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Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America’s War with Militant Islam

Author: Mark Bowden
Publisher: Grove Press • 2007 • 704 pages

On November 4, 1979, a group of radical Islamist students inspired by the Ayatollah Khomeini stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran. They took fifty-two Americans hostage, and kept nearly all of them hostage for 444 days. Now, from the best-selling author of “Black Hawk Down,” comes a definitive, you-are-there chronicle of America’s first battle with militant Islam. In “Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America’s War with Militant Islam,” Mark Bowden tells this sweeping story through the eyes of the hostages, the soldiers in a new special forces unit sent to free them, their radical captors, and the diplomats working to end the crisis. Based on five years of research — including numerous trips to Iran and countless interviews with those involved on both sides — Guests of the Ayatollah is a detailed, brilliantly re-created, and suspenseful account of a crisis that is now more relevant than ever.

Guests of the Ayatollah reveals:

  • How the students who stormed the embassy initially planned only a three-day sit-in protest — but stayed on once it became apparent that the Ayatollah Khomeini’s government was not going to eject them
  • What it was like for the hostages: terror, confusion, and ingenuity in the face of absurd interrogations, mock executions and a seemingly endless imprisonment
  • The exuberance and na?vet? of the Iranian hostage takers
  • How the religious hardliners on the Revolutionary Council used the hostage crisis as an opportunity to purge moderates from the leadership ranks — setting Iran on the extreme path it follows to this day
  • How the hostage crisis captivated the American people, and led to the creation of the ABC News show Nightline
  • Behind the scenes in Jimmy Carter’s Oval Office, and in the diplomatic efforts to secure the hostages’ release
  • The dramatic story of Operation Eagle Claw, a courageous and desperate attempt to snatch the hostages from the embassy in Tehran — which, despite the heroism of Delta Force, exploded into failure in the Iranian desert

“Brilliant and riveting”—Spot Report Military Blog

“With Iran fingered in the latest National Security Assessment as America’s number one enemy, Mark Bowden’s new book is particularly timely. . . . [H]is 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. . . . 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.”—Publishers Weekly

“Using the same you-are-there point of view as he did in Black Hawk Down, Bowden introduces figures on both sides of the struggle . . . It’s a big book not to put down, but Bowden’s latest will tempt readers to keep turning the pages. Altogether excellent — and its revelation of back-channel diplomatic dealings are newsworthy.” —Kirkus Reviews

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