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Eastern Approaches

4.39  ·  Rating details ·  746 Ratings  ·  84 Reviews
The classic true adventure story of a man who, by the pen, sword, and diplomatic pouch, influenced some of the most significant events of our era. Fitzroy Maclean recounts his extraordinary adventures in Soviet Central Asia; in the Western Desert, where he specialized in hair-raising commando raids behind enemy lines; and with Tito's partisans during the last months of the ...more
Paperback, 576 pages
Published September 1st 2004 by Penguin Global (first published January 1st 1949)
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Only on finishing “Eastern Approaches”, did I think to search the web for the author’s obituary. Sure enough, there it was, at My jaw dropped open. Phew! What a life for one so young; and what a telling reminder to us all: never dismiss the lives of the young as being too young, the middle too middle, or the old too old. What honour to be of an ilk to leave society bereft, but in a considerably better condition than when first found.

To be blessed with a f
Christopher Bunn
Mar 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Good galloping gallons of grief. This book deserves a whole galaxy of stars. Five stars is too paltry for such an amazing work. This is one of those rare books that I must always own. I have a battered paperback copy that I must've bought at a used bookstore. I need to find a hardback copy.

If you're interested in World War II history, Soviet history, Tito, SAS history, or that rare English bird: the landed aristocratic gentleman, then you seriously need to read this book. Eastern Approaches is
I was turned on to Eastern Approaches while reading about the Soviet purges of 1937-1938. MacLean was a young British diplomat who requested transfer from Embassy Paris to the embassy in Moscow; while there, he attended each day of the Bukharin show trial which receives detailed description and analysis in the book. MacLean also used his leave time to strike out on unofficial, NKVD-dodging trips through the Caucuses and Central Asia, with Samarkand and Bokhara as chief destinations for his journ ...more
A terrific memoir and travelogue. The book covers approximately eight years in MacLean's life. His years with the Foreign Office in the U.S.S.R., his time with the Special Air Service in North Africa and Iran and finally heading up a military mission to assist Tito and his Partisans in Yugoslavia in the last two years of World War II. MacLean followed in the footsteps of many famous British gentlemen explorers, soldiers and diplomats (often all at the same time). He had an insatiable appetite fo ...more
Mar 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I bought this book in the 60's in the Time/Life edition, but did not read it until recently. Eastern Approaches is not only close to the perfect travel book; it is a lively memoir of the quixotic adventures of a diplomat turned war hero who writes with style and wit.

In the mid-thirties Fitzroy Maclean was a junior diplomat at the British embassy in Paris. Bored with the pleasant but undemanding routine, he requested a posting to Moscow. Eastern Approaches opens with Maclean on a train, pulling o
Excellent, amusing, in some places terrifying account of a British diplomat-turned-soldier whose curiosity nearly kills him, repeatedly. Ensconced as First Secretary in the British Embassy in Paris, he asks, out of boredom -- and a longing to see the East -- for a transfer to the Embassy in Moscow. Easily arranged: who wants that post?

Not long after singing praises of sledding to his woodland dacha, Maclean gets a courtroom seat for one of Stalin's largest show-trials: Bukharin, friend of Lenin
Mar 13, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: History Buff
A book that tells a very interesting story of a remarkable man. Fitzroy MacLean was a British Foreign Service worker in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, and his book offers a very detailed and well-written account of a bizarre and scary place. He refused to allow the tight control that outsiders were subject to stop him from exploring Southern Russia and Central Asia, places where life had barely changed since the Late Middle Ages.
After he left the U.S.S.R., he volunteered for the British Army
A TRULY FANTASTIC BOOK! Fitzroy Maclean writes very fluidly and engagingly of his experiences, first as a member of the British Foreign Service in the Soviet Union between 1937 and 1939, and of his leaving (not without difficulty) the Diplomatic Service for the Army, where he rose from the rank of Private to Brigadier, having fought with the SAS in North Africa and later as head of the British Military Mission in Yugoslavia, where he became friends with Marshal Tito and fought alongside the Part ...more
May 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Fitzroy MacLean's adventures make those of James Bond pale into insignificance.

