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High Fidelity, Hornby Nick
High Fidelity
Hornby Nick

Paperback $22.99 - Penguin UK
Fiction - Published: 26/Mar/2014 - ISBN: 9780241969816

Which of us wouldn't savour the chance at the end of a job or an entire career to have printed and published to all our former colleagues, without fear of reprisal, our considered opinion of the whole shooting match? A chance, once and for all, to be brutally honest? To put the record straight? To settle a few scores along the way?

It happens sometimes at drunken leaving-dos or in rogue emails sent too late on a Friday night, but in the diplomatic service it has been a formal - almost ceremonious - tradition for centuries. Up till 2006, a British ambassador quitting his post abroad or retiring for good would write a valedictory despatch circulated widely across government, from other far-flung members of the service to the Prime Minister himself. This was the parting shot, the opportunity to offer a personal view of the country he was leaving, the alcoholic intake of its population, the appalling behaviour of the vice-president's wife, the state of the capital's drains - whatever he wanted to get off his chest. But there were subjects closer to home too, particularly when this was a final valedictory, written at the end of a long career. Now was the chance to analyse Britain's place in the world, to let rip at the Foreign Office, to look back nostalgically and sometimes with regret at a life spent in the service of a not always grateful nation.

From Moscow to Nicaragua, Cairo to Casablanca, Bangkok to Baghdad, Parting Shots celebrates the wisdom of these despatches, whose opinions - often beautifully if caustically expressed - helped shape British policy, and occasionally altered the course of history itself. For years they have been treated as a private matter, kept behind closed doors out of sight of prying eyes, but the Freedom of Information Act has allowed Matthew Parris and Andrew Bryson to put together this extraordinary collection. Often funny, frequently astute and almost always gloriously non-politically correct, they shed light on Britain's place in the world, and reveal the curious cocktail of privilege and privation which make up the life of an ambassador abroad.

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