Read Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America's War With Militant Islam by Mark Bowden Online


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, inspired by the revolutionary Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini, stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran. They took fifty-two Americans hostage, and kept nearly aFrom 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, 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....

Title : Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America's War With Militant Islam
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ISBN : 9780871139252
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 704 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America's War With Militant Islam Reviews

  • Jessica
    2019-03-24 12:01

    While I preferred David Harris's handling of the political maneuverings in his book The Crisis, Bowden does a much better job here of blending previously published captivity narratives and his interviews to give a sense of what the hostages' experiences were like. While it's successful in being highly readable and in conveying a lot of information, I did have some problems with the tone of the book.Bowden heavily criticizes the pro-hostage-taker rhetoric of some American lefties at the time, in particular clergy members who visited the hostages in Tehran, and I agree that their insensitivity and irresponsibility are shocking. He points at numerous examples throughout of how not only the students but their sympathizers repeatedly attempted to minimize the shittiness of the hostage taking, when any reasonable, ethical person must admit that being held captive for 444 days is an incredibly shitty thing that cannot be justified or excused.Unfortunately, I think Bowden got too sucked into taking sides, and the result is a bias and lack of objectivity that I felt undermined the book. There were many places where he seemed to be trying extra hard to make the Iranians look bad, when objective language would have gotten his points across more effectively. For example, an incident that occurred during the disastrous US rescue attempt is described in language that is, simply put, jacked-up. The elite Delta Force is shocked when they encounter a bus full of Iranian civilians traveling through the nighttime desert where the Americans are staging to refuel their helicopters:[The passengers] were all instructed in Farsi to remain silent, without effect. Most of the passengers were women, all of them wearing chadors and wailing eerily in their distress. Sergeant Eric Haney had trouble silencing one of the few young men among them, who insisted on loudly whispering to the others despite even their apparent desire for him to shut up. Haney put the muzzle of his automatic rifle under the man's nose and repeated, in Farsi, for him to be silent. But soon the offender was whispering again, so Haney roughly put the muzzle of his weapon in his ear and dragged him away from the group. Fearing he was being taken off to be shot, the young man began crying and begging, holding both hands up beseechingly. Haney sat him down on the road a good distance from the others and left him there, whimpering and praying. (p. 443)To me, what is striking about this scene is that it is so much like the encounters between the Iranian students and American diplomats that have been recounted in the book to this point, only the roles and nationalities have been reversed (Their solution is that the bus passengers be forcibly flown out of Iran in a C-130, to be returned home after the mission!). But rather than acknowledging the irony or locating any empathy, Bowden describes the Iranian hostages in condescending and dehumanizing terms: the women are "wailing eerily," the man who believes he will be shot is "crying and begging," "whimpering and praying." In a similar scene, that of the harrowing mock execution of American captives, a hostage does not cry or whimper but shouts "Oh my God!" and "No! No! No!" These seem to me to be pretty much the same reaction to very similar situations, and for me the point was that oh man, it really sucks when you think someone is about to shoot you, whether you come from America or Iran.I don't think showing some empathy for Iranians condones the students' actions at all, and throughout the book I think Bowden's writing gave support for the view of Americans as arrogant and spoiled bearers of a double standard, which could have been avoided and if it had been, his book would have been better. The hostages' experiences speak for themselves. I am a super lefty and I totally get why Iranians might have gotten irate with the US -- we DID organize a coup against their democratically elected prime minister, and we WERE involved in running their country in a sucky way, and our culture DID threaten these students' Islamic beliefs. I strongly believe you can understand other people's perspectives while still clearly seeing their actions as wrong. This is part of what makes me not a fundamentalist, and it's why I can't trust things that remind me at all of propaganda, as this book did at times.Still, it's not a bad book and I feel I have a much better picture now of the hostages' experiences. I do think Bowden was basically trying to be fair -- he does explain the Iranians' grievances and repeatedly notes how little effort was made to do this by the American media at the time -- but I felt he was worried that he needed to make his allegiance to the Americans clear and that his efforts sort of weakened the book. An American audience is naturally going to "side" with the hostages, though I'm not sure taking sides in a historical incident does any of us much good in the end.

