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Ever the Diplomat: Confessions of a Foreign Office Mandarin

Ever the Diplomat: Confessions of a Foreign Office Mandarin [Kindle Edition]

Sherard Cowper-Coles
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)

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Product Description


‘It is a modern history from an insider’s perspective… with a self-effacing tone and dash of wit’ The Independent on Sunday

‘A fascinating picture of a career in which sipping martinis under chandeliers is a less frequent occurrence than strapping on a flak jacket’ Country Life

‘Cowper-Coles writes extremely well… Mostly fun and often acute’ Sunday Times

‘Written in the style of an adventure story… [There are] amusing, often self-deprecatory anecdotes… and plenty of serious moments’ Financial Times

Product Description

In this entertaining and engaging memoir, former ambassador Sherard Cowper-Coles lifts the lid on embassy life throughout the world.

For over thirty years Sherard Cowper-Coles was on the diplomatic front line in a career that took him from the corridors of power in Whitehall to a string of high-profile posts around the world.

Entering the Foreign Office in 1977, he took up postings in Beirut, Alexandria and Cairo, Washington, Paris, and Hong Kong, his globe-trotting punctuated with spells in London, where the young diplomat had a baptism of fire writing foreign affairs speeches for Margaret Thatcher.

In 1999, under Prime Minister Tony Blair, he was made Principal Private Secretary to the irascible Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, providing the book with some of its most hilarious sequences. His career culminated in a succession of ambassadorial posts as Our Man in Israel, Saudi Arabia and finally Afghanistan.

‘Ever the Diplomat’ is his revealing and witty account of half a lifetime in diplomacy.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 3997 KB
  • Print Length: 336 pages
  • Publisher: HarperPress (25 Oct 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B007YVOPS6
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #63,633 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

Sherard Cowper-Coles is one of the most respected authorities on foreign affairs in the country. He has held a string of high-profile diplomat posts, both in the UK and overseas, most recently as the British Ambassador to Kabul and the Foreign Secretary's Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The title says it all... 14 Nov 2012
By Rod
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
After a lifetime career in the Foreign Office, one can hardly expect anything else. And it would have been nice to know what was taken out before publication at the request of all that checked it first

However, there is among these pages much of the common sense and logic that for some reason always escapes our politicians (and a fair few of the civil servants that advise them)

As a lifetime student of politics (and still learning) the venerable Foreign Office has always seemed to me to be in a world of its own, invoking the wrath of virtually every Prime Minister I can remember. Of those who are appointed or re-shuffled into the Secretary of State's room many are accused of "going native" and this book does give an inkling of why that happens

The incisive lessons of British Foreign policy are laid out for all who are prepared to think about how not to repeat history. Palestine. Iraq. But most of all, Afghanistan

Certainly worth a read
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Since my years living abroad, I have had an aversion to supercilious diplomats.

Initially Sherard Cowper-Coles confirmed my prejudices. He came across as an intellectual snob, full of his own importance and constantly referring to the "brilliance" of the public school, Oxbridge civil servants he worked with.

I did not expect to persevere with the book. But I did and the more I read, the more I was impressed by him and the foreign office. For example the lengths that he went to learn Arabic and Hebrew before his postings. Not just language training, but his learning about and understanding the culture spoke very well of his (and the Foreign Office's) respect for the people with whom they were dealing. On his posting to Egypt Cowper-Coles lived with an Egyptian family and totally immersed himself in their lifestyle. The attention to detail in the Foreign Office's preparations sometimes seemed excessive, particularly when applied to the pecking order of state visits, but is nevertheless impressive especially in their curbing of their politicians' generalisations.

His attitude to the importance of diplomacy comes across very thoughtfully, although sometimes it seems excessive. His belief "that in the world of multilateral diplomacy, form often matters almost as much as substance, and where the table of round speakers can be more important than what is actually on the table" is the kind of statement I would have taken exception to before I read his book. But when you see the effects of not meeting minds then you think twice.