I read this long ago when I was still at school, but remember it with great fondness.
Alfred Searls
May 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
You couldn’t make up Fitzroy MacLean’s life story. Oh you could try of course, but no one would believe you. A child of the old Scottish gentry; born in Cairo, raised in Italy; educated at Eton and Cambridge before completing his studies in Germany as the old Weimer Republic gives way to the Third Reich. See what I mean? But hang on, wait until you hear about the man’s career - Diplomat; soldier; soldier and Member of Parliament; SAS officer and MP; Brigadier, Diplomat and MP; and finally in 194 ...more
In the UK there is a long running radio show called "Desert Island Discs", which features notable people talking about their lives. It wasn't exactly the type of thing I listened to as a young man, and the first time I heard the show properly was as a passenger on a long car journey in 1981. The guest was Sir Fitzroy Maclean, who spoke about his extraordinary life and mentioned his book "Eastern Approaches". At the time I made a mental note to read the book, and if I had realised how good this w ...more
Oct 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Fitzroy Maclean's war was World War II, and to the extent that a single human can have an over-sized effect on the outcome, he did. He fought with irregular troops in Africa early on, with not much to show for it, but then found himself in Tito's Yugoslavia, and his work there with the partisans can really be said to have saved their bacon, or at the very least hastened Germany's retreat from the Balkans. And that did have an effect on the overall war, by draining German strength that would have ...more
Oct 23, 2012 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
I'd never heard of MacLean, but a few minutes skimming marked him as a man of Patrick Leigh Fermor's, or rather T.E. Lawrence's, tribe - an erudite English adventurer whose wanderlust, sang-froid, facility with languages and flair for disguise made him an ideal Special Forces operative when war broke out, and the Allies suddenly needed men to scout the Libyan desert and liaise with Yugoslav partisans:

With a jerk my parachute opened and I found myself dangling, as it were at the end of a string,
Edit: 29/12/16 - Best Military Biography read of 2016.

This really is an epic book. Split into three parts, it covers the early career of Fitzroy MacLean.
Spoilers below, so read it yourself first it you don't know about this book already!

The first part tells of his 1937-38 diplomatic posting in Moscow, where he volunteered to be sent after learning his trade in Paris the three years prior. As well as covering the great purge trials, where much of the communist leadership was executed, he tells o
Maya Chhabra
May 03, 2016 rated it liked it
A tripartite memoir of intrigue, travel, and military adventure, relating the author's experiences as a diplomat in the 1930's USSR, as a member of the early SAS (part of the UK Special Forces) in WWII North Africa, and finally as an important liaison to the Partisans in Yugoslavia, his two previous experiences providing the background for this capstone mission.

The early part of the book is largely concerned with his travels in Soviet Central Asia. This section was probably much more interesting
Travis Gensler
Aug 31, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This was a book of my Grandmother's that I found in a box recently. I was very surprised at how engaged I became within a few pages of first chapter, not to mention the excitement my Grandmother expressed at finding my interest in history after her own heart. Fitzroy MacLean is a wonderful story teller, who's personality shines through every page of this adventurous memoir. I find myself well informed concerning the Russian viewpoint during the Bulshevic revolution, and on through the second wor ...more
Nov 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Great travel/adventure story, starting out with his tenure with the British diplomatic service in pre-WW II Stalinist Russia. He surreptitiously travels to Soviet central Asia, then to the border with China. The second part is about his military exploits in WW II in the British Army in Libya & Egypt, with a brief excursion to Persia (now Iran). Then he concludes with the years spent fighting the Nazis in the Balkans with Tito. A jolly good adventure tale!
S. Miles Lotman
Oct 05, 2014 rated it really liked it

Rumored to be the original inspiration for playboy spy James Bond, Fitzroy Maclean, in eight very active years from 1937-1945, is transferred to Britain's foreign office in Moscow, masters the Russian language, becomes the first (non-Russian) European to visit various villages and towns in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kirghizia, among others (all the while being trailed by the Secret Police), witnesses the infamous purge trials of 1938, enlists in the armed forces following the outbreak of World
Jovo Autonomašević
Jul 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Ova knjiga je ratni put jednog Engleza (u stvari, Škotlanđanina), koji je drugi svjetski rat služio prvo u pustinji Afrike, a od 1943. g. na Balkanu. Njegov je zadatak bio da sazna ko su to Partizani, a i ko je to Tito, i da li britanska vlada treba i dalje podržavati Mihailovića. Zahvaljujući prijateljstvu koje je autor sklopio sa Titom, britanska vlada je odustala od Četnika i sve svoje napore na Balkanu usmjerila prema Titu. Dobro, to svako zna. No ono što je interesantno u ovoj knjizi je kak ...more
John Farebrother
Jul 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
One of my favourite books of all time. The author tells the inside story of the wars in North Africa and the Balkans, among other things. In addition to his own heroic exploits, which he recounts rather modestly, he describes with humanity, compassion and humour the various personalities he encountered on his path, including Tito. Personally, it was this third part of the book, dealing with the Balkans, that was of greatest interest. It's a revelation for anyone who was there during the 1990s wa ...more
Conrad Kinch
Apr 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
Eastern Approaches is autobiography of the best sort. A tale of high adventure that begins in Paris in the Thirties and ends in Yugoslavia at the end of the Second World War it is broken into three sections.