  • Jerome
    2019-03-24 16:57

    I'd been meaning to read this for quite some time, and I'm glad I finally did. The specifics of the Iran hostage crisis were always obscure to me, and I've read only fragmentary accounts by various participants, mainly by members of the Delta Force element. The added perspective of the hostages and their centrality to the story is what makes this book such a gem.The Iran hostage crisis is little remembered today, but when it is, it is unfortunately presented in a way that that reeks of partisan politics. It the subject of little public debate, except silly, contrived "liberal vs. conservative" arguments that just distort things like they always do.Flag-waving, catchphrase-spouting, chronic-labelist conservatives use the crisis merely to attack Carter and accuse him of making America weak, impotent, and apologetic. They claim that if Reagan wa sin office, the hostages would have been rescued sooner and Iran would somehow have been too scared of the big bad U.S. of A. to be as aggressive and bellicose as they are today. That is sheer speculation.For one, the decision to abort the rescue operation was not Carter's. Carter approved the operation, and when it went sour (as a result of a tragic accident that was in no way influenced by Carter), the ground commander, Beckwith (not Carter) aborted the mission. Carter was not involved in the decision to abort, and it was probably the right call, anyway. And, as Bowden notes, the mission's chances of success under any circumstances would have been iffy at best.There's also the myth that the Iranians finally released the hostages because they were scared of big, bad Ronald Reagan and his tougher national security policies and promises to make America great and strong. Again, wrong. The Iranians released the hostages after Reagan got elected because they wanted to discredit Carter, not because of anything Reagan said, did, or would have said or done. If the Iranians were so scared of Reagan ,why did their Hezbollah proxies attack Americans in Lebanon? And while Reagan blasted Carter for "doing nothing", neither did Reagan propose what should have been done instead.Speaking of American ignorance, allow me to recall an episode from the book: When a reporter asked an American citizen what should eb done about the crisis, the citizen replied, "Force should be used." When the reporter asked "But what if responding militarily would mean that the hostages would be harmed?", the American, with extensive knowledge and experience of hostage rescues (*rolls eyes*) replied, "No , then we shouldn't use force. I don't want them to be harmed."Now for some liberal myths about the crisis: many of them claim that the revolution was a legitimate response to the CIA-sponsored coup of 1953 that deposed the "democratic" Mossadegh and put the Shah in power. Thus, they claim that the US got itself into this mess by deposing a democracy and installing a dictatorship. There's some flaws in this theory, mainly since Mossadegh was anything but a democratic politician, and was hardly missed when he was deposed.Bowden covers this in detail as he explores the reactions of the US public and media to the crisis. While their protests were justified, none of the American public demonstrated much wisdom or tact in how to handle it better than Carter. Some US protestors shouted "Nagasaki, Hiroshima, why not Iran?" Amazing.The pious second-guessers of the News-Tribune of Tacoma, Washington boldly concluded that, "It may be too early to make a judgment, but first impressions are that the US badly bungled the rescue mission. Further, although Carter certainly deserves the benefit of the doubt at this point, it apperas he failed miserably in judgement and leadership."The Phoenix Gazette accused Carter of undermining the rescue operation by trying to manage it himself from Wahsington instead of leaving it to the professionals in the field.The Baltimore Evening Sun laughably offered the ridiculous opinion that authorizing the operation had been wrong because there was a chance it might not succeed. "any possibility of failure should ahve ruled it out." Hmmm, aren't all operations like that by nature?Some Iranian protesters were similarly naive, as Bowden shows. Some of them thought that World War II had resulted because Hitler was determined to prevent America from seizing the oil supply of Peru. One of the students told an American hostage, the CIA station chief that America had been Iran's enemy for "four hundred years." When the station chief told the apparently well-educated student that America had been around for only some two hundred years, the Iranian simply dismissed it with a wave of his hand.Thankfully, Bowden's book presents a balanced, panoramic study of the crisis. He details the experiences of both the hostages and their captors, of the media's coverage, and the friction between the revolution's radical and moderate elements. For example, Bowden shows that the moderates were sidelined as the ayatollah's backed the students that took over the embassy. While Americans today, with their disdain for intellectualism, their inability to grasp complexity, their obvious lack of nuance, and their unfortunate and eager tendency to lump all Muslim revolutionaries together and label all of them "radicals" or "terrorists", Bowden shows that this was clearly not the case.The ostensible trigger for the crisis was the decision by the US to admit the shah to this country for treatment of the cancer that would eventually kill him. However, that decision was sold to President Carter by his Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, who in turn was sold on it by Henry Kissinger and David Rockefeller. As the years roll on, it's interesting how many disastrous US foreign policy decisions come back to Kissinger.Further, the CIA was no better then at understanding and predicting events in the Islamic world than they are now. Shortly before the crisis erupted, the agency reported that the religious radicals would soon be relegated to the background there, so the US could deal with an emerging secular state with confidence. In reality, the country degenerated into a hurricane of religious nuttiness that soon swept aside all of the secular leaders. Quite literally, no one at all was really in charge of anything in Iran, and that's the reason the crisis dragged on for over a year.This brings us to the role of President Carter. Nearly everyone felt at the time that he was too weak and vacillating to resolve the crisis. Not so; he tirelessly attempted to find a way to deal with the situation, but every attempt failed when the connection at the Iranian end fell apart. No one could have done much more, which is why presidential candidate Ronald Reagan continually criticized Carter, but never offered a word of explanation about what he would do.The failed rescue attempt was blamed on Carter, too, but as Bowden makes clear, it had little chance of succeeding, mostly because the equipment available at the time was inadequate, and the situation was impossible. Even if Delta Force had made it to Tehran, it's likely that most or all of the hostages and rescuers would have died in the operation. Carter and the troops deserve credit for daring the attempt, even in the face of near-certain failure.Bowden takes us inside the U.S. embassy just as the takeover was about to be launched. In short order, we meet an incredible cast of real-life characters, from street savvy embassy staffers like Michael Metrinko to clueless government officials and over-confident radicals. As the hostage crisis unfolds, we can see how the self-righteous "joy" over the initial takeover quickly degenerated into a sad drama of suspicion, prejudice and incompetence that dragged on for 444 days - much longer than anyone really wanted, including the hostage takers themselves.To make matters even worse, the very same radicals who launched this tragic episode are now largely in control of the Iranian government. Many Americans are still clueless about the events that got us to this place. It's a bad dream that just won't go away...Both Iran and the U.S. get their fair share of criticism in this exhaustively researched book. If you're looking for an "us vs. them, good guys vs. bad guys" treatment, don't look here. Bowden properly points out our massive intelligence failures before, during AND after the initial embassy seizure. Even the aborted rescue mission seems rooted in a fantasy cloud of wishful thinking. For their part, the Islamic radicals come across as typical "true believers" who never let the facts get in the way of the "truth." Like the Taliban, the ultimate legacy of the hostage-takers was to establish a dysfunctional, paranoid regime that poisons the soul of Islam and breeds violence throughout the Middle East. Lord save us all.In this book, Bowden provides the intense, all-inclusive details from start to finish of the 444 day Iranian Hostage Crisis. The reader is taken inside the holding cell of each hostage and witnesses in vivid detail the daily routines, abuse, and emotions each hostage endured during their stay. I quickly became a fan of certain hostages such as diplomat Michael Metrinko, who so adamantly despised his captivity and insulted his captors for which he suffered solitary confinement and severe beatings up to the 444th day. While Bowden shares the heroic stories of the hostages, he doesn't disregard certain hostages who fellow captives felt were cowards and swine.Bowden has become widely acclaimed for his ability to investigate the subject of each book and then transpose his research into dramatic details for readers, and Guests of the Ayatollah is no exception to his method. Where Guests of the Ayatollah differs from other Bowden books is in its significant focus on the Iranian and American political environments during the hostage crisis. Bowden provides an in depth summary of the Carter administrations options and its secretive negotiations with what still existed of the volatile Iranian government. Rather than provide his opinion on the performance of the Carter administration, Bowden does a fine job of avoiding personal bias, and allows the reader to reach an informed conclusion in regard to the politics surrounding the Hostage Crisis.Some reviewers seem to feel that Bowden provides justification for the actions of the hostage takers. I don't believe this is accurate given that Bowden spends very little time examining the Shah's government other then to acknowledge America's continued support for the Pahlavi government up to the revolution. I found that on the controversial issues Bowden provides the facts and allows the reader draw his/her own conclusions. However, Bowden offers one prevailing conclusion that the Iranian Hostage Crisis established the power of the mullahocrasy in Iran, which runs the government to this day. The epilogue goes on to examine whether or not the hostage crisis benefited Iran, and concludes the establishment of the mullahocracy has done more harm to the country.In all, Bowden has written an impressive account of the crisis and adequately explores the reactions of the US media and public to it.