The fascination of the book is the insights into Cowper-Coles', and the civil service's attitudes to events you normally attribute to politicians, because that is the way they are reported.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book 27 Dec 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Excellent read...highly recommended. Good insight into the workings of the diplomatic service from a career diplomat’s perspective; humorous in parts; serious in parts; illuminating throughout.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful 19 Aug 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Cowper-Coles has the happy knack of being able to write a funny anecdote. The book is packed with them, but he also gives a real insight into what life is actually like for Foreign Office diplomats at all levels. We join him as a junior diplomat running errands in the Middle East, then follow him up the greasy pole as he works for the Foreign Secretary, and still higher as he becomes Ambassador to Israel and Saudi Arabia. We learn of the office intrigues, the shadowy MI6 figures who operate on the fringes of diplomatic life, the occasionally comical encounters with locals, and the whims and differing personalities of the key political figures diplomats work to. Cowper-Coles worked for Robin Cook. We learn of Cook's qualities but also of his frailties; his power but also the limitations of that power. This really is a tremendous book for anyone interested in diplomacy or geopolitics generally.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Insight 12 Aug 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Interesting insight into the workings of the FCO; particularly enjoyed the parts about the handover of Hong Kong to China. Worth a read
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One of the better diplomatic memoirs 4 July 2013
By CJRufus
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Good to read as a former colleague, with understanding between the lines too; but thoroughly good for the general reader with its telling insights.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More entertaining than informative... 5 Jan 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As a top-rank career diplomat and Arabist, Cowper-Coles has had postings in many of the British embassies in the middle-east, as well as in the US and Paris, ending his career in Afghanistan. I had hoped that the book would give some insights on the behind the scenes politics of the Foreign Office, particularly of the period before and since the Iraq and Afghan wars. However, the book is in fact much more of a tale of how the diplomatic service works and of Cowper-Coles' personal reminiscences. This makes it an entertaining read more than an informative one.

Fast-tracked on graduating from Oxford, Cowper-Coles is in many ways the stereotypical diplomat - a silver-spooned 'toff' with a privileged background and education. In his last chapter he points out that, at the time he joined the service, most entrants were from a similar background and the rules had only just been changed to allow women to stay on once they had married. He claims that recruitment policies have now changed and that entrants are drawn from a wider field. Whether that is the case, this book often seems to be a tale of the adventures of a toff abroad. We are regaled with tales of clothes and restaurants, exotic travel, elite hotels, private swimming pools, parties and receptions. I felt sure that there must be much more to it all than just being a social co-ordinator for visiting VIPs but I didn't get a real feel for the serious work that one hopes that diplomats are carrying out, though Cowper-Coles often hinted at it. Perhaps official secrets make it difficult for a memoir to be frank about these things?

So for me the book was mostly a light entertainment, well written with some funny anecdotes but often more of a travelogue than a political book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
If readers do not laugh heartily whilst reading this book, their humour is sadly lacking!
Published 7 days ago by Robin Bampton
4.0 out of 5 stars Ever the Diplomat
Very well-written and amusing. Should be read by anyone who has an interest in, or who may have to work in, Afghanistan.
Published 2 months ago by Max Markham
5.0 out of 5 stars Ever the Diplomat
Brilliant to read..informative,fascinating to see the world from the otherside. A must for anyone interested in Hong Kong or the politics of politics.
Published 4 months ago by Pam Williams
5.0 out of 5 stars An important book
This book is based on the author's experience, spanning some 32 years, working as a diplomat in Egypt, the USA, Hong Kong, France, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan and the... Read more
Published 6 months ago by J. Baldwin
3.0 out of 5 stars Great expectations but it didn't deliver
I bought this book as I had read an extract from it in the Sunday TImes. I so enjoyed the article, I laughed and laughed and couldn’t wait to read the book. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Zelda
Excellent easy reading and a good window into the sheltered life of a diplomat.
He does not pull his punches over his experiences with politicians with whom he has... Read more
Published 8 months ago by James Cross
4.0 out of 5 stars Strategic Mistakes in Foreign Policy
Forsaking ideas of British Leyland, merchant banking, or the Bar, the author became a diplomat embarking on a distinguished 30-year career in the Foreign Office in London and our... Read more
Published 9 months ago by David Yates
4.0 out of 5 stars Book
this gets only four stars because the book arrived with the dust jacket torn. I didn't consider returning it for another copy because I only need it for reference purposes. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Neville Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and a bit depressing
An interesting account of a career in diplomacy. Sadly, the author's own account of the incompetent mess our politicians seem to make of their response to Arabic fundamentalism... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Prof A. D. Jankowicz
3.0 out of 5 stars A book for the bog
An amusing but rather lightweight self promotion. Amusing and at times alarming insight into the world of the UK FCO. Not much analysis .. an occassional book for the bog
Published 11 months ago by Peter Appleby
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