The discussion considers the history and evolution of hostage taking and its contemporary manifestations. It also explains the hostage negotiation process, the psychological dimensions of a hostage situation, the dilemmas faced by democratic governments in responding to hostage incidents, and the advantages and disadvantages of ransom payments. The analysis concludes that neither force nor compromise is the best option in all cases, but that democratic nations should use an approach of flexible firmness. This approach must address six separate areas: negotiation, the use of force, proactivity, media coverage, continuity of government, and individual responsibility. Appended statistics, United Nations Conventions, discussion of urban guerrillas, index, and 45 references.