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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The title says it all...
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...
Published on 14 Nov 2012 by Rod

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A reasonable read
This is more of a 'romp' through his career without any great insight into the workings of the Foreign Office, etc. Although it was reasonably amusing and passed the time on a recent train journey, I won't be rushing to buy the next instalment, 'Cables from Kabul'.
Published 20 months ago by traveller


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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 (Scottish Borders) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ever the Diplomat: Confessions of a Foreign Office Mandarin (Hardcover)
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
5.0 out of 5 stars From aversion to diplomats to fascination with his experiences, 10 July 2013
By 
M. Hillmann "miles" (leicester, england) - See all my reviews
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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. I never understood why Chris Patten had such a burst of enthusiasm for democracy in Hong Kong in the months before handover to the Chinese, considering Britain's colonial rule for the previous 100 years. Neither could Cowper-Cole and the Foreign Office.

His firm views on the need for a two state solution to Palestine and Israel where he was Ambassador are sound. And his assertion that most western politicians do not understand Saudi Arabia, where he was also ambassador, rings true. British ministers preferred to visit other, easier to digest countries in the region rather than Saudi Arabia.. Only a few understood that just as Saudi Arabia was a swing producer of oil, so too was it a swing producer of moderate thinking on Middle East peace and , given its experience of Al Qaeda, on tackling militant extremist Islam. Al Saud are the leaders in understanding that successful counter terrorist policy needs to address the political, economic and social sources of terrorism. Tough action against its symptoms - violence - is the least difficult part.

But it is his short chapter about Afghanistan where he is most devastating on how misguided the whole western strategy in Afghanistan really was.

From a grating start it turned into a fascinating book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book, 27 Dec 2012
By 
Rodge Slape (Yorkshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ever the Diplomat: Confessions of a Foreign Office Mandarin (Hardcover)
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
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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
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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
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This review is from: Ever the Diplomat: Confessions of a Foreign Office Mandarin (Hardcover)
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 (Kirkintilloch, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ever the Diplomat: Confessions of a Foreign Office Mandarin (Hardcover)
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. When the author did let us see his real feelings, over Afghanistan for instance, the book became much more interesting to me, but sadly these parts were few and far between. Overall then, this is an enjoyable read but as an entry in the field of political memoirs I found it rather lightweight.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Ever the Diplomat, 20 Jun 2014
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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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5.0 out of 5 stars Ever the Diplomat, 1 April 2014
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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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5.0 out of 5 stars An important book, 7 Feb 2014
By 
J. Baldwin "JB" (Birmngham, England) - See all my reviews
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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 intermittent spells in the Foreign Office in London. He disregarded advice he was given early in his career to `spend as little time as possible in distant or dangerous postings'. Cowper-Coles worked, as he puts it, `at the interface between domestic politics and international relations' and he provides a fascinating picture of the mysterious world of the Diplomatic Service. In this role, he witnessed at first hand some truly momentous events which have shaped the course of world history.

Although this is a very serious book, it is written with commendable good humour and lack of cynicism. Cowper-Coles seems to me to write with a smile on his face. He comes across not just as extremely able - diplomats are, after all, tested on their ability to learn Kurdish in an afternoon - but immensely likeable, good-natured and as a man of real integrity. When he offers his own views on political strategy (e.g. in relation to Afghanistan or the Middle East), they seem often much more sensible than those of the politicians he was advising. The politicians must nonetheless have hugely benefited from having someone so balanced, enthusiastic and dependable on their side.

Cowper-Coles was appointed as Britain's ambassador to Israel in 2001 (and subsequently in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan) yet . he rarely claims much credit for himself in this book. His profound love of his work, the Foreign Office and his colleagues is striking, and he writes with unfailing generosity about politicians, the royals, the military, the intelligence services, Heads of State, local dignitaries and a host of the other (often tiresome) people with whom he came into contact. The revealing and rather poignant chapter about the two years Cowper-Coles spent as private secretary to Robin Cook (`a profoundly disorganised' Foreign Secretary) is a joy to read. That chapter, like the book as a whole, is full of hilarious stories, including a particularly good one about Tony Blair.
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Ever the Diplomat: Confessions of a Foreign Office Mandarin
Ever the Diplomat: Confessions of a Foreign Office Mandarin by Sherard Cowper-Coles (Hardcover - 25 Oct 2012)
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