I read a lot of diaries and this one is well up there with the most informative and entertaining. I found Cooper to be a man who grew up during the course of these diaries and from playboy status became a very thoughtful minister at the time of impending war with Germany.
Fascinating to hear of his obsessions with women,good food and drink. Not perhaps a nice man as he clearly cheated on his beautiful wife many times.
The insights into relationships with important figures of the day are a helpful aid to understanding these complicated personalities. If you like diaries please try Harold Nicholson's they are probably better and more carefully written and cover a similar period of time.
on 26 January 2007
I chose this book on a whim after seeing it in a bookshop. Although I barely knew anything about Duff Cooper I was instantly attracted by the anecdotes and events chronicled in this unique collection of diaries. Duff Cooper was witness to the most key events in Britain's history between 1914-1950, including his experience on the front line in WW1. Throughout Cooper describes the social scene that he belonged to and the famous faces he frequently met and became friends with.
Although Duff Cooper may not seem an easy man to like, his diaries are gripping. Like the biographies of the Mitford Girls these diaries give an insight into an almost forgotten world. The book is excellently edited with handy footnotes to explain the people Cooper encounters. Easy to dip in and out of this book is a must for anyone who wants an inside look into the private lives of politicians and a taste of life during and between the wars.
on 8 March 2014
Duff Cooper could have been a great diarist. Indeed, he could have been a great many things. In his time, he was a successful diplomat, politician, author and columnist, a courageous soldier and a good deal more. However, above all, he was a man who loved life: good food, good wine, beautiful women (usually somebody else's), and a fine party.
As a result, he wasn't quite as successful in any of his professional fields as he could have been, as he never quite devoted himself to them in the way that would have been necessary; the sacrifice to his social life would have been too great. On the other hand, had he made that sacrifice, the diaries wouldn't be what they are and what makes them so fascinating: a brutally candid insight into the lives of the upper and upper-middle classes in the first half of the century, in or near power.
What emerges is not a very edifying picture to modern eyes: an endless stream of dinners, luncheons and parties set against a backdrop of war, recession and unemployment. Nor does Cooper himself emerge in a glowing light: serially unfaithful to his wife (though apart from during their courtship, she doesn't seem to mind), which is just one aspect of what could have been a destructive lack of self-control. He was clearly good company, even if not a good man.
On the other hand, that self-same lack of self-control means this is no work written and polished to show off to future generations (indeed, it was probably written solely for his own amusement, like much else in his life). It is a candid record and all the better for it.
Apart from that very honest aspect, what also makes these first-class diaries are the events they cover. In and amongst the partying and affairs, Cooper was a Foreign Office official and then soldier in the First World War (but also, as a friend of Asquith's son, a first-hand witness to events far closer to the heart of government), an MP during the General Strike, a friend of Edward VIII at the time of the abdication, a cabinet minister during the Munich crisis, and Britain's ambassador to Free France in the run-up to D-Day, then in Paris for three years after. Few others can have witnessed so many great events from such proximity.
Cooper writes well and though frequently self-centred, the insights into others and of events are generally astute (but not always - and that those errors of judgement have been retained also adds to the honesty of the book).
Why four stars and not five? Cooper was not a consistent diarist. By far the two strongest periods in the book are 1915-24 and 1944-47, when Duff kept regular entries. The years between are recorded only episodically and while those episodes are interesting and cover great events, they're isolated and lack the flow of the two wartime sections. The gap of twenty years between them also means that very few people appear in both, so their introductions and exits from Cooper's life are missing.
Overall though, it's a fascinating, enjoyable and revealing insight into a social world long gone, shining more light on some of the key events of the first half of the twentieth century, and a revealing, honest (and perhaps unintentional) self-portrait of a flawed man who loved life and lived it to the full.
on 27 March 2015
Duff Cooper was a well connected man who grew up in the early years of the 20th century. Until well after the end of the First World War his chief ambition was to have a good time. He drank enough champagne to float a very big boat and pursued the opposite sex with great determination. He visited prostitutes.
He married Lady Diana Manners,ostensibly the daughter of the Duke of Rutland but really the daughter of someone else. She had a reputation for beauty, although the black and white photography of the time does not do her justice.
She was Duff's No 1, although this did not stop Duff 'making love' to other women. When he says 'making love', I think he means showering with compliments as a part of his effort to get women into bed. At the age of 25 he says he'd only slept with prostitutes and married women, who seem to have been easier game.He went on doing this.
He knew everybody of consequence, and was a talented politician, writer and indeed soldier.He was independent-minded, and resigned over Munich. I was interested to see that he was on good terms with Hore-Belisha.
The early years of WW2 are missed, but 1944-1947 is dealt with in great detail. He was a good ambassador to France at a very tricky time.
When Labour took over in 1945 they wisely retained him. All the governmental people ate like pigs and drank like fish, to the detriment of their health. Ordinary folk had rationing which kept them healthier. After retirement Duff still had about 450 bottles of champagne in his cellar.
He and his wife had servants and lived the high life. They and their friends were the celebrities of the day.
Duff could be humorous, immoral,kind, snobbish,liked animals(although he liked shooting birds) and seems to have been one of life's cavaliers.
Today his lifestyle would be acceptable in a pop star but not in a politician. Attitudes were different then.
This is a riveting book and a marvellous account of the life of the privileged classes in the first half of the 20th century.
on 3 February 2015
This is an extraordinary document written by a man who might have been Prime Minister instead of Churchill. He was a bon viveur, heavy drinker, inveterate womaniser, compulsive gambler and married to one of the most beautiful and talented women of his era. His diary extends from the First World War to the early 1950s and covers many of the key moments of that momentous period including the abdication of Edward VIII - whom he knew personally and to whom he gave advice. It seems he met almost everyone of importance during his life - Winston Churchill, Lloyd George, Max Beaverbrook, Vita Sackville-West, Cole Porter and a host of people from the world of politics and the arts. He was also a gifted author. I found his memoirs fascinating - and well edited by his son Julius John Norwich into a readable whole. In some ways Duff Cooper was a flawed individual, but that should not deter anyone from reading this unique description of upper class British life in the first half of the twentieth Century. Strongly recommended. (It's also a useful model of how to write a diary and make it interesting.)
on 15 August 2015
What a dull man he seems here - and how terrible for an Englishman to read about one of the country's movers and shakers being such a sh*tty person in almost every regard. If he wasn't chasing some bit of skirt, he was thinking about his next meal or how to make money or appear famous and important.
I am really quite angry that my country was, in part, ruled by effete twats like this man - he was a disgrace in every way I can think of.
No - time to stop, before I become ungracious!
on 19 November 2014
This is rather a disappointment. Duff Cooper was a witness to some of the important events of the century and I hoped he would provide some further insight to these events. No, he ends the diary for 5 years or so after his resignation over Munich. ( Cadogan says good riddance to bad rubbish at this). There are other gaps. For instance I would have liked his views on Baldwin and that crew. So we do not get anything on the outbreak of war or on the Norwegian debate or very much about Churchill. He is good and important on de Gaulle but this is the exception rather than the rule. So this does not supplant the diaries of Cadogan, Nicolson and Channon.
On the other hand Cooper is an inveterate womaniser, drinker and socialite and like his son writes well. So it gives a strangely coloured portrait of the age. Questions remain: what did women see in him, how did he manage to drink so much.Cadogan records him sleeping through a cabinet meeting. Perhaps that is the answer.
Well edited, good photos and captions but slightly disappointing.