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Detailed, gripping account of the Iran Hostage Crisis
on January 29, 2013
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.)