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Guests of the Ayatollah

Guests of the Ayatollah


Guests of the Ayatollah

ratings:
4.5/5 (33 ratings)
Length:
9 hours
Released:
Apr 25, 2006
ISBN:
9780743565127
Format:
Audiobook

Description

On November 4, 1979, a group of radical Islamist students, inspired by revolutionary Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini, stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran. They took fifty-two Americans hostage and kept nearly all of them captive 444 days.

The Iran hostage crisis was a watershed moment in American history. It was America's first showdown with Islamic fundamentalism, a confrontation at the forefront of American policy to this day. It was also a powerful dramatic story that captivated the American people, launched yellow-ribbon campaigns, made celebrities of the hostage's families, and crippled the reelection campaign of President Jimmy Carter.

Mark Bowden tells this sweeping story through the eyes of the hostages, their radical, naïve captors, the soldiers sent on the impossible mission to free them, and the diplomats working to end the crisis. Taking listeners from the Oval Office to the hostages' cells, Guests of the Ayatollah is a remarkably detailed, brilliantly re-created, and suspenseful account of a crisis that gripped and ultimately changed the world.
Released:
Apr 25, 2006
ISBN:
9780743565127
Format:
Audiobook

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What people think about Guests of the Ayatollah

4.4
33 ratings / 15 Reviews
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Reader reviews

  • (5/5)
    Amazing book.
  • (4/5)
    Mark Bowden only writes good books. If you want to know what really happened during the "Iran hostage crisis" this book is the best.
  • (5/5)
    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.)
  • (4/5)
    The hostage crisis was the first national I felt connected to and that I felt I could express myself politically about. I was nine (and then ten) years old. I wrote songs to sing on the bus so people would not forget about the hostages. I remember my grandmother waking me up to the failed rescue attempt. I remember "campaining" against Jimmy Carter in the 1980 election. An egrossing read that I would recommend. It think it is timely to read this book now. The current protests happening in Iran reflect and in some ways must be a product of, the upheaval and changes in Iran following their revolution.
  • (5/5)
    I had no idea what to expect - this book really deserves a better, more sober cover. It isn't a book with all-out action sequences, although I have never read anything quite as compulsive as the disastrous rescue attempt.Even though the taking of the American Embassy in Tehran happened as far back as 1979, the event still has ramifications for today, and this book goes a long way towards explaining the current situation. Required reading for anyone interested in Middle Eastern politics.
  • (3/5)
    As a meticulous reporter who can tell a compelling story, Mark Bowden has few competitors, but couldn't his time have been spent more productively? Aren't there bigger, more important and more recent stories that he should have been attending to? It must have taken years to research and write this account of the year (1979-1980) in which a group of American diplomats, marine and three CIA agents were held at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. If you need to know more about the hostages, the student captors, what they are all doing today (or if they were executed), the secular Iranian diplomats and diplomatic maneuverings ... this is your book. If you want to know more about the trajectory of the revolution, this isn't it.
  • (4/5)
    Good overview of the Iran Hostage crisis. Bowden uses first-hand and second accounts from the hostages, hostage takers, the Carter Admin, Delta Force and others. He provides background information , the crisis information, daily accounts of individual hostages. The book is a bit long and tedious at times, but it provides a well-researched account of the situation.
  • (5/5)
    This is a fantastically interesting book about a difficult time in US history. Bowden does a terrific job of getting to every detail while still making it very readable---a page turner!
  • (5/5)
    Another great book by Bowden, who reads the book extremely well. It made listening to the audiobook really interesting and sigificantly easier than reading it, which I did around 10 years ago. Highly recommended to learn about an important event in US history.
  • (5/5)
    Great book when quarantined. #Doing the right thing. SCRIBE ?
  • (3/5)
    Good book. A bit boring though. Tells a good story but after a while it feels like you re a hostage just waiting for it to end.
  • (5/5)
    This book goes through, in detail, the actions, events and feelings surrounding the Iranian hostage crisis both here in America and in Iran. The author is able to capture many feelings and recollections from many interviews with hostages, spouses, and even the Iranian guards involved in the whole event. This book is a must read for anyone looking to understand one of the most controversial foreign affairs events in American history.
  • (4/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    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.