  • Jsavett1
    2019-03-31 11:53

    Even prior to Argo's popularity, I always found myself incredibly interested in the Iranian Revolution. This is for two primary reasons: 1. it was a revolution in which the outcome wasn't preordained or even mass imagined. Indeed, it was described by both its actors and American observers as "unthinkable." The revolutionaries themselves were not a monolithic group; it was a surprising assembly leftest students, religious madrassa students, secular intellectuals, and fundamentalist islamists intent upon seeing Ayatollah Khomeini's world vision realized in Iran. What these groups shared was a deep hatred for the American supported Shah and the decades of torture, corruption, and cruelty to which he and his secret police, the SAVAK, subjected the Iranian people to. which brings me to my second reason: 2. Despite Iran's current backwards mullah-dominated "government," and the direction in which the revolution eventually went, I find myself empathizing with the sentiments of Iranians of THAT time--tired of the Shah, resentful of the CIA orchestrated coup that brought him to power OVER the democratically elected leader at the time, suspicious of further American meddling in their domestic choices. Granted, the world was different then. Kermit Rooselvelt designed the coup to keep Soviet expansion in check. The Shah promised America "stability" and easy access to his country's oil. It was a complicated, interesting Iran, and Bowden's fine book captures one of the key events--the US Embassy takeover by a group of students inspired by and loyal to Khomeini. All of that said, many of those involved in the embassy takeover were thugs, and the arrogance and criminality of that act was indicative of the ideology which would come today to be known as Islamism or Islamofascism. These "students" claimed allegiance to the Ayatollah Khomeini and ascribe to a world view which is Manichean (black and white, good and evil), and thus desirous of bulldozing the very complexity with which the revolution burgeoned. These students and their leaders claim to know the will of God, to believe that modern politics and foreign policy should be dictated by holy books that are centuries old, and that the takeover of the American Embassy was necessary because (despite all evidence to the contrary) they were SURE that it was a "den of spies." These views are illustrative of a desire to return to an imagined idyllic and simple past where choice was circumscribed by God's constant involvement in mankind's affairs. Very few of us live in or desire a reality like that, despite its obvious offers of peace of mind and simplicity. The hostage crisis was, in some ways, the first conflict of these ideologies; ironically, as Bowden points out, while the takeover was a REJECTION of diplomacy as a manner of politic, it was ended solely through diplomacy. An important lesson indeed. As Bowden points out, however, the conflict didn't HAVE to end that way, as many Americans and Iranians pushed for very different conclusions. Bowden shares amazing anecdotes about the relationship between the hostages and their captors while keeping an eye on the impossibly patient political machinations of the Carter administration in attempting, but repeatedly failing to get the hostages released. Granted, he had few good choices, and all of them were likely to make life for the hostages worse. It is a delicious irony that Saddam Hussein's surprise bombing and invasion of Iran led to the hostages being released. Iran released the hostages so that America would honor Iran's previous arms purchases and unfreeze Iranian investments in America which she needed to defend herself against Iraq. This book is tremendous, and Bowden's tone and selection of detail suggest that he, too, views these events as endlessly fascinating, enormously complex, and still influential.

  • Ross
    2019-03-20 12:02

    Great book about the Iranian Hostage crisis. Being born in the late 1970s, I do not remember this on TV (obviously). But some of the action was times it felt like a novel. I really liked the parts where Bowden takes the reader inside the Carter Administration. For those of you who criticize his handling of the situation, how would YOU have handled it?? It was an impossible situation. Also, similar to "The Looming Tower", by Lawrence Wright, the book helps us answer the question, "Why do they hate us so much?" And in Iran's case, I kind of agree with their views (not to the point of taking hostages...but the U.S. did treat Iran like crap). Another tidbit from the book that I enjoyed was the revelation that one of the hostage-takers did not know that Japan had started WWII with the U.S. She thought we dropped the atomic bomb for no reason! UNBELIEVABLE!

  • Ritchie
    2019-04-13 15:04

    Lengthy account of the Iran Hostage Crisis, which lasted 444 days, or what felt like the amount of time taken to read this book.It's a very detailed account of the crisis and that's the only problem i had with the book, too much information, a bit leaner and it would be a much more gripping read.If you're looking to know everything about the Iran Hostage Crisis then this is definitely the book to read but you may feel like a hostage too.

  • Anne(Booklady) Molinarolo
    2019-04-13 14:57

    I was a Senior at Spring Hill College and working for the CBS affiliate in Mobile, Alabama when this occurred. I was undergoing a transformation in my politics also at this time. Having met and listened to Ronald Reagan for over 3 hours in September of 1976, I fell in love with both the man and his ideas; I became a Reagan Democrat turned Republican, and never turned toward the left again. I voted for the former President in the 1976 Republican primary rather than Gerald Ford. I proudly cast my vote for Reagan again in 1980, mainly because of this hostage situation and the feckless handling of this situation by the Carter Administration. My schoolmates and station friends were constantly discussing the hostage situation among ourselves. Uncle Walter words were repeated ad nauseam as I recalled. I wasn't surprised than the hostages were freed as Reagan took his Presidential Oath of office. Leaders of nations understood that a new sheriff was in D.C. and were afraid as they should've been. We cheered in the studio as the News Bulletin aired.When I first read this book a couple of years ago, I was horrified by actions of the hostage takers. It is still horrific to read, but this time I was also repulsed by their actions. I was very surprised by how ineffectual Carter was; there is never guarantees that military action will succeed or be doomed to fail. Everything must be on the table and everything must be tried to save American lives - i.e. Benghazi in 2012. Carter was more involved with the decision making than I believe he should of been, but Mark Bowden gives readers much more details of the Washington front than the network news departments did in 1979 - 1980. And I found that fascinating. Bpwden retells stories of bravery, endurance, and resistance from the survivors. There's even a traitor in their midst. Though quite long, Guests of the Ayatollah: The Iran Hostage Crisis: The First Battle in America's War with Militant Islam reads like fiction mostly. Some parts do read like dry toilet papered textbooks, but these parts are few and far between in Bowden's prose.

  • Carrie
    2019-03-28 12:51

    This is a fascinating, gripping non-fiction account of the Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979-1981. I bought this book after seeing "Argo." This book is definitely not an account of the true "Argo" story; in fact, the six workers who were the subject of that film are mentioned only very briefly in this book (as in, maybe ten sentences). This book gives a brief background of the events leading up to the overthrow of the shah and the Iranian Revolution in the late 70s. Prior to reading this book, I only knew that there had been a revolution and that it had involved a retreat to a more fundamentalist Islamist state. That was the extent of my knowledge of the revolution. I knew nothing about the crisis itself. "Guests of the Ayatollah" starts with a concise history of shah's rule, the revolution, and America's involvement in putting the shah into power. There is definitely more in-depth reading available on the subject, but the details provided in the book gave me enough background to sufficiently understand the political climate at the time of the takeover. The book weaves the story of the takeover with the ongoing political change in Iran, the stories of the hostages' experiences in captivity, the failed rescue attempt by a U.S. special forces outfit, and the Carter Administration's response to the crisis. The book jumps around among these different topics, but it's in chronological order, is easy to follow, and is very engrossing. The only real issue I had was keeping track of the various hostages. The author doesn't provide accounts of all 52 hostages who spent the entire 444 days in captivity. But he follows enough people, who for the most part all seemed to have similar diplomatic roles, that I did get their jobs/titles/responsibilities confused. It turns out that this doesn't matter much - you become acquainted with the hostages throughout the book as they endure their captivity, and the author re-references some of their background details. Some other reviews of this book have complained that the descriptions about the hostages' daily life got tired and tedious. I did not find that to be the case. I found that reading about how they developed communications systems when they couldn't talk, interacted with the guards, and got on each others' nerves was extremely interesting. Different people responded differently to the captivity, and the ways some of them tried to torment their guards were actually pretty amusing. The inside account of the Carter Administration's approach to the crisis was also very interesting. I walked away from this book feeling as though Carter made decisions based on what would preserve lives, and not what was politically advantageous. One final note: I recommend buying this book on an e-reader if possible. I ordered the paperback version, and it's pretty hefty. So I returned it and bought the e-book. The Kindle version was properly formatted and contained all the same pictures as the paperback version. (There aren't many photos in this book. If you are looking for pictures of all the hostages, you won't find that here.)

