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....[B]y the time [Bowden's] writing becomes less turgid the reader realizes with horror that there still remains an arduous 500-page slog ahead." Library Journal
"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
and#147;A riveting account of the 444-day Iran hostage crisis of 1979. . . . Bowdenand#8217;s latest will tempt readers to keep turning the pages. Altogether excellent -- and its revelations of back-channel diplomatic dealings are newsworthy.and#8221;and#160; -- Kirkus Reviews
and#147;Suspenseful, inspiring, mordant and, perhaps most of all, affectionate toward those who had to endure such trying circumstances. He shows unfailing respect for the hostages, many of whom gave him extensive, intimate and at times embarrassing access to their memories. Mr. Bowden lets you feel, above all else, the fear and anger of the Americans during their long imprisonment. . . . Bowden performs a great service by pulling us back in time, to the dawn of an awful age when America was low and radical Island triumphant.and#8221; and#151;Reuel Marc Gerecht, The Wall Street Journal
and#147;Bowden does a good job of describing the divergent orbits of Iran and the West. Iran's revolutionary regime seems to know it cannot survive in any kind of normal atmosphere, and America seems too vengeful to accept that Iran may have legitimate grievances over American actions in the Middle East. The hostage crisis epitomised that divide.and#8221; and#151;The Economist
and#147;More than 26 years later, the siege of the embassy might seem like irrelevant history to those who know little or nothing about it. As talented journalist Mark Bowden shows, the standoff involving 52 American hostages is anything but irrelevant.and#8221; and#151;Steve Weinberg, San Francisco Chronicle
and#147;Bowdenand#8217;s mammoth feat of reportage on the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979-81 is essential reading . . . Bowden shows unparalleled skill in constructing an omniscient and engrossing narrative based on an almost daily account of the plight of the hostages, behind-the-scenes political machinations, and the planning of a rescue mission. A.and#8221; and#151;Gilbert Cruz, Entertainment Weekly
and#147;[A] riveting . . . masterfully told tale . . . Bowden skillfully gets inside the minds of the hostages, vividly describing their churning emotions and harrowing experiences. Fans of the author of Black Hawk Down and Killing Pablo will see plenty of classic Bowden here: meticulous reporting backed by a compelling narrative . . . Bowden skillfully evokes the era and the ordeal.and#8221; and#151;Afshin Molavi, The Washington Post
and#147;Bleakly compelling . . . [Bowden] writes about events in a way that gives a clear picture of both high-level decision making and the price paid by people on the ground. . . . And 26 years after the [hostage crisis] the passions of the moment still reverberate. In Bowdenand#8217;s book, you can feel them on every page.and#8221; and#151;Richard Lacayo, Time
and#147;Mark Bowden is a master storyteller, exceptionally skilled at placing military and political events in a meaningful context. Thus, Guests of the Ayatollah may be his most timely and valuable work to date. . . . A must read.and#8221; and#151;Edward A. Turzanski, The Philadelphia Inquirer
and#147;Heart-stopping, and heart-breaking.and#8221; and#151;James Traub, New York Times Book Review
and#147;A refreshingly lively account . . .Bowden won praise a few years back for Black Hawk Down, a gritty and up-close account of U.S. combat in Somalia in October 1993. Much of [Guests of the Ayatollah] is similarly gritty and up close. . . . But this time, Bowden pulls his account back from time to time to give the larger picture . . . Bowdenand#8217;s skill turns bad news into good reading.and#8221; and#151;Harry Levins, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
and#147;Bowden reaffirms his role as tough-guy Cassandra with this heft replay of the hostage crisis in Iran that began in 1979. . . . [Guests of the Ayatollah is] made essential by continuing American-Iranian tensions.and#8221; and#151;Janet Maslin, The New York Times
and#147;Bowdenand#8217;s account excels at describing the unfolding drama of the individual hostages. . . . This s a powerful and probably definitive history that deserves a large audience.and#8221; and#151;Christopher Willcox, The New York Sun
and#147;Gripping and#133; a genuine pleasure to read and#133; Bowdenand#8217;s look back at Jimmy Carterand#8217;s Iran policy gives the book its particular political relevance. Certain similarities with the dilemmas of Americaand#8217;s current Iran policy are impossible to overlook.and#8221; and#150;and#150;Matthias Kuntzel, Policy Review
and#147;Bowden is a courageous and methodical journalist and gifted storytellerand#133;.He weaves a maddeningly complicated heap of recollections, emotions and facts into a coherent, credible and engaging accountand#133;.It is a timely addition to our collective knowledge about America and Iranand#8217;s shared, though painful, history.and#8221; and#151;Brian Palmer, Newsday
and#147;Just as he did with his account of the desperate battle that waged between American forces and Islamic fighters in Somalia in Black Hawk Down, Mark Bowden takes his readers inside the actionand#151;and inactionand#151;inside the hostage crisis in Guests of the Ayatollah.and#8221; and#151;Tom Walker, Denver Post
and#147;A thriller.and#8221; and#151;Richard Willing, USA Today
and#147;Mark Bowden is a master of calamity, and he will have readers chewing their nails like teenagers as they read Guests of the Ayatollah. . . . Yet Bowden does more than spin a good yarn . . . He nails the moment at which radical Islamists first learned they could use terror and anti-Americanism to immobilize the West and claim victory over domestic rivals.and#8221; and#151;Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman, San Diego Union Tribune
and#147;An impressive piece of narrative journalism.and#8221; and#151;Michael B. Farrell, Christian Science Monitor
