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Guests of the Ayatollah: The Iran Hostage Crisis: The First Battle in America's War with Militant Islam

4.12  ·  Rating Details ·  3,236 Ratings  ·  277 Reviews
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 a ...more
ebook, 704 pages
Published December 1st 2007 by Grove Press (first published 2006)
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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
Jan 05, 2013 Jerome rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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
Dec 23, 2013 Jsavett1 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 inte ...more
Nov 27, 2007 Ross rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, nonfiction
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, "W ...more
Anne  (Booklady) Molinarolo
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 ...more
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.
Regina Lindsey
Jan 26, 2016 Regina Lindsey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 20, 2009 Tom rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 th
Alain Dewitt
Sep 16, 2012 Alain Dewitt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
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
Apr 02, 2009 Lu rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 tha
Corey Toomey
Jul 23, 2011 Corey Toomey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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, howeve
Babak Fakhamzadeh
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.
Sep 29, 2010 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those interested in current issues in Iran
Recommended to John by: Tom Novak
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 30, 2013 Ben rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Nov 16, 2012 Fred rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 assaul
Jul 10, 2015 Carolyn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, military
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. ...more
Jan 29, 2013 Carrie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
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
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 fo
Natalie Tyler
Aug 14, 2016 Natalie Tyler rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
! This is a close look at the Iran hostage crisis, in which 66 Americans were taken hostage on November 4, 1979 and most were not released until 444 days later. The story is gripping, for the most part, and Bowden’s strategy is to look at both the micro-history of individual experience and the sweeping history of the crisis as one event in the long saga of Western and Iranian crises. The hostages were ultimately released alive.

This was the USA’s first big show-down with Islamic fundamentalism.
Scott Whitmore
Jun 07, 2015 Scott Whitmore rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was a freshman in college, just weeks from my eighteenth birthday, when the American Embassy in Tehran was overrun by students and the occupants made hostage. My interest then in world events was less keen than it would become, but I don’t recall great consternation over the event at the private, liberal arts school, at least not among my friends and associates. It was too far away and the underlying reasons were too complex.

At some point in the next few months there would be a campus talent
Jun 29, 2014 Jack rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
...the history between the US and Iran has been a unfortunate one. From the CIA-backed installation of the shah to the modern-day tensions over the nuclear program, it has been a rocky and treacherous road. "Guests of the Ayatollah" is the story of the hostages held in Iran for 444 days, starting from the embassy takeover to their eventual freedom. At 600+ pages, it is not a quick read, but is very detailed on the experience of the hostages, the preparation and the events of the failed rescue at ...more
David Classing
Apr 16, 2014 David Classing rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Revolution gives ordinary people the false belief that they can remake not just themselves, their country, and the whole wide world but human nature itself. That such grand designs always fail, that human nature is immutable, that everyone's idea of perfection is deferent--these truths are all for a time forgotten" (pp 22-23). This is the backdrop for which Bowden writes the tale of the 1979 US Embassy takeover in Tehran.

Drawing mostly on interviews and former hostages' documents, Bowden writes
Elizabeth Humphries
This is a detailed and fascinating exploration of the Iran hostage crisis of 1979 - 1981. The author chooses to write about the situation as if the reader were observing it happen; much of it involves recreated conversations based on extensive interviews. Some people might find it jarring (and too novel-y), but I felt it made the narrative flow more smoothly.

By the end of the book, I honestly felt a little sorry for some of the students involved in storming the American embassy and holding the d
Bryan Craig
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!
Feb 25, 2015 Cathy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks, history
Heard this on CD. Very good book giving well-rounded coverage of the 1979 U.S. hostage crisis in Iran. The author spent countless hours researching the subject and interviewing the hostages, many of the hostage-takers, many government officials involved in trying to resolve the situation as well as military members involved in the failed rescue attempt. I did have trouble keeping some of the people straight, but there were so many "characters" in this real-life drama. The hostages themselves bec ...more
Daniel Jafari
Dec 28, 2014 Daniel Jafari rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
May 04, 2007 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Pate McMichael
I read this book when it first came out. As usual, Bowden is a narrative genius. The best part, to me, was his recreation of what my old UPI journalist buddy calls "The Jimmy Carter Desert Classic." Otherwise known as the botched rescue mission. I must say that I found the middle and end of the book to be anti-climatic. I was not really interested in suffering the misery that the hostages suffered, but I certainly applaud the reporting. One wonders, or at least I wonder, how Bowden went about re ...more
Jared D.
Dec 24, 2015 Jared D. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
'Guests of the Ayatollah' is a harrowing look into the Iranian Hostage Crisis. The author, Mark Bowden, does a remarkable job of bringing the story to life. Prior to reading this book, I only had a cursory understanding of the events surrounding the takeover of the embassy. The book deals primarily with the experiences of the individual hostages and how they overcame the ordeal.

As you can imagine, their accounts vary greatly. Some of the hostages lashed out against their captors throughout thei
Aug 21, 2014 Colleen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating and multifaceted account

Fascinating and multifaceted account

I was a young teenager at the time of the Iran hostage crisis, so this detailed account of a story I remember was really fascinating. Bowden approaches his subject with empathy and objectivity. The 52 Americans hostages and their captors were victims of Iranian grandiosity and paranoia and American ignorance of facts on the ground. All players were soon overtaken by forces outside their control. Bowden sees all players in th
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Mark Robert Bowden (born July 17, 1951) is an American writer who is currently a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, and a 1973 graduate of Loyola College in Maryland, Bowden was a staff writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer from 1979-2003, and has won numerous awards. He has written for Men's Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, Sports Illustrated, and Rolling Stone over the ...more
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“Sitting cross-legged on the rug, puffing on a pipe, wearing a fat gold Rolex on his wrist, Khamenei asked the colonel, “If we were to release all of you now, without any conditions, how long would it be before you could begin to supply us again with spare parts for our military forces?” 1 likes
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