  • Regina Lindsey
    2019-04-18 18:06

    I love history. I love politics. I love current events. There were two seminal events that influenced that love. The Iranian hostage crisis was one of those two events. During those 444 days I was glued to the TV watching every unfolding moment that related to the attempts to resolve the crisis and the upcoming 1980 election. Lately, I've been reminded that I view those incidents through the lens of a pre-teen and wanted to delve into a study to understand the context more. On November 4, 1979, five college students that included Mahmoud Ahmadinejad planned and executed the siege of the US Embassy in Tehran citing US "crimes" in admitting the Shah into the US for medical treatment. Bowden, also author of Black Hawk Down provides excellent context on the US-Iranian relations twenty-five years prior to this incident, the factions competing for power within Iran at the time, details on the behind-the-scenes negotiations to release the hostages, mecahanisms the hostages employed to survive the ordeal, the role the press played, how American citizens developed ways individually and collectively to support the hostages, how this incident changed the trajectory of Iranian history, and how Iranians today view those 444 days. Some of the things I learned:1. Some of the students attended Berkeley at a time that student demonstrations were impacting the view Americans held on the Vietnam War. Returning home these students employed many of the same strategies, assuming American citizens would have a similar response "once they learned the truth about American involvement in Iran." Due to this misguided assumption the students allowed incredible access to the hostages by media and clergy. <2. Even today we hear about Iranian misinterpretation of historical facts (i.e. Holocaust). It was amazing to see just how many other areas of history are skewed. 3. I was suprised to learn how many marines were on site and not allowed to defend the embassy.4. Even though there is blatant bias (discussed more n a moment) on Bowden's part, I felt like I had a much better understanding of the severe missteps by Carter administration in the months leading up to November, the missteps in the decision making process during the crisis, and why the Shah's medical treatment in the US was such an issue. I'm not so sure I have a better understanding of the missteps in the rescue attempt, as Bowden seems to go against every other historian's view on this point.5. How the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and the war with Iraq influenced the negotiations and release of the hostages.Bowden's overt bias kept me from rating this a 5 star book. Actually I'd rather the bias be this evident because it is then easy to separate fact from opinion; however, I still cannot bring myself to give a wok on history 5 stars when the author tries to push an agenda.

  • Alain Dewitt
    2019-04-08 16:58

    In 1979 when the hostage crisis began I had just turned 12. I recall how this story dominated the nightly news headlines. My father worked for the US Department of State so our family probably followed this story a little more closely than most.(In fact our family has a very tangential connection to the story. My father was a Regional Security Officer. This means that he was in charge of security for all the agencies doing business under the auspices of the embassy. In late 1979 when the shah of Iran came to Panama, I was one of the first people to hear the news. I recall feeling thrilled that my father would trust me with such a big secret.I also recall vacationing in London in 1982. We were having lunch in the US Embassy cafeteria and I recognized former hostage Ricahrd Queen. Queen had been released early because he had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.)This book was quite interesting to read because it gave us an insider's view of the hostage crisis. Bowden interviewed all the living hostages as part of his research for this book. And for those hostages that were deceased he relied on interviews conducted for other books. For those of us watching at home, it wasn't immediately apparent some of the abuse being suffered by the hostages, but Bowden lays it all bare for the reader. In addition Bowden provides great detail about the living conditions and the various moves of the hostages, the amount of contact they had with each other and the sheer psychological strain they endured. I learned a lot. For instance, I hadn't known that three of the hostages (L. Bruce Laingen, the mission chief - I attended boarding school with his son; Victor Tomseth, the political chief; and Mike Howland, the assistant security chief) spent almost their entire captivity in the Foreign Ministry, separated from the other hostages.The nucleus of Iran's grievances against the United States date back to the CIA-sponsored coup in 1953, Operation Ajax, which deposed Mohammed Mossadeq from power and installed the shah with absolute authority. Gradually the shah's rule became more and more oppressive and behind it all Iranians saw the unseen hand of the United States.When Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran from exile, the shah fled the country and the Islamic Republic of Iran was born with Khomeini wielding ultimate authority.The United States maintained relations with Iran and tried to cultivate contacts with the new regime. I think Bowden shows that the Iranians were so blinded by the past wrongs committed by the United States that they were unable to see that in the Carter administration they would have had a partner willing to try and make up for those past wrongs.The proverbial straw that broke the camel's back was the US decision - disastrous in hindsight - to admit the shah into the US for medical treatment. The average Iranian learning of this decision assumed that the US was plotting a way to restore the shah to power.Another huge mistake was, having made the decision to admit the shah to the US, the embassy should have been evacuated, at least temporarily.The really unique (to me, at least) feature of the book is that Bowden also tells the story from the perspective of the hostage-takers. Here is where the book really excels because Bowden shows that, far from being a well-thought-out, well-orchestrated plot, it was a stunt staged by a group of Islamist students that really spiraled out of control. The students expected the occupation of the embassy to last three days and then they expected to go home. But there was such a groundswell of popular support that it actually toppled the provisional government (Iran was in the throes of the Islamist revolution sparked by the return of Ayatollah Khomeini) and turned the student group into a player in internal politics.It also had the unintended consequence of leaving the US no-one with whom to negotiate with for the hostages' release. At several different moments the US thought it had reached agreements with representatives of the provisional government only to have the rug pulled out from underneath them by Khomeini.In the course of his research into this book, Bowden traveled to Tehran and intereviewed as many of the hostage-takers as he could. Some of them have risen to prominence in the government while others have become disillusioned by the theocracy. Not surprisingly those who attained prominence in the regime stand by their actions as a legitimate course of action. These figures seem to not understand that any benefit attainted by Iran is more than outweighed by the harm of 25+ years as an international pariah.(An aside: it is apparently without irony that some of the hostage takers protested at US interference in Iran's internal affairs. What do these people think the Iranian government does in Iraq? Afghanistan? Syria? Lebanon?)With regard to the failed rescue attempt, I have read several books about the special forces community (including Charlie Beckwith's 'Delta Force') and was quite familiar with Operation Eagle Claw. So I didn't learn anything new there. Oh, I did learn that Charlie Beckwith was an asshole.All in all, though, this was quite a well-written and informative book about an important episode in our relations with the Middle East.

