In the mid-thirties Fitzroy Maclean was a junior diplomat at the British embassy in Paris. Bored with the pleasant but undemanding routine, he requested a posting to Moscow, and "Eastern Approaches" opens with Maclean on a train, pulling out of Paris. Most of this first section of the book covers his repeated attempts to explore Soviet central Asia. He reached Bokhara, Samarkand, Tashkent and many other places, and though there are sadly few pictures it is a riveting story -- fighting Soviet bureaucracy; being trailed by the NKVD; negotiating with locals for food and a place to sleep. At one point he manages with difficulty to persuade the Soviets to let him cross into Afghanistan: communicating primarily in sign language he manages to obtain an escort to Mazar-i-Sharif, through a lawless area with a cholera outbreak.Maclean was in Moscow until late 1939, and so was present during the great Stalinist purges. One long chapter is devoted to one of the largest of these, in which Bukharin, Yagoda and other stalwarts of the Stalinist regime were accused (and of course convicted) of heinous crimes. The details of the trial, and the responses of the accused, are utterly fascinating; Maclean's analysis equally so.When war broke out, Maclean was prevented from enlisting at first because of his position as a diplomat. He eventually managed to sign up by a subterfuge, and in North Africa Maclean distinguished himself in the early actions of the newly formed SAS. He rose from private to officer rank, and Churchill personally chose him to lead a liaison mission to central Yugoslavia, where Tito and his partisans were emerging as a major irritant to the German control of the Balkans. The last third of the book recounts how over eighteen months Maclean built Allied/Partisan cooperation from nothing to a key element in the last phases of the war. By the end, Maclean was a Major-General, and a friend of Tito's.Maclean is a fine writer, with the British gift for understatement and wry humour. His exploits are said to have formed the basis for the character of James Bond, though Maclean would never confirm or deny this. The sequence when he personally kidnaps a Persian general who is collaborating with the Germans is certainly straight out of a Bond film. The book is spectacularly entertaining: if you have any taste for history, adventure, travel writing or war-time memoirs, this is as good as it gets.
A Marvelous Book; Wouldn't Be Believable as Fiction
Published by Thriftbooks.com User , 17 years ago
This book is one of my three or four favorite books of all time. I am rereading it to keep up with current events; Macleans's adventures in Kazakhstan and Afghanistan in the 1930s give a view of this part of the world that is still relevant; he captures all the sights, sounds, and smells. The book is really three books: Part 1 contains Maclean's travels through the Soviet Union as a diplomat, spy, and adventurer in the late 1930s, including his description of the show trial of Bukharin, and his comical adventures going to see Samarkand, Tashkent, and Bokhara -- more out of romantic curiosity than for conducting any official business. A wonderful book about Russia under Stalin. Part 2 -- Maclean joins the war, even though the foreign office has forbidden him to leave his post; he does so by running for Parliament (hence loving his civil servant status), and after winning election, he promptly "runs away" to join his regiment. He ends up in the Long Range Desert Group, doing all kinds of commando work agains the Germans in North Africa. Part 3 -- Maclean becomes the liason to Tito, whom the British are not sure even exists, by parachuting into Yugoslavia. Maclean and his team supply Tito's partisans and coordinate raids that tie down German divisions. Maclean cannot keep Tito from being other than what he is -- a communist, and so the book ends a little poignantly. This is one of the finest -- perhaps the finest -- first hand account of history, ranking right up there with Chruchill's 5 volumes on the second world war. This book is told on a much lower level, but the canvas Maclean covers is nearly as broad. How this was never made into a movie with Sean Connery is beyond me. Some people maintain that Maclean was the prototype of James Bond, but there is a much more human, almost Don Quixote quality to him that makes him and his book unforgettable.
The 20th Century Renaissance Man (he writes too)
Published by Thriftbooks.com User , 19 years ago
Winston Churchill greatly admired TE Lawrence, who as "Lawrence of Arabia" led the Arab revolt in WW1. In WW2, Churchill equally admired Fitzroy MacLean, another well-born Brit who tied his fortunes to a foreign guerrilla warfare operation. But where Lawrence was doomed and dark and full of his own agonies, MacLean carries his charm and wit (and what Australians would call "a larrikin streak") throughout his extraordinary adventures. If MacLean had not existed he would have had to be invented. We meet him as a 20-something diplomat, subverting Stalin's spies in a series of solo explorations into the forbidden zones of Central Asia. He also observes, and astutely analyses, the infamous Soviet show-trial in which Bukharin and other heroes of the 1917 revolution met their fate. When war breaks out, he contrives to escape the diplomatic service, signing on as a lowly private. He ends the war as a general, his breast weighed down with medals from Britain, Yugoslavia, and even the Soviet Union. He is 34. This is the story of those days - racy, funny, bizarre, and full of daring. His adventures with the legendary SAS commando, engaged in lightning strikes deep in Rommel's rear in the North Africa desert are gripping stuff. Selected by Churchill himself to parachute into the Balkans, MacLean takes a frontline role with Tito in arranging the ultimate defeat of German forces there. Essential background reading for anyone remotely interested in the Balkan tragedies of the last decade or so. Soldier, diplomat, linguist, wit, Fitzroy MacLean was reputedly the inspiration for the original James Bond. Undoubtedly a beneficiary of the British class system, he was also an ornament to it. 50 years after its first publication, this remains a unique window to some of the most extraordinary upheavals of the 20th century.
Published by Thriftbooks.com User , 20 years ago
For those of you who are not in the know Fitzroy Maclean and his adventures served as the basis for conceiving the original James Bond Novels. Ian Fleming and Maclean worked closely with each other during the war. This is the ultimate book for those who would yearn for the active life --- who wonder what it is like to be trailed by soviet spies; who think of the thrill of sleeping in pine scented forests of the Balkans while being hunted by Nazis; who would don a turban and travel with the real hard men of the Long Range Desert Group (none of those softy American seals, marines and the like) into the Western Desert during WWII --- but are too engrossed in reading to leave their armchairs. Reading this book makes one realise what it really is like to live an active life. Throw away your Anthony Robbins, if you want inspiration read this book.
Best book I ever read!
Published by Thriftbooks.com User , 21 years ago
Fitzroy MacLean writes a true and entertaining story of his life as a British diplomat escapading around Russia, starting the British version of the Special Forces in the deserts of North Africa during WWII, and, of great interest to current politics, his time with Tito in the former Yugoslavia. He is funny and entertaining presenting a lesson of history. Very honest and easy to read. A must read for anyone into WWII history or anyone in the military today.
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