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Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America's War With Militant Islam

4.11 of 5 stars 4.11  ·  rating details  ·  2,615 ratings  ·  245 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
Hardcover, 704 pages
Published March 27th 2006 by Atlantic Monthly Press (first published 2006)
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Jessica
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
...more
Jerome
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
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Jsavett1
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
Ross
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 riveting...at 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
Ritchie
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.
Tom
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
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Alain Dewitt
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
...more
Lu
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
...more
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.
...more
Ben
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
Fred
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
...more
Carolyn
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
GoodReadsAccount
I read every Mark Bowden I get my hands on. I was disappointed here, not because it was a poor book or fell short of his usual fare, but because there was far less material to work with on the prisoners' side than I would have thought. It never occurred to me that over a year of captivity for dozens of people would have been so... Uneventful. In retrospect, that makes sense. There's very little more boring than longterm imprisonment.

Either way, very glad I read it. Over the years I had absorbed
...more
Jack
...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
"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
...more
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
...more
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!
John
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
Colleen
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
...more
John
Nov 24, 2007 John rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: understand the pivitol event in our relationship with Iran
He is not the focus of the book, but Carter may well be the last American president with genuine integrity.
Kevin Wang
Interesting to see how much restraint/patience Carter had in this situation, and how the standoff essentially ended because of an Iraqi/Iranian war, not American diplomacy.

Another thing I never gave enough creedence to was, although no hostages were seriously injured or killed, and it may be easy to dismiss the event with a certain air of "no harm no foul", it woudl be a mistake given the gravity of the situation as it unfolded, and the terror of uncertainty as to when their imprisonment would e
...more
Jason
On the one hand, it’s hard not to think of the story of the fall of the American embassy in Tehran in 1979 as the US, my home country, reaping what it had sown. Supporting murderous right wing autocrats especially after helping to overthrow their democratically elected predecessors in the Middle East because they happened to have rejected Soviet-style communism is unconscionable and incredibly stupid. On the other hand, at least in the case of the Iranian students who stormed the embassy and hel ...more
M. D.  Hudson
Rather disappointing read, but nevertheless chock full of interesting facts, stories, etc. behind the Iranian Hostage crisis. I say disappointing because of the he-man prose sometimes gets in the way of what is obviously a carefully researched book. Weird tics abound: everybody is described, one way or another, as having bad hair of some description (the author is bald, so I noticed on the dustjacket). But again, the story makes it worth the read – America was a different place then, as I dimly ...more
Corey Toomey
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
...more
John
Sep 29, 2010 John rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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.
Jenny
Nov 18, 2008 Jenny rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Jenny by: Jeff
I've tried twice to get into this book. I am intrigued by the way the author writes so ominously about the events to come...especially when I have a general idea of how badly everything goes. I've found it hard to keep all the characters straight, and have often gone back to the diagram of the Embassy to keep a picture in my head. Once I got out of the first few chapters, it has gone more quickly. I took a break last month to listen to a book on CD, but am anxious to get back to this one and see ...more
Tom
This is the third book by Bowden that I've read and I can never pin down his style. Its almost like he is the perfect observer, and all I remember is what happened, even though I wasn't there.
I have done quite a bit of middle eastern studies, and feel pretty well versed in Islam and the Islamic revolution. Bowden, though, brings it to life. This is what it is to study Islam vs. this is what its like when Islam takes over and gets mixed with politics and power plays and greed.
The majority of th
...more
Joni
Guests of the Ayatollah is an impressive account of one of the defining events in the history of the US-Iran relationship. Bowden is a great non-fiction writer and his topics are always extremely captivating.

The book could easily be divided into two parts. The first part provides a play-by-play account of everything that happened before, during and shortly after the attack on the US Embassy. It reads and sounds like fiction and if someone would not be familiar with the story it would definitely
...more
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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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