  • Babak Fakhamzadeh
    2019-03-29 13:11

    Bowden focuses on events surrounding the Iranian hostage crisis, the 444-day period, during which student proxies of the new Iranian regime held hostage 66 diplomats and citizens of the United States inside the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Historians consider the crisis to have been an important reason for United States President Jimmy Carter's loss in his re-election bid for the presidency in 1980. The book is not as good as Biden's own Black Hawk Down, but it's also a revelation on several levels. The strength of the book is in the opening and closing chapters where Bowden deals extensively with the underlying strategies of the individuals involved in the takeover of the embassy and the political aftermath. The author shows how a small group of individuals with understandable, if questionable, ideals, initiated an event which very quickly went over their heads, themselves as well as their captors becoming pawns in what mostly was an internal (to Iran) struggle of political supremacy, eventually resulting in bringing the hard-liner clerics to power and making Iran into what it is today, a mullahcracy. Although Bowden takes too much time describing the individual ordeals of the hostages, interesting, but without an apparent underlying pattern, these lists of events turn into pure anecdotal offerings, he also tries and succeeds quite well in supplying a balanced view of the events over the 14 months the crisis lasted. However, the book's most interesting part is near the end, where Bowden tries to investigate the effect those events, now some three decades old, had and still have on Iran and is politics. Most people now realise, including several of the former hostage takers originally involved as instigators, that a lot more harm was done and that not only were the effects averse to their objective of enlisting the American people in their fight against the American government, who had been meddling in Iranian affairs since world war two, the overall effects on Iran as a country were quite devastating, bringing a system into being, not nearly democratic, under which many people suffered, even decades later. Bowden also shows how the somehow long lasting need for consistency (but also terror!) by the Iranian regime still accounts for the very sour relations between the US and Iran. Suggesting, to me, that perhaps the only way to resolve this whole issue is not by slow evolutionary changes to the political structure of Iran, if this has happened at all since the death of Khomeini, but really needs a jolt to force some much needed changes. One of Bowden's closing paragraphs sum up his own experiences, as well as the Iranian people's, quite well: "The standard practice of journalists writing about a foreign country is to assume a commanding overview, offer important insights, and arrive at impressive conclusions. I can offer only these observations, experiences, and conversations, which amount to nothing more than random pieces of an unsolvable puzzle. My impression, for what it's worth, is that Iranians today are conflicted and ambivalent about the embassy takeover. Despite all the flamboyant rhetoric, the great show of resolute anti-Americanism, and divinely sanctioned purpose, the "Great Aban 13th" exhibition [at the former embassy, celebrating the hostage taking] is at some level an enduring embarrassment."Bowden linked an important series of events together, each intertwined with the next: + Carter's failure to be reelected+ The death of the Shah, which happened during the crisis.+ The Soviet Union entering Afghanistan.+ Saddam Hussein's declaring war on Iran.+ The emergence of a hard-liner clerical government in Iran.Bowden shows how the hostage crisis was used by the clerics to slowly take in more and more power (although he also suggests that, to a certain extent, even Khomeini himself might have been something of a pawn in this, not acting according to a greater plan but constantly submitting to what appeared to be spur of the moment decisions and changes), thus benefiting from a long and protracted crisis. Also, Bowden doesn't believe the supposed Reagan-administration intervention (before the man was inaugurated as president) had any effect on the hostage crisis as such. One gripe: Bowden could have done with a better editor. He repeats himself quite often, and even though this is useful at times, considering the many characters who play a role in the book, on several occasions he obviously forgot mentioning the same tidbit of information earlier on. And he calls 'Afghan' a language. That's sad.

  • John
    2019-04-03 14:17

    Being in high school when this came down, flailling my typeing klass, I've been curious for years. Iran has been paying the price for this errant deed, both internally and externally, for thirty years now. The religious powerbrokers were able to solidify their hold on the populace by eleminating political enemies and keeping citizens in a fever of revolt and hate.Many times there was a deal on the table only to have the conditions change once the US agreed. I believe Carter did the best he could and behaved honorably. Blatent militarism could have met with the hostages death, and the martyrdom of thousands. Time was the best course of action. If only the European nations had stood with us stronger a successful resolution might have come sooner.Colonel Beckwith assumed all responsibility for the mission failures. He made the decision to abort based on being one less chopper (5) that the stated minimum. That was three less than what he started. One turned back to the carrier during the encounter with the dust cloud. ( We get those clouds here in Ariz. let me tell you they can get to be huge and blinding). The second lost it's back up hydralics the pilot grounded the craft. #3? While lifting of in the desert. In a cloud of it's own dust. The pilot became disoriented, came up and around, sliced into a C-130 airplane loaded with extra fuel, then straddled and sat down on the fuselage. Everything went up in flames. Eight men died. I'm just not gonna buy into the idea that the actuarial tables would have accounted for that level of loss. Only one loss could be attributed to reliability (mechanical) issues and the mission could have still gone on.Carter, being a nuclear submarine captian, would have known the dangers of a civilian becoming involved with the inner workings of a military mission. Had he done so there would have been strong criticism for micromanaging.One thing that struck me was Bowdens glossing over the possibility of interference from Reagan during the final days of the election. I've always suspected Ronny of dastardly deeds. Bowden said he couldnt find anything, but I would have liked to know more of his efforts.It seems like Reagan gets credit for the hostage release. But they were released on inauguration day after Carter stepped down. The low class moment of that day was Reagan not deferring to Carter to make the announcement to the world.After the bare bones story the best part for me was the epilog. The chapters that dealt with Iran society in 2005. Thirty years later we see the losses and ramifications of this event that quickly got out of hand. Iran had some legitimate complaints of the United States but international backlash from kidnapping diplomatic personnel and the strengthing of the Mullahs internally has crippled life on the street for the regular citizen.All in all, a terrific book.

  • Tom
    2019-03-28 12:03

    A very good book. I think a lot of people like to attack Carter and, reading this, the frustration of the administration and the American people is palpable. But, ultimately, all the hostages got out alive. I picked up the book remembering something about suggestions that the RNC was complicit in keeping the hostages there till after the election. I think this book somewhat talked me out of that suspicion but, it is important to remember, that terrorists don't do things rationally and keeping the hostages till after the election was very much, as Bowden described it, a means of snubbing Carter. It's also very heartening to see that Carter refused to discuss the deal-in-progress to help him in the election. And frustrating to read how Reagan seemed aloof and refused to be briefed on their status. Oh, and this was very, very relevant:Sheikh-ol-eslam also had one more session with Tom Ahern. The CIA station chief was led into a room where his old interrogator was seated alone behind a desk. Stretched across the desk was a long piece of cord. Sheikh-ol-eslam lectured Ahern about how well he and the other hostages had been treated, and explained why it had been necessary to shame the United States and to reveal the insidious plotting that had been going on. Ahern listened silently. He had heard it all before. He was eyeing the rope. The best he could figure, Sheikh-ol-eslam was going to use it on him again. Instead, Sheikh-ol-eslam started explaining that the beating Ahern had received were really not indicative of his own values or those of Islam. “As a token of my sincerity in this, I invite you to use this rope to do to me what I did to you.” Ahern looked at the rope and then at Sheikh-ol-eslam. “We don’t do stuff like that,” he said.

