The terror and purges of Stalin's Russia in the 1930s discouraged Soviet officials from leaving documentary records, let alone keeping personal diaries. A remarkable exception is the unique diary assiduously kept by Ivan Maisky, the Soviet ambassador to London between 1932 and 1943. This selection from Maisky's diary grippingly documents Britain's drift to war during the 1930s, appeasement in the Munich era, negotiations leading to the signature of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, Churchill's rise to power, the German invasion of Russia, and the intense debate over the opening of the second front. Maisky was distinguished by his great sociability and access to the key players in British public life. Among his range of regular contacts were politicians, press barons, ambassadors, intellectuals, writers, and indeed royalty. His diary further reveals the role personal rivalries within the Kremlin played in the formulation of Soviet policy at the time. Scrupulously edited and checked against a vast range of Russian and Western archival evidence, this extraordinary narrative diary offers a fascinating revision of the events surrounding the Second World War.
©2015 Gabriel Gorodetsky (P)2015 Tantor
"An extraordinary document left by an extraordinary man." (The Independent)
Ivan Maisky was the Soviet Union’s ambassador to Great Britain from 1932 until about the middle of 1943 and that position put him in the middle of some of the most dramatic and historic events of the 20th century. But Maisky was not a diplomat in the mold of Vyacheslav Molotov or Andrei Gromyko, but was an urbane, cultured, outgoing and friendly man who became a close fried to many of those already in power or coming into power in Great Britain and that makes his diaries not only helpful in understanding what happened during the 1930s in a historic sense but also helps understand how the Soviet Union understood those events and hence some of the actions that it took.
Maisky became familiar enough with people like Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden to become a regular dining companion and his insights into the character of the people he met, their actions and the politics surrounding the time are essential to a real understanding of how many foreigners viewed both the individuals and their actions and provide one of the best insights into why the Soviet Union did not trust Great Britain and why they felt it took so long for the West to establish a second front. I have read many books on The Second World War as it pertained to The European Theater but none provided the kind of insight into why Stalin delayed in responding to the German buildup along their borders prior to the German invasion of The Soviet Union, why Stalin felt the West allies held back on establishing a second front and why he felt they eventually invaded France and attacked Germany directly as Maisky’s diaries do. I am not suggesting that Maisky was right, only that the book explains much about the Soviet thinking concerning these actions.
Maisky was very insightful and his comments in the diary about what he expected to happen in the next 3-6 months were often quite prescient and even when he was wrong (for example his expectation that the allies would invade Greece and The Balkans after the Sicily and Italian campaigns) were well informed (these were Churchill’s plans, after all) and realistic.
The book is well constructed with each period being proceeded by an explanation of the historic events being covered, then with the diary entries covering those events and sometimes with a following section summarizing some important event(s). The coverage is sometimes a bit spotty as Maisky did not create diary entries every day, but only when he thought sometime was important enough to warrant them. This construction, with an explanation followed by the diary entries, works very well, but also provides one of the most annoying characteristics of the narration. While Mr Lee’s narration is first class, there is often little way to know when the diary stops and the explanation resumes and it is easy to believe that part of the explanation is actually part of the diary entries.
Mr Lee’s narration is otherwise excellent with varying accents for the various people. His Welch accent for Lloyd George, his American accent for Ambassador Kennedy and President Roosevelt are quite good and he is generally a pleasure to listen to and I have no problem giving this book 5 stars. This book would be a valuable source for anyone interested in the events leading up to and during the first years of World War II.
Excellent historical work.
Maisky of course. The way he details things is very well done.
I have. As good as the others I've heard.
One funny moment for me was the lunch between Maisky and the ambassador from Nepal.
Yes. Its an interesting story, well told. The man risked his life by keeping the diary after all.
Maisky was caught between two worlds. Moscow didnt understand London, and didnt want to. He was an effective ambassador, but his very effectiveness made him suspicious. And a suspicious man in Stalin's USSR was a dead man.
He goes into charachter periodically, for example with Churchill.
No, I knew the history. But getting it though Maiskys eyes made all the difference.
It was a good use of a credit.
A fine story, gives new insights into Stalin's Russia. The Diaries reveals the thinking behind some of the momentous decisions taken by the leaders of the Allied powers.
"Brilliant as close to Tine travel as we can get! "
This book is a stunning revelation from an ambassador in the centre of world events prior to WW2 and is a must for students of Russian history.
"Britain's Favourite Wartime Russian"
Maisky's diaries are unique in providing a glimpse into the hitherto opaque world of Soviet attitudes to the UK in the appeasement years, during the Nazi -Soviet pact, and after Barbarossa, when Soviet Russia became an ally. Maisky is often deeply disingenuous, dishonest, even to himself, and sometimes duplicitous , however he always comes across as both human and engaging. Rare qualities in a Stalin era Soviet official. He also was clearly fond of Britain and of the many establishment figures with whom he interacted, and it was this groundbreaking approach to diplomacy, creating a web of influential contacts , that was to get him into trouble later. A must read for anyone interested in Soviet UK relations.
"Inside story of appeasement and WW2"
This is an incredible diary of Ivan Maisky, Russian Ambassador in London, covering the appeasement era and most of WW2. Amazing detail and observation.
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