Phoenix £12.99 (415pp) £11.69 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Choose Your Weapons, By Douglas Hurd

Focusing on a dozen Foreign Secretaries from the last 200 years, this book starts with a bang. In an 1809 duel, an ex-Foreign Secretary shot a holder of the post in the thigh.

Though this dangerous posturing casts doubt on the strategic abilities of Lord Castlereagh and George Canning, Hurd insists the two men would have made "a truly great Foreign Secretary" if their talents had been compounded.

Canning's approach was "unilateral, noisy, vaguely idealistic", while Castlereagh emphasised "the building of alliances". Exploring British oscillation between these poles, Hurd is astute about Tony Blair, who laid down conditions for humanitarian intervention in 1999, but ignored these conditions "when it came to the point in 2003".

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