Eastern Approaches by Fitzroy Maclean
An unusually interesting read that was recommended to be by a nameless internet hero.
Fitzroy Maclean was a Scottish diplomat assigned to Moscow in the 1930s. He observed the Stalinist purges first hand, and somewhat bored by his duties decided to wander the country by train and on foot. Travel for foreigners was almost completely forbidden, but his insatiable curiosity led him to visit remote parts of the country that were rarely seen by outsiders. Throughout, he was tailed by random NKVD operatives who kept watch over his activities.
The book has a fascinating overview of the Soviet Union during this time, contrasting Muscovites locked in to a regimented terror with the relative freedom of the rest of the country who were seemingly unaware of what was happening in the capital. Eventually he tries to cross the border into China, is summarily ejected and returns first to Moscow and then Britain.
As war breaks out, he is refused permission from the Foreign Office (who have spent the last 5 years or so training him to the point of usefulness) to join the army but discovers a loophole that will let him escape – he runs for public office. After being elected as a Conservative MP, he immediately turned his duties over to a friend and enlisted in the army. This leads to service in the newly-formed SAS where he runs around Libya blowing up various Axis installations.
Eventually he finds himself running the partisan resistance in Yugoslavia, where he assists Tito in ridding themselves of the Germans. He reports directly to Winston Churchill during this time, and his successes see him awarded the CBE. After the war he went back to his role as a Conservative MP, and was eventually knighted.
One of the most interesting lives in modern times – and someone I’d never heard of. Really excellent read.