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

Sherard Cowper-Coles
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
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Book Description

28 Mar 2013

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

In 1977 fresh-faced Oxford graduate Sherard Cowper-Coles entered the hallowed portals of the Foreign Office. Over the next thirty years he was invariably to be found at the frontline of international diplomacy, either striding the corridors of power at Westminster or jetting from one exotic location to the next. His tasks ranged from the challenging to the bizarre – from speech writing for Margaret Thatcher (who scrawled an emphatic ‘NO!’ over his first effort), to hiding an embarrassing bobble hat from Robin Cook .

With recollections from the last three decades in international politics, taking us right up to Cowper-Coles’s posting to Afghanistan, ‘Ever the Diplomat’ is a revealing and witty account of a unique period in our history. Cowper-Coles reveals what went on behind-the-scenes of Whitehall as we encounter a swindler impersonating Liberian President Charles Taylor, the young, idealistic leader of Syria Bashar al-Assad and Tony Blair in his boxer shorts.


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Ever the Diplomat: Confessions of a Foreign Office Mandarin + Cables from Kabul: The Inside Story of the West's Afghanistan Campaign
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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: HarperPress (28 Mar 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007436017
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007436019
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.8 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 75,077 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

Product Description

Review

‘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

Praise for Cables from Kabul

‘Brilliant . . . the best account I have read of how post-colonial colonialism actually works’ William Dalrymple, Observer

‘A highly readable and witty account by one of our most dynamic and impressive diplomats’ Daily Telegraph

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

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 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
Format:Paperback
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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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
By FictionFan TOP 100 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
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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4.0 out of 5 stars Ever the Diplomat 20 Jun 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Very well-written and amusing. Should be read by anyone who has an interest in, or who may have to work in, Afghanistan.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
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.
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