Former American hostages recount their Iranian captivity in this skillfully arranged but difficult oral history. Wells has interviewed most of the former hostages (none was paid for their participation) and placed excerpts in chronological order. Voices overlap at major events in the captivity: Christmas visits by American clergymen, mock executions, the dispersal following the failed rescue mission. But mainly the hostages talk of themselves: their day-to-day existence and survival strategies. Death threats and middle-of-the-night interrogations were routine. There were also beatings. Many spent their first month of captivity bound and blindfolded, forbidden to speak. Two attempted suicide. Nevertheless, several engaging characters emerge from this nightmare: the coolly intelligent political officer, John Limbert; the irascible, seemingly fearless army medic, Don Hohman. Perhaps most remarkable is communications officer Bill Belk: after nearly dying from an insect bite, he attempts a solo escape and gets as far as the compound perimeter. There is frequent criticism of Jimmy Carter, but it is tempered by the improbable fact that everyone made it safely home. When the Iraqis began bombing Mehrabad Airport, the hostages responded with loud cheering. Many had long since ""written themselves off."" The oral-history format presents some problems, however. All we are given by way of background is the job title of each speaker. Their personalities and the reader's interest must develop piecemeal. More disturbing are certain attitudes and assumptions that go unchallenged. References to Iranians as ""rag heads"" and coy disclaimers regarding the CIA are hard to swallow. Useful, as far as it goes.