ayatollah chronicles the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by student militants, who held 66 American staffers hostage from November 1979 till January 1981, seizing this nation's attention in the process. In the aftermath of 9/11, with wars raging in Iraq and Afghanistan, that event seems to belong to the remote past, but as Bowden points out, it was 'America's first confrontation with Islamo-fascism,' while the hostages (who were released alive) were 'the first victims of the inaptly named War on Terror.' Although some may dispute those points, his portrayal of the hostage takers and their fanatical devotion to establishing a religious utopia could easily apply to members of al-Qaeda and other Muslim terrorist groups. Bowden's analysis of militant Islam is clear, current and dead-on. The government of Iran, now as then, is a theocracy with a secular face, combining, he writes, 'ignorance with absolute conviction.' Anyone who thinks a nuclear-armed Iran could be dealt with through Cold War-style containment should read this book. Guests of the Ayatollah is, however, no academic tome, but a briskly written human story told from every conceivable point of view: the captives and their captors; President Carter's inner circle and Carter himself, struggling to negotiate a release and finally ordering an extremely risky rescue mission; the soldiers of Delta Force, whose audacious attempt failed; Iranian political figures under the thumb of the glowering Ayatollah Khomeini; and a cavalcade of diplomats, journalists, secret agents and barmy peace activists, some of whose actions bordered on treason. The cast of characters would do justice to a 19th-century Russian novel. At more than 650 pages, this wheel-block of a book sometimes suffers from the flaw of its virtues — its scope and ambition. Readers may have difficulty keeping track of who's who, and where they are, as the narrative shuttles among dozens of people in dozens of locales. With detail piled upon minute detail, the passages describing the hostages' ordeal often grow tedious. Bowden, whose Blackhawk Down recounted the American disaster in Somalia, seems most at home when he turns to the meetings leading up to Carter's fateful decision and to the Delta Force mission itself and its agonizing failure. He puts you there, in the Persian desert with Delta Force and its commander, the charismatic and mercurial Col. Charlie Beckwith. All in all, Guests of the Ayatollah is a monumental piece of reportage, deserving a wide readership." Philip Caputo, Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
Philip Caputo is the author of 13 books, most recently Acts of Faith and Ten-Thousand Days of Thunder. (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[R]iveting....Bowden's latest will tempt readers to keep turning the pages. Altogether excellent — and its revelations of back-channel diplomatic dealings are newsworthy." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"Bowden keeps tension high while tracking the Americans' defiance of or acquiescence to their tormentors." Booklist
"[O]verwritten, sloppy in detail, and seemingly endless....
"Guests of the Ayatollah is a page-turner, but the shame is that we never get to know those students who stormed the embassy in the book's stunning opening moments. Such knowledge is required if we expect to win the conflict the Pentagon now calls the 'Long War.'" Los Angeles Times
"Brilliantly conceived, but the book's unconstrained verbosity and a relentless Niagara of suffocating minutiae make for slow going at times....Honed down, though, this story should be a great movie." Miami Herald
"Guests of the Ayatollah is an impressive piece of narrative journalism....What is perhaps most remarkable about Bowden's latest book is his ability to get inside the heads of the hostages and extract such detail so many years later." Christian Science Monitor
"Bowden...showcases his reporting talent in this doorstop of a book; he has re-created in gripping detail a 27-year-old event." Boston Globe
"The hypnotic pull of Guests of the Ayatollah is in the personal stories of individual hostages and their extremely varied experience....While regretting the failure of the Delta rescue mission, Bowden clearly supports Carter's diplomatic approach....[A] valuable and engaging background for today's headlines." Oregonian
"Given the current standoff between Iran and the West over nuclear weapons, it is a timely addition to our collective knowledge about America and Iran's shared, though painful, history." Newsday
From the best-selling author of Black Hawk Down comes a riveting, definitive chronicle of the Iran hostage crisis, Americas first battle with militant Islam. On November 4, 1979, a group of radical Islamist students, inspired by the revolutionary Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini, stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran. They took fifty-two Americans hostage, and kept nearly all of them hostage for 444 days. In Guests of the Ayatollah, Mark Bowden tells this sweeping story through the eyes of the hostages, the soldiers in a new special forces unit sent to free them, their radical, naïve captors, and the diplomats working to end the crisis. Bowden takes us inside the hostages cells and inside the Oval Office for meetings with President Carter and his exhausted team. We travel to international capitals where shadowy figures held clandestine negotiations, and to the deserts of Iran, where a courageous, desperate attempt to rescue the hostages exploded into tragic failure. Bowden dedicated five years to this research, including numerous trips to Iran and countless interviews with those involved on both sides. Guests of the Ayatollah is a detailed, brilliantly re-created, and suspenseful account of a crisis that gripped and ultimately changed the world.
In GUESTS OF THE AYATOLLAH, Mark Bowden tells the story through the eyes of the hostages, the soldiers in a new special forces unit sent to free them, their radical, naïve captors, and the diplomats working to end the crisis. Bowden takes us inside the hostages' cells and inside the Oval Office for meetings with President Carter and his exhausted team. We travel to international capitals where shadowy figures held clandestine negotiations, and to the deserts of Iran, where a courageous, desperate attempt to rescue the hostages exploded into tragic failure. Bowden dedicated five years to this research, including numerous trips to Iran and countless interviews with those involved on both sides. GUESTS OF THE AYATOLLAH is a detailed account of a crisis that gripped and ultimately changed the world.
About the Author
Bowden has been a reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer for twenty years.
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History and Social Science » Middle East » Iran and Persia