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Guests of the Ayatollah : the first battle in America's war with militant Islam
Mark Bowden
Adult Nonfiction E183.8.I55 B68 2006

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From Publishers' Weekly:

With Iran fingered in the latest National Security Assessment as America's number one enemy, Mark Bowden's new book is particularly timely. Guests of the Ayatollah chronicles the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by student militants, who held 66 American staffers hostage from November 1979 till January 1981, seizing this nation's attention in the process. In the aftermath of 9/11, with wars raging in Iraq and Afghanistan, that event seems to belong to the remote past, but as Bowden points out, it was "America's first confrontation with Islamo-fascism," while the hostages (who were released alive) were "the first victims of the inaptly named War on Terror." Although some may dispute those points, his portrayal of the hostage takers and their fanatical devotion to establishing a religious utopia could easily apply to members of al-Qaeda and other Muslim terrorist groups. Bowden's analysis of militant Islam is clear, current and dead-on. The government of Iran, now as then, is a theocracy with a secular face, combining, he writes, "ignorance with absolute conviction." Anyone who thinks a nuclear-armed Iran could be dealt with through Cold War-style containment should read this book. Guests of the Ayatollah is, however, no academic tome, but a briskly written human story told from every conceivable point of view: the captives and their captors; President Carter's inner circle and Carter himself, struggling to negotiate a release and finally ordering an extremely risky rescue mission; the soldiers of Delta Force, whose audacious attempt failed; Iranian political figures under the thumb of the glowering Ayatollah Khomeini; and a cavalcade of diplomats, journalists, secret agents and barmy peace activists, some of whose actions bordered on treason. The cast of characters would do justice to a 19th-century Russian novel. At more than 650 pages, this wheel-block of a book sometimes suffers from the flaw of its virtues-its scope and ambition. Readers may have difficulty keeping track of who's who, and where they are, as the narrative shuttles among dozens of people in dozens of locales. With detail piled upon minute detail, the passages describing the hostages' ordeal often grow tedious. Bowden, whose Blackhawk Down recounted the American disaster in Somalia, seems most at home when he turns to the meetings leading up to Carter's fateful decision and to the Delta Force mission itself and its agonizing failure. He puts you there, in the Persian desert with Delta Force and its commander, the charismatic and mercurial Col. Charlie Beckwith. All in all, Guests of the Ayatollah is a monumental piece of reportage, deserving a wide readership. Philip Caputo is the author of 13 books, most recently Acts of Faith and Ten-Thousand Days of Thunder. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

From Library Journal:

According to his publisher, Bowden (Black Hawk Down) took five years to write this book. It wasn't long enough. His account of the Iran Hostage Crisis is overwritten, sloppy in detail, and seemingly endless. He begins with prose not unlike that of the pulp novels that Garrison Keillor's "Guy Noir" satirizes, and by the time his writing becomes less turgid the reader realizes with horror that there still remains an arduous 500-page slog ahead. Bowden faults the media for failing to explain Iranian hatred of America, but beyond the briefest description of the 1953 CIA-backed coup, he does no better-unlike David Harris in his excellent The Crisis: The President, The Prophet, and the Shah-1979 and the Coming of Militant Islam, a lucid and comprehensive exploration of the tensions in Iran. Already, there is a shelf of books on this topic, many by insiders such as the American charg?, the leader of the failed rescue mission, and President Carter's chief of staff. The need for another book is unclear. Though it is a quarter-century old, Robert D. McFadden's No Hiding Place: The New York Times Inside Report on the Hostage Crisis is concise, readable, and far better. Not recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 1/06.]-Michael O. Eshleman, Kings Mills, OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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