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 all of them hostage for 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. Communities across the country launched yellow ribbon campaigns. ABC began a new late-night television news program—which would become Nightline—recapping the latest events in the crisis, and counting up the days of captivity. The hostages’ families became celebrities, and the never-ending criticism of the government’s response crippled Jimmy Carter’s reelection campaign. In the end, the crisis changed the way Americans see themselves, their country, and the rest of the world.
In Guests of the Ayatollah, Mark Bowden, “a master of narrative journalism” (The New York Times Book Review), tells this sweeping story through the eyes of the hostages, the soldiers in a new special forces unit sent on the impossible mission to free them, their radical, naive captors, and the diplomats working to end the crisis. Bowden takes us inside the hostages’ cells, detailing their daily lives, and inside the Oval Office for meetings with President Carter and his exhausted team. We travel to international capitals where shadowy figures held clandestine negotiations, and to the deserts of Iran, where a courageous, desperate attempt to rescue the hostages exploded into tragic failure.
This is Mark Bowden’s first major work since Killing Pablo. He spent five years researching the crisis, including numerous trips to Iran and countless interviews with those involved on both sides. Guests of the Ayatollah is a remarkably detailed, brilliantly re-created, and suspenseful account of a crisis that gripped and ultimately changed the world.