  • Fred
    2019-04-18 09:55

    An excellent read by the author of "Blackhawk Down." I learned four important things:1. the "Desert One" rescue mission had been aborted by its commander, Col. Charlie Beckwith, BEFORE the one helicopter crashed into a C-130, causing the death of 8 servicemen. It wasn't the case that this crash caused the mission to abort.2. Saddam Hussein's attack on Iran occurred in Sept. 1980 and was a direct result of Iran's weakened and isolated position nearly a year after the crisis began. And this assault thwarted a very good chance that the hostages would be released prior to the US election; in fact, there was one more near-release just before the election.3. There likely was no "October surprise" engineered by candidate Reagan's team to prevent the hostages' release before the US election. There were very near successes, including the one thwarted by Iraq's attack.4. The Iranians (clerics and student leaders alike), totally misread the US political situation and didn't understand the difference between Reagan and Carter. They just hated Carter and didn't want him to get any credit for the hostages' freedom. So, although Carter's team (Warren Christopher especially) worked hard in the last few months of 1980 to broker the final deal that set the hostages free, the Iranians didn't let the hostages go until the day of Reagan's inauguration. During the last half of 1980 in fact, and even after the election, Reagan and his team had nothing to do with the situation. At all.

  • Ben
    2019-04-08 11:02

    I have no personal recollection of the Iran Hostage Crisis, having only been a year old at the time, and until reading this book I had no idea what a game changer it was. For over a year, 52 American civilians were kidnapped and imprisoned in their embassy by a small group of young, armed, hothead "students" (including Mahmoud Ahmadinejad). No one had a clue what to do next - the captors, the Iranian government, the American public, or, unfortunately, the Carter administration. Everyone involved must have seethed with impotent rage. And even though all hostages were ultimately released without casualty, no one could have been satisfied with the outcome.Mark Bowden spent five years writing this book, and his attention to detail is astounding. He really gets inside the head of at least a dozen of the hostages. It's very interesting just how differently they react to confinement, torture, and the threat of execution. Some try to curry favor with their captors. Some become troublemakers and instigators, despite the punishment they know they will face. Some retreat inward or choose to ignore their reality.It's hard not to compare and contrast Carter's hostage crisis and Obama's hunt for bin Laden. Carter attempted a super-risky secret military operation to rescue the hostages on the eve of his reelection campaign. It failed spectacularly and probably cost Carter the election. If Seal Team Six had similarly failed in 2011, would McCain be president?

  • Corey Toomey
    2019-03-29 15:55

    A very objective and effective weaving of many different perspectives during the Iranian hostage crisis which has since been staining everyday life in Iran by causing the rise of an absurd religious autocracy. It's hard to venerate this particular theocracy as being "better than the Shah's regime". The overthrown Shah may have been a tyrannical nutjob who purged/executed those who would utter a single syllable of dissidence against him, but at least the rule he imposed was secular.Bowden, however, refrains from taking a biased stance for anybody here. He acknowledges the grievances that Iran had towards the United States and understood what fed their indignation for the "Great Satan". For most of the book, it would appear that he's writing a massive volume on behalf of the Iranian students who seized the embassy, taking into mind the somewhat fair and humane treatment the hostages were getting. That being said, he makes it all the more obvious on how ridiculous the Iranian national festering obsession for the "triumph" is towards the end. Hell, these whackos even go so far to open up an anti-American museum where the former embassy once stood. The people living under this oppressive Islamic dictatorship are yearning to be free and only time will tell if a second revolution will put their country on the democratic map.

  • Carolyn
    2019-04-15 13:21

    This is a great book. Mark Bowden already blew my mind a few years ago with Black Hawk Down so I was pretty sure I was going to enjoy this; then I listened to a Leonard Lopate interview with him about this book and that cemented it, I raced right to the bookstore on the way home and read it as often as I could given work/etc. commitments. Put it this way: It's a 600-some-page hardcover bigger than some dictionaries yet I carried it on the El to and from work because I just couldn't put it down. Completely entrancing. So detailed you'd think it was unbelievable, except the details are so authentic, you have no choice but to be in that place. Bowden makes history come alive. And there was an added layer of interest based on the current Middle Eastern situation of course. The modern Western World does not recognize revelation and divine right as the root of government authority... Indeed. And this could be read equally as applying to Iraq/Iran, or to the insanely scarily Religious-Right-to-the-detriment-of-all-others leanings of the current administration: The only political system that services the majority is one that respects true human spirituality, something deeply personal and almost infinitely various.

  • Lu
    2019-04-13 17:21

    Thanks Bridget for recommending this one. I've never stayed up till 4am for a non-fiction book before. Since I have no recollection of the Iran Hostage Crisis, and had little knowledge of what happened or what it was about, I was enthralled with the attempt to sneak in and capture the hostages--the attempt that was a huge debacle. I was hoping it would work out... I think the fact that I didn't know anything about the situation made the book's impact even greater. I don't have a vague notion that Carter screwed things up--as I surely would have if I had been glued to the tv set as events unfolded. I also appreciate how the author showed the precarious situation Carter was in and how the Iranian students had no concept of what it meant to have Ronald Reagan in power.The thought too, that people so inexperienced with the world have such strong notions of how the world works and how it should was frightening. I found myself resenting the students for the position they put their country in--they didn't see the bigger implications of their actions until Saddam had already started moving in.

  • Liz
    2019-04-03 10:16

    This book was amazing. I cannot believe that I read over 700 pages of exhaustively researched material on a single event (the Iranian hostage crisis in the late 1970's) and stayed riveted the entire time. I was worried after reading Black Hawk Down by the same author that I would have the same trouble of keeping people/events straight, but I didn't at all - Bowden kept the characters alive, distinct, and memorable. The book covers as many angles as possible - it tries to tell what it was like for the hostages, and also for the Carter administration as they tried repeatedly to resolve the crisis. I knew the bare bones of the story (how long they were kept, whether the ending was happy/sad), but I was still on the edge of my seat for the entire book. It was suspenseful, and detailed, and really, really captivating. Highly recommended non-fiction reading.

  • Bryan Craig
    2019-04-19 17:16

    This is a well-written book on the 1979 hostages. We hear their story and also the Iranian side, at least in a larger sense. We get to know a few of the guards. It is interesting that a number of the students who stormed the embassy are now in high positions in power, and some have torn away from the regime and push for democratic reform. A must read!

  • David Quinn
    2019-04-15 12:00

    I'm a big fan of Mark Bowden and this is my favorite book he's written (I've read all of them). I was in my early teens at the time of the Iran hostage crisis and have memories of the nightly news reports but never truly knew the story until after I read this book. It's a great read even if the events didn't happen during your lifetime.

  • John
    2019-04-18 14:21

    Bowden's another one of those authors I'll pick up regardless of what the book's about. He tells a compelling, if mostly one-sided tale here, but it feels like that's more from access problems than bias. Killing Pablo and Black Hawk Down are better books, but this one's worth looking at.

  • Daniel Jafari
    2019-03-30 15:17

    breathtaking recount of the infamous hostage taking of US embassy which eliminated democratic hope for Iran and brought politics to a complete halt. Three decades after, US hardly involves himself with the trauma, but Iran's soul as a nation is haunted by the ghosts of this act of terror.

