Top positive review
Great narrative, but could use a little more context
on August 14, 2003
This book was a good read, and provided a great overview of Canada's post-war foreign policy. Cohen also nicely incorporates the thoughts and lives of Hume Wrong, Norman Robertson and Lester Pearson into the narrative. As I suspect most will sheepishly admit, I had never heard of the first two! At just over 200 pages, this book doesn't waste your time, and you get a lot out of it.
My only complaint with the book is that it could have had more context for some of the discussions. For instance, Cohen describes how Canada's foreign aid is too thinly distributed across to many countries and programs. While this is true, Canada is hardly unique in this regard. The entire development community and the World Bank can all be accused of this to a great extent (see, for instance, William Easterly's "The Elusive Quest for Growth" and recent article "The Cartel of Good Intentions" in Foreign Policy, plus Jessica Einhorn's "The World Bank's Mission Creep" in Foreign Affairs). As the definition of "development" expands, it's hard not to spend on health, education, governance, legal reform, etc., etc. Otherwise you could well be accused of the simple, narrow-minded economic policy interventions of the past, and with a fair amount of justification.
Similarly, Cohen also describes a staff retention crisis at the foreign affairs department. This was eye-opening, but I also had no sense of how specific these problems of retention of good staff were to the department or whether they reflected the problems all organizations have had in the past decade or so training and retaining good professional staff. The situation does sound serious though, and he documents it well.
All in all, a good, quick read. I recommend it highly.