David Mytton

Book Review (4/5) – Living the Cold War: Memoirs of a British Diplomat (Christopher Mallaby)

Published (updated: ) in Book Reviews. Tags: .

Originally published on Goodreads.

This book doesn’t really get interesting until about halfway through, when it switches from more of a high level autobiography to a detailed discussion of some key events, how they were tackled and what that means. 

Perhaps this is because the author only really started to have influence once he got into the senior Foreign Office positions, especially once he was Ambassador. Having an understanding of the author’s background is probably useful to give context to the later chapters but it’s a shame he didn’t apply the lessons he learned from later life to provide more detailed, retrospective commentary on the events of his earlier careers. 

That said, I did enjoy learning about the very relevant events of the Soviet relationship to the West, and Germany in particular. If you have any doubt about the importance of NATO and the role of a nuclear deterrent, this book offers much to think about. Indeed, how Russia deals with its foreign policy hasn’t really changed and understanding the current position in relation to historical policy such as d├ętente, the military deployment in Germany and the role of the Foreign Office is helpful. 

We tend to only see the political front to events, because it is the rhetoric and posturing that gets in the news. However, there is a huge effort behind the scenes to ensure all situations are considered and the right advice is provided to the right people. At least, most of the time…you’d hope. There is an obvious bias but this book helps to highlight the importance of the professional Civil Service and the Foreign Office and how crucial it is to have experts who are free to disagree.