3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
More entertaining than informative...,
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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.