  • John
    2019-03-21 11:21

    He is not the focus of the book, but Carter may well be the last American president with genuine integrity.

  • Wendy
    2019-04-17 11:52

    I was six years old when Iranian students raided the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Sixty-six hostages were taken in all. The planned three day protest turned into a 444 day nightmare. I cast my very first vote (albeit unofficial) for President Jimmy Carter that following year. I vaguely remember he wasn't the popular choice, but even then I had a tendency to want to fight for the underdog. I was completely oblivious to the events that surrounded his final year in office and what would be the last straw in what turned the majority of Americans against him at the polls. The Iran Hostage Crisis became a pivotal moment in world history, especially for the United States. Americans would take to the streets in outrage while Iranians rallied in support of their fellow countrymen for taking on "the Great Satan". Iranians had good cause to be furious with the American government who had blatantly interfered with the leadership in Iran years before, knocking aside the Iranian people's favored leader for one the Americans felt served the U.S. interests better. The American favored shah was an oppressive and cruel leader. The tyrant was eventually overthrown and forced out of the country, leaving Iran in the middle of a revolution, different factions vying for power. When the shah was admitted into the U.S. for medical treatment, it was as if the Americans were flipping the Iranians the bird.One particular group, a group of students calling themselves Muslim Students Following the Iman's Line wanted to make a statement and plotted to take over the U.S. embassy in Tehran. The sixty-six Americans hostages were all accused of being spies. In reality, only three of the hostages were CIA agents and none of them had viable contacts within Iran, and therefore, had not really been doing any spying at all. The turmoil in the country made that next to impossible. None of the evidence uncovered during the search of the embassy and the hostages living quarters supported the students assertions that the Americans wanted to assassinate the Ayatollah or take over their current government, and yet they persisted in their beliefs and acted accordingly.Each of the hostages responded to captivity in their own ways; some were cooperative and tried to make friends with their captors, faith grew stronger for a couple, while others became rebellious and did what they could to torment their captors in their limited capacity. There were escape attempts and attempted suicides. It was a very difficult time for the hostages. Fourteen would be let go before the 444 days were up, leaving 52. Despite denials by the student captors of torture and that the hostages were treated well, that was not always the case. The hostages discovered that many of their captors were uneducated in terms of world events and were zealots to their cause.The American government's decision to allow the shah into the U.S. had been the catalyst that sparked the takeover, but it fed flames that had already been simmering under the surface. The challenges the U.S. government faced in dealing with the situation seemed nearly insurmountable. The demands of Ayatollah Khomeini and the students were not ones the American government wanted to meet, and yet Carter and his administration were willing to make some concessions, even against their better judgment if it meant to return of the hostages. However, the leadership in Iran was unstable and the figureheads the U.S. government were trying to work with on a diplomatic level held no real power. Going in with force would most likely result in the death of the hostages, something the Carter administration wanted to avoid. A rescue attempt was a long shot and a last resort. If anyone could do it, it would be the newly formed Delta Force, a unit of specially trained men, the best of the best. They trained for months, looking at all possibilities. Getting into and out of Iran, and most especially the land locked Tehran, would be one of the biggest hurdles. Those assigned to the mission knew that there would likely be causalities. Mark Bowden set out to put the stories of both the captors and the hostages together for the book, Guests of the Ayatollah, as well as those in the military and government. Readers are also offered a glimpse at the reactions and thoughts of the families of the hostages. The author does an amazing job of piecing the crisis together and does so in a way that makes it accessible to the reader. Even knowing how the situation played out, I was still caught in the suspense of the moment as I read. Keeping the hostages straight was a bit of a challenge at first, but I eventually had a clear picture of who those featured in the book were. I selected Guests of the Ayatollah as my pick for the 50 Books of Our Time Project not just because I had a copy sitting in my TBR collection, but also because of its relevance today. Today's Iran is under the control of some of the very people who were involved with the Iran Hostage Crisis thirty years ago. When the U.S. embassy in Tehran was overtaken by those Islamic students, it put events in motion that would solidify the fundamentalists' position in power. It gave Ayatollah Khomeini and his followers the ammunition they needed to step in and take the reins. Not all the students were happy with the result. They went into the situation full of dreams of an Islamic utopia; strike down America and gain their freedom from Western oppression. They hadn't anticipated that their actions would unleash something much darker than they ever imagined. Not everyone feels that way, however. Some still believe in the current government of Iran and find comfort in the strict religious laws and controls.The crisis in Tehran was not just limited to Iran. The cry of the people, the anger towards America, was felt by many in the Middle East. American foreign policy had not always been on the up and up and had offended many. This was the first time America faced off with militant Islam, especially in such a public setting. It was also one of the first times that television played a vital role shaping a major historical event.Western influence is but a part of what the growing fundamentalist Islamic movement is fighting against, however. It is steeped in ideology and tradition, fighting against the inevitable change that comes with the passing of time and a world that is becoming more interconnected and dependent on each other.For its part, the U.S. got a wakeup call from the experience. Despite past transgressions by the American government, the taking of the U.S. embassy in Tehran and the holding and treatment of the hostages was against the law and unethical. It was wrong, and it would come to have a negative impact on Iran in the long run. While the students and Iran celebrated a victory at the time and still try to portray it as such, more was lost than won by everyone during that crisis. The effects still reverberate today.Earlier this year saw uprisings and protests in and outside of Iran which have not been seen in a long time. There are many people who are tired of the autocratic rule of the current ruler, Ali Khamenei, fed up with the oppression and direction their country has gone. Khamenei, just as his predecessors, uses his power to silence those who speak out against him. It is still too early to tell if the current outrage will be a catalyst for change or if, like previous attempts, it will be stamped out by those currently in power.Guests of the Ayatollah deals with an event in history that is a defining moment for not only the United States, but also for Iran and other parts of the Middle East. Its impact is still being felt today. So, to answer My Friend Amy's question, yes, this is a book of our time.The book is over 700 pages long and covers a lot of ground. Sometimes big books like this could do with a little extra editing, but I never felt that way with this one. I have kept my review of this book relatively short and spoiler free, leaving out many great discussion points. I highly recommend it to those who enjoy reading nonfiction and who want to understand and stay on top of current events.

