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GUESTS OF THE AYATOLLAH

THE FIRST BATTLE IN AMERICA’S WAR WITH MILITANT ISLAM

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

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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON

THE OSAGE MURDERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE FBI

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

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Greed, depravity, and serial murder in 1920s Oklahoma.

During that time, enrolled members of the Osage Indian nation were among the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The rich oil fields beneath their reservation brought millions of dollars into the tribe annually, distributed to tribal members holding "headrights" that could not be bought or sold but only inherited. This vast wealth attracted the attention of unscrupulous whites who found ways to divert it to themselves by marrying Osage women or by having Osage declared legally incompetent so the whites could fleece them through the administration of their estates. For some, however, these deceptive tactics were not enough, and a plague of violent death—by shooting, poison, orchestrated automobile accident, and bombing—began to decimate the Osage in what they came to call the "Reign of Terror." Corrupt and incompetent law enforcement and judicial systems ensured that the perpetrators were never found or punished until the young J. Edgar Hoover saw cracking these cases as a means of burnishing the reputation of the newly professionalized FBI. Bestselling New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, 2010, etc.) follows Special Agent Tom White and his assistants as they track the killers of one extended Osage family through a closed local culture of greed, bigotry, and lies in pursuit of protection for the survivors and justice for the dead. But he doesn't stop there; relying almost entirely on primary and unpublished sources, the author goes on to expose a web of conspiracy and corruption that extended far wider than even the FBI ever suspected. This page-turner surges forward with the pacing of a true-crime thriller, elevated by Grann's crisp and evocative prose and enhanced by dozens of period photographs.

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-53424-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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