It’s a big book not to put down, but Bowden’s latest will tempt readers to keep turning the pages. Altogether excellent—and...

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GUESTS OF THE AYATOLLAH

THE FIRST BATTLE IN AMERICA’S WAR WITH MILITANT ISLAM

A riveting account of the 444-day Iran hostage crisis of 1979–81.

Bowden’s (Road Work, 2004, etc.) contention that the capture of the U.S. embassy in Tehran was “the first battle in America’s war against militant Islam” needs qualification, for America had been battling by proxy for years. Still, it was the first direct assault on Americans in strength. Those who undertook it viewed the Cold War superpowers as equally evil—surprisingly, the so-called “Muslim Students Following the Imam’s Line” had first planned to take over the Soviet embassy in Tehran—and wanted to guide their nation, freshly rid of the much-hated Shah and now governed by a conservative Islamic theocracy, away from Western modernism and toward some recapitulation of the medieval golden age. Led by an inner circle called The Brethren, the militants who stormed the embassy on Nov. 4, 1979, initially planned to stay for three days and broadcast their grievances; once it became apparent that the Ayatollah Khomeini’s government was not going to eject them—and the attack, it seems, took most of the mullahs by surprise, too—they stayed on. Using the same you-are-there point of view as he did in Black Hawk Down (1999), Bowden introduces figures on both sides of the struggle: American staffers who revered Persian culture and spoke the language fluently; humorless bureaucrats; gung-ho Marine guards and hardcore Delta Force types; Islamic ideologues convinced—and not without cause—that all Americans in Iran worked for the CIA; real-life students who, after a year of hostage-keeping, came to regard the enterprise as a mistake and drifted away; and, least likable of all, the Tokyo Rose–like Iranian interpreter who to this day insists on the justice of her actions and of the Islamist cause.

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 revelations of back-channel diplomatic dealings are newsworthy.

Pub Date: May 10, 2006

ISBN: 0-87113-925-1

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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