The first begins in Paris, where Foreign Office man about town, Fitzroy MacLean tires of the diplomatic round and request a posting the Soviet Union. He arrives in Moscow to see the Stalin's society before and during the great purges. Not satisfied with a ringside seat at a witch hunt, he sp
Jim Coughenour
As Eric pointed out, Fitzroy MacLean falls somewhere between Patrick Leigh Fermor and T.E. Lawrence. The blurb on the Penguin "World War II Collection" edition calls him "the original British action hero." True enough, but MacLean eschews pumped-up Rambo prose. The narrative is calm, sometimes speculative, humorous and intelligent – as well as packed with incident.

We join MacLean at 25, a member of the British Embassy in Moscow, just in time for a front seat at the harrowing show trials of Bukha
Feb 12, 2012 rated it liked it
MacLean's accounts of the pre-WWII Soviet Union, and his travels in Central Asia make for a very interesting read. The second half of the book, particularly about his stay with Yugoslavian partisans fell a bit flat though, even though the subject itself inherently interested me. I'm somewhat disappointed with the book. Based on all the praise it got in the reviews, I expected more.
Oct 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: loftbooks
Quite an experience, this one. Wide-ranging, moving, full of little character sketches and unlikely tales - none more unlikely than the events and coincidences of these seven years of life - all written in an easy, assured style that rarely falters.
May 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I read this book in 2011 and it is still fresh in my memory. It was one of the most compelling and memorable reads I had during the previous decade. Written with great wit, obviously with information carefully filtered and not fully disclosed, it truly absorbs the reader into the atmosphere of the events. When I was reading a part about German offensive at Peljesac peninsula, I was by pure chance at Peljesac itself and the experience of this unexpected "time travel" was truly unique. Many of the ...more
Jul 31, 2017 rated it liked it
The book is a two different books, pre-ww2 and ww2. The author is a fine storyteller and the section on World War II and his exploits is well worth reading. The pre-World War II section is basically a travelouge of sorts, which I found very uninteresting because he has Little interaction with people in the country he visits. I did not have much interest in hearing about the great parties that this upper class Brit attended.
Chris Perley
Aug 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I've read Eastern Approaches twice. Why? The thing that impressed me was the laid back nature of it all. Not at all daring do. Just matter of fact, 'had to be done', no bombast. Very Patrick Leigh Fermor and John Verney.
May 20, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very good, but got really bogged down in detail in places
Mar 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: travel, russia, war
Outstanding mix of travel and war memoir, as a wry british observer jaunts around the USSR and goes on commando raids during WW2. Written only a few years after the events occurred it has a sense of immediacy rather than a well worn and shaped tale, and there are plenty of crazy events depicted.
Scott Pierce
Pure adventure and daring, and comedic at that, MacLean had a Forrest Gump-like ability to be at the right place at the right time to get in the fray.

On his decision to leave the Foreign Office and join the military: "After a year at the Foreign Office and three more in Paris, I had decided that a change to a more active and less luxurious existence would do me no more harm......I was 25. But already, I was beginning to get a little set in my ways; perhaps, I reflected in my rare moments of intr
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Major General Fitzroy Hew Royle Maclean, Bt, KT, CBE.

Graduate of Eton and subsequently King's College, University of Cambridge. Joined the Diplomatic Service in 1932. Posted to Paris from 1933-1937 and then the British Embassy to Moscow from 1937-1941.

Veteran of WWII. In 1941, he chose to enlist as a private in the Cameron Highlanders, but was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant the same year. He was o
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“After a long chilly night's drive, straining our eyes in the darkness for unseen obstacles and pitfalls, we found that there was a lot to be said for a dram of whisky stirred into our porridge. It made a sustaining and stimulating mixture which I can warmly recommend as a breakfast dish to all engaged on similar enterprises.” 3 likes
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