As if the situation weren't intense enough, six Americans had managed to evade capture and were hiding somewhere in the city. It would only be a matter of time before they were discovered. With the clock ticking, the United States began to create scenarios for rescue, and Antonio Mendez, a top CIA officer, was brought on board.
The result was a plan so fantastical, it just had to work. Or would it? With the help of Hollywood special-effects artists, a script for a sci-fi flick, and courageous Canadians, Mendez was about to undertake a rescue so daring, it would be one for the history books.
The Bottom Line: Told by a true hero, Argo is a real page-turner. This quick read will keep you on the edge of your seat and provide the reader with a fascinating look at some of the "tricks of the trade" used in the past to exfiltrate people. Perfect for the armchair adventurer, fans of spy novels, and students of American History, this book is highly recommended.
Book Club Notes: As a group, we rated this book very highly with a median of 4.5 stars. For those of us who watched both the movie and read the book, we gave the movie 3 stars. We found the movie a bit disappointing because of the many fictional parts created just for the sake of adding suspense. It's already suspenseful without jazzing it up. Nevertheless, for those members who only watched the film, the movie was very entertaining. Both (but especially the book) are enthusiastically recommended for book clubs.
The book takes the reader back to a time many of us still remember, albeit vaguely. Many scenes in the book were filled with memories. It was a a fast and easy to read book with lots of suspense. We appreciated the backstory into what it was like working for the CIA at the time. This book also highlighted the coordination between the Americans and the Canadians. (Thank you, CANADA!) The only thing missing from this book were maps and photos, but I was able to make up for this with information I found online.
Since the book did not come with a reading guide, I put together discussion questions from the following resources: Teach With Movies, the Carnegie Council, Pilgrim Uniting Church, and a teacher resource guide from News in Review. My list of discussion questions is at the bottom of this post and includes some of my own as well as those from the previously listed sites. [NOTE: If you use the list of questions for your book club, please give credit where credit is due.]
Additionally, here are some of the links I used to supplement the discussion: The Official Website of Tony & Jonna Mendez, Pleasant Valley Studios (featuring artwork by the authors), Anonio Mendez's obituary, Ken Taylor's obituary, a fascinating article about Jonna Mendez, artifacts from the ARGO caper, a survivor story, Tony Mendez's case study, and a short video of The Real "ARGO."
Details: Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History by Antonio Mendez & Matt Baglio. Paperback published in 2012. 320 p. ISBN: 978-0-14-750973-4
ARGO Discussion Questions created & compiled by Nana A. Herron:
The day of the takeover:
- Did you know anything about this event prior to reading this book?
- Did you know anything about the houseguests before reading the book or watching this film?
- What issues does this film/book raise?
- What preconceived notions did you have about Iran before reading this book? Did these change after reading the book?
- Why wasn’t the embassy simply closed?
- Were there any other options for freeing the hostages or houseguests? (Military interventions, negotiations, dialogue…) Before Tony came up with the exfiltration plan featuring a Hollywood cover story, there was another plan. The original idea was to create a dead body double of the shah in exchange for the American hostages? What were the pros and cons of this option?
- Discuss the culture of Iran.
- In the film, were Iranians portrayed unfairly? Were they stereotyped?
Questions about the houseguests:
- How do you think the Americans felt about leaving their diplomatic post and walking out into the street?
- What would have happened if they had been discovered?
- How would you have spent your time in hiding?
- Do you think this incident left any long term effects on the houseguests?
- If you were a houseguest, which exfiltration scenario would you have considered? (English teachers, nutritionists, or Hollywood) What made the Hollywood cover story stand out from the other options?
- Discuss the ARGO exfiltration plan. What did you like or not like about it? Who was the primary audience for the Argo cover?
- Discuss the lengths the CIA went to in order to create a face production company, man phones in Hollywood, and create fake Canadian identities for the houseguests.
- What were their chances for success? How did the houseguests feel about the rescue plan? At the end of the film, former President Jimmy Carter says their chances for success was 50%. The houseguests did not know that at the time. Do you think it would have made a difference at the time if they had known?
- Discuss the personal risks to the Canadians involved and the political risks to Canada as a country.
Controversial issues about the film: (Note: The genres are historical fiction/historical drama thriller.)
- How faithful was the film to the book? What did the movie get right? What is inaccurate? Do the inaccuracies bother you?
- This film won the 2013 Oscar for Best Picture, but it’s been “widely criticized for not being historically accurate,...” Creating a story of film sometimes means leaving out some information while including other details. Discuss the necessity to include or cut some facts.
- Do you think filmmakers and writers have a responsibility to represent historical events with accuracy? How much creative license should a writer/artist have?
- In Canada, this incident was known as the Canadian Caper. What was Canada’s role? John Sheardon & his wife are not represented in the movie. Discuss this omission.
- Should the movie have given Canada more credit? If so, would an American audience have been interested?
- What do you think about the scenes that were fictional, but used to create suspense in the movie? Was Affleck justified in using them to create tension?
- Was there anything that you saw or heard in the film that was unconvincing or seemed out of place?
- For those who both read the book and saw the film, which did you prefer?
- Do you think the author was the right person to tell the story?
- Who do you think acted more heroically? The Canadian ambassador, Ken Taylor, or the author, Antonio Mendez?
- Did this book or film improve your understanding of the hostage crisis?
- How does this book help you understand what is going on in Iran today? Do the issues raised in this book affect the world now? In the future? How so?
- What was your impression of the CIA before reading the book? Has it changed?
- Why did the CIA keep this rescue operation concealed for so long (for 17 years...until 1997)?
- Did you learn something new? If so, what was it? If not, how did the author fail?
- Did this book broaden your perspective of the world? In what way?
- Please rate the book from 1 - 5 (with 5 being the highest) and share why you either liked or disliked the book/film.