The author, a professor at Boston University, assesses the outlook and effectiveness of U.S. diplomats in Russia, from the beginnings of relations in the late eighteenth century to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Mayers considers the envoys up until World War I, with a few exceptions, to have been mediocre -- "strangers in a strange land" sent for reasons other than their expertise, which was normally minimal. He views the Moscow embassy much more favorably from the opening of U.S.-Soviet relations in 1933. The sympathetic treatment of Averell Harriman's ambassadorship in the mid-1940s is emblematic of the qualities Mayers prizes. Harriman moved from warning against Roosevelt's inflated expectations of Soviet cooperation to cautioning against hyperbolic conceptions of the Soviet threat, all the while retaining his usefulness and tact in dealing with Stalin. Mayers' skill in evoking the travails of the Moscow station and in assessing the advice and impact of U.S. ambassadors, together with his keen sense of the functions of diplomacy, makes for enthralling reading. This is scholarly history at its best: sharp in its judgments but at the same time scrupulously fair and exhaustive.