Getting Our Way, By Christopher Meyer

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The Independent Culture

In Getting Our Way, Christopher Meyer, the former British ambassador to Washington, argues for a rejuvenated Foreign Office, based on a clear-eyed vision of the national interest. With some candour, he decries the "daft utopianism of global values" that has diminished the role of British diplomacy.

To make his case, he draws on the stories of British diplomats and their successes of the past 500 years, from Henry Killigrew, sent to Scotland in 1572 to foster anti-French propaganda and ward off a Catholic invasion, to Chris Patten's handling of the handover of Hong Kong in 1997.

As Meyer tells these stories, he interprets the actions of his predecessors in the light of his own experiences. His interjections are occasionally bland and surprisingly gossipy ("ambassadors tend to be a tad frisky"), obstructing the flow of his historical narratives. But for the most part his commentary adds insight.

He concludes with a roster of attributes needed by diplomats, a list one suspects will always hold true: "A quick mind, hard head, strong stomach, warm smile, cold eye."