and#147;Readers may wonder why they should read a blow-by-blow account of an event so widely reported so long ago. But as the story unfolds, illuminated by journalist Mark Bowdenand#8217;s meticulous reporting and measured prose, what seems familiar is suddenly fresh. The significance crystallizes. Uncannily, the events prefigure those of the post-Sept. 11 era: the initial and#145;why do they hate us?and#8217; shock; the impotent outrage; the sense that we suddenly faced a baffling and unexpected threat, and that harshand#151;even recklessand#151;measures were needed to confront it. It was, in retrospect, a defining moment for the United States.and#8221; and#151;Douglas Birch, The Baltimore Sun
and#147;A very good book . . . A complex story full of cruelty, heroism, foolishness and tragic misunderstandings.and#8221; and#151;Len Barcousky, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
and#147;One of Bowdenand#8217;s accomplishments is conveying simultaneously the often boring daily-ness of the hostagesand#8217; lives, while building melodrama about whether they will undergo torture, die or survive to return to loved ones across the United Statesand#133;.Bowden draws conclusions from is extensive research, conslusions that might become controversial but that surely provide lots of grist for thought.and#8221; and#151;Steve Weinberg, The Seattle Times
and#147;Guests of the Ayatollah may be the most revealing book ever written about desperate hostages on the brink.and#8221; and#151;Ike Seamans, The Miami Herald
and#147;Americans are told over and over that 9/11 changed everything and, in important ways, it did. But as Mark Bowden points out in this monumental piece of research, writing and reasoning, they might give 11/4 some consideration, too. On that date, Nov. 4, 1979, a ragtag band of Iranian militants, most of them students, invaded the sprawling United States embassy in downtown Tehran and seized everyone inside as hostages. . . . Bowden does a prodigious job, telling an important story and#133;, and barring the unlikely, nobody will ever tell it better.and#8221; and#151;Bill Bell, New York Daily News
and#147;Bowden offers lessons applicable to global politics today.and#8221; and#151;Vikas Turakhia, Cleveland Plain Dealer
and#147;A superbly readable and surprisingly suspenseful accountand#133;.A master storyteller.and#8221; and#151;David Forsmark, Front Page Magazne
and#147;A magisterial work of historical journalism. It should instantly become the definitive account of an event that ruined the Carter presidency, confirming the Iranian theocracy, emboldened a generation of Islamic radicals, spurred Saudi Arabiaand#8217;s aggressive promotion of Sunni Wahhabismand#133;and presaged the central challenge to post-Cold War U.S. foreign policy. It is also a crackling bit of storytellingand#133;Bowden has an almost Tom Wolfeian flair for detail and a knack for shaking every last recollection, however awkward or discomforting, out of his subjectsand#133;.the prose is grippingand#133; He humanizes the U.S. captives in a manner that is both poignant and baldly frank.and#8221; and#151;Duncan Currie, The National Review
and#147;Riveting drama and telling detailand#133;It is a masterful account that includes its share of revelations, but never veers far from the intensely personal stories that took place behind the scenesand#133;.Seems destined for lofty residence on the summerand#8217;s best-seller lists, further cementing Bowdenand#8217;s reputation as one of Americaand#8217;s finest print journalists.and#8221; and#151;John Marshall, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer
and#147;A prodigious achievement in reportingand#133;.Compelling.and#8221; and#151;Craig McLaughlin, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
and#147;This remarkably well-done book represents a new pinnacle in Bowdenand#8217;s career as the finest narrative journalist working today. All the skills on display in his previous booksand#133;are showcased in this one, but Bowden has created a substantially more sweeping and sophisticated work than his earlier projectsand#133;.He is meticulous and detail-oriented without dwelling on the irrelevant or boring, and thorough in his exploration of people and events without sacrificing the pace of the story. Bowden is a virtuoso storyteller.and#8221; and#151;Noah Pollak, Azure
and#147;A good and important book.and#8221; and#151;Ed Graziano, Richmond Times Dispatch
and#147;Written like a novel and shot through with page-turning suspenseand#133;. The amount of research and reporting that must have gone into it are awe-inspiring.and#8221;and#151;Michelle Goldberg, New York Observer
"Daring and masterfuland#133;. Bowden, a veteran journalistand#133;has accomplished a monumental taskand#133;.'Guests of the Ayatollah' is much more than simply a historical retrospective. It also serves as a cautionary tale about the furies of militant Islam that have swept over the Middle East during the past half-century. In the process, Bowden's masterpiece hammers home a crucial point: the War on Terror did not begin on 9/11. Rather, the battle had been joined more than two decades earlier, with the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran." and#151;Ilan Berman, The New York Post
and#147;Bowden has a penchant for the dramatic tableauand#133;A page-turner.and#8221; and#151;Evan Wright, Los Angeles Times
and#147;Penetrating chronicleand#133;An indispensable account.and#8221; and#151;Lester Pimentel, Newhouse News Service
and#147;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, and#145;ignorance with absolute conviction.and#8217; Anyone who thinks a nuclear-armed Iran could be dealt with through Cold War-style containment should read this book.... All in all, Guests of the Ayatollah is a monumental piece of reportage, deserving a wide readership.and#8221; and#151;Philip Caputo, Publishers Weekly (starred review)
and#147;Bowden mixed his newspapermanand#8217;s skillsand#133;with his gift for novel-like narrative. The resulting story is not only suspenseful but revelatory as well.and#8221; and#151;Marcela Valdes, Publishers Weekly
From the best-selling author of Black Hawk Down comes a riveting, definitive chronicle of the Iran hostage crisis, Americaand#8217;s 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, naand#239;ve captors, and the diplomats working to end the crisis. Bowden takes us inside the hostagesand#8217; 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.