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Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America's War with Militant Islam Hardcover – April 25, 2006

4.5 out of 5 stars 209 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. SignatureReviewed by Philip CaputoWith 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 is the author of 13 books, most recently Acts of Faith and Ten-Thousand Days of Thunder.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Mark Bowden proved he knows how to tell a gripping narrative in Black Hawk Down and Killing Pablo. In this latest book he takes on a story with more immediate topical consequence, with similar results. It's a "painstaking recreation of those 444 days" (Cleveland Plain Dealer), told mostly from the red, white, and blue perspective. Some reviewers knock Bowden for focusing almost exclusively on the American captives and providing little insight into the motives and emotions of the Iranian hosts. Others note a tendency to get caught up in the finer details of the hostage crisis. But the skill with which he tells his story trumps all such concerns.<BR>Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 680 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press; First Edition edition (April 25, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871139251
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871139252
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.4 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (209 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #680,799 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Kevin Lynds on August 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I have read other books by Mark Bowden and he did not dissappoint me with "Guests..". True to his style that made his other books so good were his ability to get a 360 degree view of the situation by getting accounts from all sides of an event. He has the ability to create stories with in the story of all the people involved on all sides and it left me wondering how he was able to make such contacts, get precise information and draw the lines he did especially in regards to a radically Islamic Iran.

The only part of the book that dragged was the day to day routine the prisoners dealt with (only a few were tortured i.e. beaten, most were just holed up, some alone for months on end and repeatedly interrogated and harrassed by uneducated fundamental "students"). The prisoners were held hostage for ever 440 days and like their monotonous time spent sitting in their rooms, the book got a little monotonous talking about it. One reason I bought the book was to hopefully learn something about the history of our two cultures and where it went wrong. Mr. Bowden's storytelling capabilities are so strong that to a point, the history lesson I was looking for was somewhat clouded by the situation he was writing about. This isn't a complaint, but I may have to re-read part of the book to find some of facts I was initially looking for.

His character development was excellent, and added strength to the stories when talking about clashing personalities, prisoners harrassing the guards or doing un-Islamic things in front of the guards to embarrass them. His research on the failed Delta mission was first class (and very sad in regards to the time and energy spent along with the loss of such capable men) as was his research on Carter and his administration during the whole crisis.
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Format: Hardcover
The newest book from Mark Bowden again delves into the murky realm where political scheming and military manuevering meet. Detailing the 1979 Iranian Hostage Crisis, Bowden tells a compelling story that weaves the personal experiences of those involved together with the clash of cultures and global politics.

As usual, Mark Bowden does a superb job of cutting through the mitigating complexities to deliver a strong narrative that imbues the reader with a clear picture of the unfolding events. He delivers nuanced portraits of many of the hostages, candidly exploring both their strengths and weaknesses. Simultaneously, he tells the saga of the birth of Delta Force, and the botched rescue attempt that was their infamous first mission.

While I found "Guests of the Ayatollah to be enjoyable and compelling, it fell short of Bowden's "Killing Pablo", and "Black Hawk Down". I believe the primary reason is that Bowden is at his best when depicting scenes of action and mayhem, whether Special Operations firefights or Columbian drug wars. While "Guests" does contain many action driven passages, the bulk of it is devoted to the ways in which the hostages dealt with the tedium of captivity. Obviously that is an essential part of the story, but I found it led to some passages that seemed repetitive, especially the ones that detail criticisms of the hostage's guards, and of the philosophy of the Iranian cultural revolution. The secondary weakness of the book is the ending, in which Bowden switches to a first person perspective to discuss his own ideas about Iran in the present day. For me it lessened the impact carried by the rest of the book.

My two complaints are very minor, but enough to prevent a full five star rating. This fascinating and imformative book is a great aid for understanding the current crisis developing between America and Iran. Ultimately, any reader should find this to yield many rewards.
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Format: Hardcover
"Guests of the Ayatollah" is a riveting account of the seizure of the American Embassy in Tehran by militant Islamic radicals and students in 1979. Fifty-two Americans (an additional 14 had been released earlier) were held hostage for 444 days until Ronald Reagon's Inauguration in 1981. With such a large cast of characters, it is helpful that each of the six chapters is opened with a page of photographs of the principals for that chapter (with two pages of maps).

The author of "Black Hawk Down" chillingly describes the doomed Delta One Task Force rescue attempt in the midst of a presidential election year. His research will make this book the definitive account of this crisis. Mr. Bowden seems to have interviewed everyone involved : the hostages, the Iranians, Delta Force soldiers, and American politicians. He injects himself into the epilogue as he traveled four times to Iran in 2003-2004 to track down the key Iranian participants. "Guests of the Ayatollah" is a page-turner that sheds background and light onto the current nuclear crisis with Iran.
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Format: Hardcover
Anyone who wants to understand our current stand-off with nuclear Iran simply must read this incredible book of historical journalism. Mark Bowden has captured the very essence of our ongoing, 27-year conflict with radical Islam by exposing the horrid events of 1979 - 1980 when rage-filled college students seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran. It's a triumph of professional research and sophisticated storytelling.

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.
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