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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.
8 of 8 people found this review helpful
Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?
Yes. Its an interesting story, well told. The man risked his life by keeping the diary after all.
What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?
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.
What does John Lee bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?
He goes into charachter periodically, for example with Churchill.
Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?
No, I knew the history. But getting it though Maiskys eyes made all the difference.
Any additional comments?
It was a good use of a credit.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
If you're interested in understanding more about Britain's role in appeasing Nazi Germany in the 1930s and Britain's relations with the USSR during WW2 then this is a great resource. Maisky's diaries are very well written. spare but penetrating. Seems he was regarded as a bit of a genius in his own lifetime. And John Lee's reading, as you might expect, adds much to this surprisingly interesting & entertaining audiobook. Only one warning. You need to be familiar with the basic history of the period which most British audiences will be thanks to TV series like the World at War. This is political history at first hand written by a man who lived through it all and knew all the key statesman of the time, many of whom he was on close personal terms with. Chamberlain, Churchill, Eden, Beaverbrook, Stalin, Litvinoff, Beatrice & Syney Web, George Bernard Shaw and many more. The final chapter deals with Maisky's return to Russia and his barbarous imprisonment and persecution by the beastly Stalinist regime he had served so well.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful