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Taken Hostage: The Iranian Hostage Crisis and America's First Encounter With Radical Islam.

Taken Hostage: The Iranian Hostage Crisis and America's First Encounter With Radical Islam. By David Farber. (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2005. Pp. viii, 212. $39.95.)

The 1970s did not constitute a halcyon time in American history. In addition to the resignation of a president under the imminent threat of impeachment, the era brought an ignominious end to a disastrous war in Vietnam, high unemployment, double-digit inflation, unprecedented interest rates, skyrocketing gasoline prices, shortages that caused long lines at service stations, garish clothing styles, and bad music. President Jimmy Carter, as ineffectual in the presidency as he became statesmanlike in later years, called attention to the malaise that had overtaken American life. Not least among the problems of the decade was a crisis with Iran resulting from revolutionary students' seizure of the American embassy in Teheran and the holding of over fifty U.S. hostages for 444 days.

The hostage crisis had its origins deep in Iranian-American relations. Although most Americans had no awareness of the U.S. role in the 1953 overthrow of the government of Muhammad Mossadegh and the installation of the Shah Reza Palavi in power, or of the U.S. exploitation of the alliance, or the extensive sale of weapons to his government to recycle petrodollars and contain the Soviet Union, Iranians were acutely aware of such things. They also knew of the huge disparity of wealth in their country and the brutality of the Shah's security police, SAVAK. As the Shah's position became untenable; as revolutionary momentum spread through the country; and as President Carter, against his better judgment, allowed the Shah to enter the United States for medical treatment, a band of Islamic students executed a carefully conceived plan to occupy the U.S. embassy. The students were not acting at the behest of fundamentalist clergy led by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini but clearly drew inspiration from radical Islam. Khomeini, who returned to Iran to take over the revolution, understood the value of the hostage episode to his cause and kept it going far longer than some of his countrymen and his American adversaries thought likely.

David Farber tells the story of the hostage crisis exceedingly well. He does so, appropriately, within the context of the failed expectations of the 1970s; and he shows how President Carter's foreign policy team responded to the crisis, and to fundamentalist Islam, through the Cold War paradigm. He does not cast excessive blame on Carter, who took extraordinary personal command over the crisis, but he does demonstrate the highs and lows of the President's attempts to bring the hostages home while serving his own political fortunes.

This is solid narrative history. It does not attempt a generalized analysis of the behavior of revolutionary regimes, nor does it seek to place the response to this hostage crisis within a larger historical context. Farber's epilogue, moreover, offers no especially dramatic observations, though he does point toward the fact that Ronald Reagan, as Carter's successor, despite his tough rhetoric, was President when there were more Americans killed by terrorists than during all U.S. administrations put together up to that time. Apart from the author's excessive use of the parenthetical expression, the book is skillfully written. It deserves a wide audience.

Russell Bohite

University of Missouri, Rolla
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Author:Bohite, Russell
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2008
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