Llewellyn Thompson served eight U.S. presidents as a diplomat, including two stints as U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union. This rigorously documented book by his two daughters recounts his four decades as a Foreign Service officer. He was first posted to the Soviet Union in 1941, as an official in the U.S. embassy in Moscow, and then served as the U.S. ambassador from 1957 to 1962, an event-ful period that saw, among other things, the launch of Sputnik, the Berlin crisis, the downing of an American U-2 spy plane, and U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s meeting with Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna. The years after Thompson’s return to Washington were equally dramatic. He was involved in the Cuban missile crisis, the escalating Vietnam War, and U.S.-Soviet arms control talks. The authors draw from fresh sources to treat these events in great detail, which results in a valuable addition to the history of the first half of the Cold War, as well as a compelling biography of their father.
McFaul’s narrative is just as engrossing. He recounts the major issues that arose between the United States and Russia during the five years he worked in the Obama administration, first as a key adviser, then as U.S. ambassador to Russia: the New start negotiations, the war in Afghanistan, the Iran nuclear negotiations, the Syrian civil war, the dispute over ballistic missile defenses, and Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization. He also explains the tactics—many of which he designed—by which the Obama administration tried to “reset” the U.S.-Russian relationship. These included attempts to engage directly with Russian businesses and civil society. This approach mattered to McFaul because ever since graduate school, he has been not merely a student of Russia’s democratic transition but also a committed pro-democracy activist. The villain who disrupted these efforts, as he sees it, was Russian President Vladimir Putin. McFaul emphasizes this point, which explains why, although he was an author of the reset in President Barack Obama’s first term, he was among the first to regard it as dead in Obama’s second term. He now believes that a productive relationship between Russia and the United States will not be possible as long as Putin remains in power.