    1 person found this helpful

  • (3/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    Mark Bowden, of Black Hawk Down fame, has written a door-stopper about another US tragedy. "Guests Of The Ayatollah: The First Battle In America's War With Militant Islam" is divided into five parts. Part one, the finest, is a breath-taking, up-close and personal account of the embassy take-over (in Black Hawk Down style). Parts two and three follow the captives' experience. Part four gives a (rather short) recap of Operation Eagle Claw, the botched rescue mission. Part five returns to the captives' experiences and their release.Mark Bowden is a journalist, not a historian. So it might be a bit harsh to judge him on a historian's standards. Journalist's are tasked to check for bias too. This book ventures into Judy Miller terrain. It starts with language: Iranians are "swarthy, fat, oily", while Americans are valiant and have "ample girth". It continues with unwarranted cultural biases: He ridicules the mullah's for censoring "racy" parts of James Joyce's Ulysses. Hasn't he heard about Nipplegate or US efforts of covering up Michelangelo's David? The American Taliban are screaming murder too. Besides, Vladimir Nabokov was unable to get an American publisher to print Lolita. This just sets the stage for the biggest bias."We don't do stuff like that (torture)", said the CIA station chief. Unfortunately, that is not even true in the movies. Why does Bowden do this? Does he think that Americans can't handle the truth? Does Bowden not know that CIA's hands are covered in blood (eg the murder of Che Guevara, of which a 1979 CIA station chief would certainly have been aware of)? Did Bowden somehow not notice the US war crimes in Iraq? The Abu Ghraib scandal broke while Bowden was writing this book. It is sad that the shock effect of the Iranian abuse now seems quaint in comparison to US sadistic practices. An honest reporter would at least have added a few remarks.Bowden's mis-characterizations go further. Only in the epilogue, does he mention that US Republicans had actively worked to prolong the captivity of their fellow Americans in order to boost Ronald Reagan's chances. Or, Bowden titles his final chapter "Yeah George W. Bush", an Iranian he quotes from his visit in 2004, after the take-down of Saddam Hussein. An honest reporter would have included the distinctively different impression of George W. Bush afterwards. But then again, Bowden is fighting against "islamo-fascism", a nonsensical term en vogue in the darker corners of the USA.As far as the hostage crisis is concerned, it again revealed an amazing incompetence both of the US diplomats and the CIA. Even the Iranian kidnappers could not believe that the CIA sent spies to Iran who did not speak Farsi. US diplomacy relied upon the sickly shah's regime. When it toppled, the US lost all its contacts and information. Despite a near take-over of the embassy earlier, the US kept too large a staff in Teheran. Given the unwillingness to shoot intruders, the military component of the embassy was over-sized. Against the better knowledge of the state department's Iran desk, the US let the shah into the US (the hand of Kissinger) - without alerting the embassy.Militarily, the embassy structure was badly protected against a rush attack. Proper concrete barriers needing heavy construction equipment to break them may have prevented the take-over. The rescue mission was beyond reckless. The Americans were lucky to abort with limited casualties. If the mission had continued one stage further, losses would have exploded, as there was no margin of error: Black Hawk Down without the rescue forces.Politically, the hostage crisis probably cost Carter the presidency. By aligning himself with the shah, The US negotiations failed because they did not want to speak to the new power, dealing with the de-facto deposed government instead. A deal on the final terms could have been achieved much earlier. Carter broke his ideals by endorsing the shah, while not negotiating with the mullahs set him up for failure in the arena of hard-nosed political realism, assisted by the first shady dealing of the Reagan team.Overall, an interesting read, a bit overlong in the middle, marred by major distortions and incomplete accounts. Self-reflection is not Bowden's forte.

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  • (4/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    I plowed through this tome in quick order. This is the second Mark Bowden book I've read (the first being Black Hawk Down). Guests of the Ayatollah follows the Iran hostage crisis back between '79-'81. The crisis took place during the Iranian revolution when the country was thrown from an American backed dictatorship (the shah who was installed in the 50's) to a theocratic, Muslim controlled state. Radical students stormed the U.S. embassy and took 50 some odd diplomats hostage and kept them for over a year. They were finally released on January 20th, 1981. Just hours after Reagan was inaugurated.This is a fascinating look at modern Iran. Bowden writes this in a similar tone as Black Hawk Down. It reads very much like a novel and is packed with back-and-forth testimony both here in the states as negotiations dragged on and for the most part from the vantage point of the hostages in Iran. The book is very even handed towards both the Iranians and Jimmy Carter, who was fighting for his political life back in the states during the crisis.This book leaves me feeling really conflicted about Iran. It's a tricky situation certainly. The book portrays the student captors as poorly informed, ignorant, radically fundamental. These three characteristics form a radical mix that give these men (and surprisingly women) the idea to raid a foreign embassy and hold "the great satan" responsible for years of abuses. After reading this book, I almost wonder if my liberal, patient approach towards foreign policy would've been completely ditched in this case in favor of full force military strike in an effort to bring the hostages home. I felt anger and bewilderment about the captors after reading this book. How could you be so ignorant about how the world works? How could they be so na?ve? I then quickly realized that this condition is not unique to Iran. I realized that these same conditions here in America today. People so blinded by their religion and so poorly informed that they blindly follow their leaders where ever they're pointed. Maybe things really aren't that different between our two countries.

    1 person found this helpful