Book Review – “Phoenix Rising” by Keith Nightingale

Phoenix Rising Book Review

COL Keith Nightingale (Ret) is the author of Phoenix Rising: From the Ashes of Desert One to the Rebirth of U.S. Special Operations. The book, published in 2020 by Casemate Publishers, provides a detailed look at Operation EAGLE CLAW. This was a mission by U.S. Army Special Forces, supported by other military forces, to rescue American hostages held in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran.

The hostages were taken in November 1979 by Iranian demonstrators that gained control of the embassy grounds and were held prisoner for months. The rescue attempt by Delta Force was aborted once on the ground in Iran at a staging area – due to maintenance problems the force came up one helicopter short. Tragically, after the mission was aborted, and the rescue force prepared to depart Iran, an aircraft mishap took place killing eight servicemembers.

The failed attempt was an embarrassment for President Jimmy Carter and proved to be a major factor in his defeat in the upcoming presidential election to Ronald Reagan. The aborted hostage rescue prompted a reexamination of America’s special operations capabilities.

This book provides a first person account of the coordination, preparation, and conduct of the hostage rescue mission. Keith Nightingale, as an Army major, was the Deputy Operations Officer for Joint Task Force Eagle Claw. Based on his personal diary the book offers an inside look at the personalities, issues, bureaucratic infighting, coordination, and preparation for the mission as well as the events during and after the mission.

The book follows a logical path: covering the planning, training, execution, and aftermath of the hostage rescue mission. It concludes with a description of post-mission actions and events that would eventually lead to a reorganization of the special operations community.

The author employs a unique format: providing almost standalone vignettes relating to the mission, many only 1-3 pages long. Some of these are entitled: “Inside an RH-53”, “The Agency Men”, “The Truck Option”, “The Navigator”, “The Shrink”, “Cash and Carry”, and many more. This particular style made for an interesting and engaging read.

An important part of the book – at the end – involves the ‘politics’ of the formation of what would become the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations / Low Intensity Conflict (SO/LIC) and the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). The bureaucratic infighting and Pentagon stonewalling of the intent of Congress to increase America’s SOF capability is explained in great detail by Nightingale.

If you are a student of special operations or someone interested in military history then you will find this a worthwhile and interesting read. The book is available on Amazon in hardcover and Kindle format.

Phoenix Rising, by Keith Nightingale, Casemate Publishers, 2020

About John Friberg 201 Articles
John Friberg is the Editor and Publisher of SOF News. He is a retired Command Chief Warrant Officer (CW5 180A) with 40 years service in the U.S. Army Special Forces with active duty and reserve components.