Three books

Posted on May 11, 2011


Dan Drezner, the commentator realists go to now Stephen Walt is crazy, posed a tough challenge to foreign policy bloggers a couple of weeks ago. We had to choose three books which would help our politicians better understand international relations, but which wouldn’t require a graduate course to understand. Here are my picks:

  1. Alfred Duff Cooper, Talleyrand (1932): I started this a week ago Sunday and have been unable to put it down since. Duff Cooper argues that although Talleyrand was a rogue, he always had clear liberal principles about France and Europe which allowed him to support a regime when they kept to those principles and betray them if they became too extreme. This explains his transition from the ancien regime to the Revolution, from Napoleon to Louis XVIII, from the Bourbons to the House of Orleans. Politicians will find it useful because of Duff Cooper’s sharp observations on both domestic politics and international relations. ‘It should be remembered that in the days of an autocracy every statesman must be a courtier too, just as under a democracy every statesman must be something of a demagogue.’[1]
  2. John Charmley, Churchill: The End of Glory (1999): Charmley is a revisionist historian in the best sense of the word and in this biography he brutally demolishes the Churchill Myth. Any politician or pundit who invokes the genius of the Great Man should be given a copy and locked in a room for a week.
  3. Christopher Meyer, Getting Our Way (2009): Like Talleyrand, this book is another slim volume I picked up randomly in Waterstones and was then unable to put down. In nine case studies, divided into three sections, Meyer explains how vital British diplomats have been in achieving the security, prosperity and values of our country in the last five centuries. As the government begins to reform the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, ministers and MPs would do well to read it.

For other good picks, I suggest readers look at Drezner’s own choices and those of Exum.

[1] Duff Cooper was as much of a rogue as Talleyrand was, but also as principled. I really recommend his diaries, which cover both his public and private lives from 1915 until a few years before his death in 1954. He was a minor civil servant in the Foreign Office; a decorated war hero; married one of the most beautiful women in the world but cheated on her constantly; resigned as a senior minister from the Chamberlain government after Munich; was the British liaison with the Free French during the Second World War and British Ambassador to France afterwards. His diaries cover all this in detail, and contain a lot of amusing facts (like, for example, that Rasputin had a wart on his penis and was also unable to ejaculate, which meant any girl unfortunate enough to have sex with him would be there for a long, long time…)