Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History by Antonio Mendez and Matt Baglio

Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood pulled off the most audacious rescue in History by Tony Mendez is his first-hand account of the rescue of six Americans during the Iran hostage crisis.  As the lead operative on the project, Tony recounts how he hatched the plan, carried out preparation and executed the plan so that everyone would be brought home safely.  This spy story is set apart from others because this rescue was successful in part because Hollywood was used to make the mission a success.

In this recounting, Mendez tells how he got involved in the CIA, how he climbed the ranks, and how he thought of and was able to execute his plan. In Iran, the people were angry at the United States because they had allowed their former leader to be extradited into their country.  A group of people decided to storm the U.S. Embassy and take everyone hostage.  Six people were able to sneak away from the embassy and therefore escape becoming hostages.  This mission is also known as the “Canadian Caper” because not only were the six Americans passed off as Canadians, but also they were kept hidden at the houses of the Canadian ambassador and a Canadian Immigration Officer in Iran and they escaped from Iran to Canada.  Because all of the other ideas to get the Americans out wouldn’t work, Mendez had to be creative in coming up with a way to get the Americans out.  He decided to form a fake production company out in Hollywood, find a real script, a real cast, publish real advertisements and then use the movie as an excuse to visit and then leave Iran.

The book tells a very exciting story about how this mission was carried out.  It seems like Mendez would be the type of person that would be able to tell a lot of great stories.  Some stories might be exaggerated and some might not and you would never know which is which. I also found that Mendez obviously thinks very highly of himself and I can’t say that I blame him. I am sure this in his line of work that a certain amount of self-confidence is required.  The part of the story that many critics feel is downplayed especially in the movie but even in the book is Canada’s involvement in the rescue.  Many would argue that it was Canada that approached the CIA for help in getting visas prepared for the Americans, and the Canadian government had already acquired Canadian passports in order to get the Americans smuggled out.  I would argue that the book was somewhat anti-climatic because once the audacious plan had been put into works that it seemed to actually go fairly smoothly.  Perhaps my opinion on this is marred by the fact that I saw the movie first.

The movie, Argo, was released in 2012 and was produced by, directed by and starred Ben Affleck.  With George Clooney also as a producer, the movie was filled with a star-studded cast that includes John Goodman, Alan Arkin, and Bryan Cranston.  The film won three academy awards including best picture but Ben Affleck was not even nominated for best director, which made many feel like Affleck had been robbed.  I really enjoyed the movie, and, even though I knew that the Americans had made it out safely, I still felt the tension building and was caught up in the excitement.

I guess I would say that my main complaint is that I now know that the movie was filled with details that are historically inaccurate.  The six Americans were not confined to the indoors.  The harrowing escape in the airport was hardly that. Mendez and the Americans simply got on the plane and no chase occurred.  The biggest inaccuracy is the portrayal Canada’s involvement in the operation.  As I mentioned before, the Canadian government is responsible for taking the Americans in and orchestrating the plan.  Even Jimmy Carter, president at the time, confirms this back in 2012, stating, “90% of the contributions to the ideas and the consummation of the plan was Canadian. And the movie gives almost full credit to the American CIA.

With that exception, the movie is very good. But Ben Affleck’s character in the film was… only in Tehran a day and a half. And the main hero, in my opinion, was Ken Taylor, who was the Canadian ambassador who orchestrated the entire process.” Affleck responds to the historical inaccuracies by stating that since the movie was merely based on true events that they felt they could take certain creative liberties for the sake of making the film more entertaining.  Who am I to argue with an Academy Award winning director?

While I was irritated that this book didn’t closely follow the movie more or vice versa, I did enjoy reading the book and would recommend it to friends who especially like reading about historical events.  The narrator has a nice, dry delivery and has also done other well-known books such as Jobs by Walter Isaacson, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, and Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris.  Taking a little under 10 hours to listen to, Argo is a worthy read.

Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History by Antonio Mendez and Matt Baglio Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audible.com Audiobook, DVD, Bluray, Online Rental  

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