November 6, 2012

Book Review: Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History

In honor of my books-to-movies post on Sunday, I thought I'd share this review, which I originally wrote for Shelf Awareness in September. (And by the way -- thanks for all the responses about book-movie adaptations you like! I loved all your comments on the post and on Facebook).

On November 4, 1979, six American diplomats managed to escape as militants stormed the U.S. embassy, taking the rest of the staff hostage for 444 days. Unbeknownst to most of the world, the six escapees spent more than two months as "house guests" of the Canadian ambassador, until the CIA was able to stage a risky rescue.

Antonio Mendez, one of the CIA's top "exfiltration" agents, came up with a bold plan, deciding that such an unprecedented rescue needed a daring cover. So with the help of real Hollywood producers, he created a fake science fiction movie called Argo, a hoax that was so detailed it included a bogus ad in Variety. He and his team then created false documents for the six diplomats, making them appear to be a Canadian film crew scouting locations in Iran.

Next came the dangerous part: with the help of the Canadian government, Mendez and another CIA officer went into Iran, hoping to bring the rest of their "film crew" back with them.

Mendez (The Master of Disguise) puts the rescue mission in the context of the broader Iranian crisis, sharing details of the takeover and the American response--including CIA actions. The detail put into creating the Argo cover story is mindboggling. Argo is a mesmerizing book; a fast-paced, irresistible read that's equal parts politics, history and espionage.

 A few weekends ago Noel and I went to dinner and a movie - and we picked Argo-the-movie. Noel liked it a lot better than I did, probably because he hadn't read the book (the movie was very different). But, I really liked the way the movie incorporated actual footage from 1979, and it was fun to read a book and then see the movie within a few weeks. Florinda from The 3 R's Blog also went to see it, as did Kathy from Bermuda Onion, so just check out their takes, if you want to know more about the film.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Should I recommend this to my grandma? Sure, it's fascinating reading! But note: there are a few F-bombs. (The title itself is a pun, based on a knock-knock joke whose punchline is "Arr, go f--- yourself")
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. 

Have you read/seen Argo?