  • Bart Thanhauser
    2019-04-04 16:20

    Guests of the Ayatollah is about the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis in which Iranian university students took over the US Embassy in Tehran and held 66 Americans hostage for over a year.The embassy takeover and subsequent hostage crisis was, in many ways, a continuation of the Iranian Revolution that had taken place the year before and dethroned Iran’s decades-long dictator, Shah Pahlavi. There were many motives for the embassy takeover, but the most visible motive was the desire to safeguard the recent revolution. In 1953, the CIA had helped to depose Iran’s first democratically elected president, Mohammed Mossadeq. The memory of this event, as well as evidence of US (and CIA) excesses in other parts of the world made Iranians fearful (and a bit paranoid) that the US would intervene again into Iranian politics. By holding white-collar employees hostage, the students aimed to protect Iranian sovereignty and the drastic political reorganization of the revolution.However, as Bowden emphasizes, there were many other motives to the takeover. Some politicians and clerics had purely political motives and used the takeover as a means to increase their own power. Others (mostly students) were motivated by the heady dream that the takeover would spark a worldwide revolt to emancipate the third world from the bipolar grip of the Godless Soviets and the meddlesome Americans.Led by students from across the political spectrum, the embassy takeover was a wildly popular David-versus-Goliath story for many Iranians. For the American public, it was a frustrating story of ordinary government workers caught in the middle of a turbulent, confused, developing nation: the most powerful nation on earth was left powerless. Both these story lines persist today.What's more the takeover had big and immediate reverberations. In Iran, the takeover helped bring religious conservatives to power and establish a type of government that Bowden cynically terms a “mullocracy”—one part democracy and one part repressive theocracy. In America, the event hijacked Carter’s presidency and helped sweep him out of office. In the region, the takeover prompted Saddam Hussein to declare war on Iran, as he tried to take advantage of Iran’s new pariah status. And to this day, the hostage crisis looms large in the US and Iranian memories. We will extend a hand if you will unclench your fist.But for such a big event, the actual details of the day-to-day captivity are a bit mundane. Bowden is also the author of Black Hawk Down, and while he tries to bring a Fox Search Light pace to the book, this is tough to accomplish as a 400+ day hostage crisis does not lend itself to an action packed read. What I found most interesting about this book were the larger themes that Bowden describes--the domestic and foreign policy issues underlying the embassy takeover. The idea that the Iranian revolution and the embassy takeover were watershed moments for Iran, the world, and Islam. Bowden acknowledges this draw early in the book writing, “For a student of politics, being in Tehran just then was like being a geologist camped on the rim of an active volcano” (22). I read this book because I wanted a spot on this rim. At times, Bowden does a good job of capturing this context--of looking into the volcano. But Bowden spends too much time detailing the day-to-day lives of the hostages. Their exercise regiments, limited clothing choices, and diets. Meh. Also, in describing the lives of the hostages, Bowden assumes a vantage point that is hokey and reads as too Team American (“I guess we’re going to have to go show this ayatollah you don’t mess with Arkansas boys” (451)). And the book is occasionally dismissive of Iranian sentiments: Bowden describes the protesters outside of the embassy as a “mindless, insatiable, million-throated monster, screaming for American blood” (64) and makes vague references to the lurking "Islamist threat". These shortcomings becomes especially apparent in the book’s epilogue where Bowden tries to ideologically refute the motives of the hostage takers. To me this seemed like a waste of energy: few would disagree that the embassy takeover was illegal and that it had lasting negative effects for both Iran and the US. Yet Bowden concerns himself too much with refuting the hostage takers motives rather than in describing the more interesting messy world from which these motives arose. Bowden argues a point that is dramatically less important and less interesting than most of the other issues.But there are many redeeming qualities to this book. For one, Bowden fills the book with interesting facts that were new to me. Bowden describes a few escape attempts by hostages and gives exciting detail to the failed rescue mission, Operation Eagle Claw. Bowden also succeeds in depicting Carter as a patient, aggressive (and at times even hawkish) leader--not as the overly-dovish push-over he is often labeled today. And Bowden describes the US media frenzy and the feedback effect they had on the revolution. One final interesting fact that Bowden provides is that in the waning days of the hostage crisis, Ronald Reagan’s advisers reached out to Iranian officials to try to delay the release of the hostages in order to hurt Carter’s election chances. According to Bowden, it didn’t have any real effects on the election, but it's a hell of a fun fact.But I'm getting lost in the muck. The takeaway point is that with too great a focus on the day-to-day monotony of prisoner life, too great a focus on the Apple-Pie vantage point of the prisoners, some none-too-clever chapter titles (they're just quotes and bad ones at that!), and some disappointing scholarship towards the end of the book (which reads as neo-con paranoia of the "Islamist Threat"), Bowden weakens what is otherwise a highly readable, smart history of sitting on the rim of a volcanic world. He chooses to count the rocks at the crater's edge rather than look down on the bubbling lava. Ah well.2.5

  • Hans
    2019-04-07 12:08

    Good introduction to modern Iranian politics and the role of information warfare. This book quickly illustrates the fickle nature of a society ruled by a clerical autocracy. It’s like having a Philosophy Professor as a Construction Manager over Major Urban development projects, ineptitude masked by a shroud of honorific titles creating cult like allegiance and following, but with lots of weapons. As the current unrest in Iran demonstrates many of the average Iranian citizens see through the facade. They find themselves trapped inside a country with extreme conservative elements that won’t hesitate to violently suppress or alter the narrative against them. Information Warfare is the new battlefield, he who controls the narrative controls the people. So the biggest threat to the Iranian Regime is “Free Speech” and exposing the false narratives.

  • Ironman Ninetytwo
    2019-04-06 13:55

    Pretty comprehensive, but I'm trying to figure out what I learned from it. The book tends to dismiss the idea that the hostage release was delayed at the request of the Reagan administration. Rather, the Iranians had a symbolic hatred for Carter (ironically), because he supported the Shah pre-revolution and allowed him to come to the U.S. for medical treatment. Other than that, the hostage takers were disorganized and did not have clear objectives. The hostage takers continually expected non-elite Americans to side with their revolution as fellow proles. That's how naive they were. Any clergy involved from any side were not helpful and often harmful.

  • Melany
    2019-03-21 18:11

    This book was so personal to me as I was a student in Paris during the revolution while Khomeini was in exile in Paris. I am really impressed with the research and level of intimate detail that for me, filled in a lot of blanks about things I didn't or couldn't then understand. It was the first time I was eligible to vote in a US presidential election, and that was significant too for me. I was sometimes profiled in Paris as a student for "looking Iranian" (I am not) and tried to learn why the Iranian students in Paris were so vehemently in favor of this revolution (I couldn't then and I still can't now). The book is a must read for any student of this period of our history.

  • Mary Wagner Schnell
    2019-04-06 13:52

    Interesting book - I remember when these events took place, and I have heard Kathryn Koob speak about her experience, as we went to the same college - I was in college when she was going through this ordeal.... I had no idea when this was happening how much the Iranian's hated the West and specifically United States. I found all the details distracting, but informative... it was a complicated situation and continues to be complicated... I would recommend the book but it is a long book! 637 pages!!

  • Nikhil Mahadea
    2019-03-26 10:06

    This is a great book about what happend in Iran during that time the author speaks of. It's historical. But, it's too long and too much detail for me. There's nothing wrong with too much detail. But I was expecting a book less historical. I wanted to read a book about Iran's history, it's role with the US, it's secularism or lack of securalism, Islam and power, Islam and the US. This isn't the book to awswer those questions. This is a book about a historical event in great detail. Something I'm not interested in.