THE CRISIS: The President, the Prophet, and the Shah—1979 and the Coming of Militant Islam

David Harris, Author
David Harris, Author . Little, Brown $26.95 (480p) ISBN 978-0-316-32394-9
Reviewed on: 09/20/2004
Release date: 10/01/2004
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The 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, exactly 25 years ago, awakened America to the depth of its unpopularity in the Middle East, and militant Islamism discovered its capacity to land a blow against a superpower. Journalist Harris (Shooting the Moon ; etc.), formerly with the New York Times Magazine, rarely breaks from his suspenseful narrative for analysis, but the current relevance of the events is obvious. The initial antagonists are the shah, with his lavish lifestyle and authoritarian government, and the enigmatic Ayatollah Khomeini. Harris's main windows onto the Iranian revolution are its two most powerful moderates, Sadegh Ghotbzadeh and Abolhassan Bani Sadr, formerly Khomeini's brain trust during his exile in Paris. When a group of radical Muslim students stormed the American embassy and took 63 hostages, it helped consolidate the dominance of the Iranian revolution's Islamists. The psychology and decision-making process of the mullahs remain opaque in this account. Jimmy Carter's White House appears equally befuddled. Harris resourcefully reconstructs the administration's tortuous internal debates and hapless back-channel negotiations with Iran's revolutionary government. His dramatically paced tale culminates in gripping descriptions of the United States' failed rescue attempt and the endgame of the standoff, with its decisive effect on the election of 1980. 8 pages of photos not seen by PW. Agent, Kathy Robbins. (Oct. 27)

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