Lessons in Diplomacy

Bristol University Press will publish my book, Lessons in Diplomacy: Politics, Power and Parties on 24 September 2024. You can pre-order the book here from Amazon or direct from BUP.

Here’s what the publisher says:

Is a diplomat’s life really as glamorous as a royal visit, or as dramatic as a coup d’état in Turkey? Leigh Turner is a former British ambassador who led posts in Ukraine, Turkey and Austria. In this witty globe-trotting adventure through one of the most intriguing careers a person can have, Leigh relates his interactions with royalty of both the aristocratic and celebrity kinds, and with brilliant and extraordinary people who bestowed valuable lessons. Offering astute reflections on Brexit, Russia’s War with Ukraine and the chaos of modern politics, he sheds new light on the intricacies of modern statecraft, including what we all can learn from a good diplomat or ambassador. In this entertaining and accessible first-hand account, you’ll discover how diplomats really work with spies, how immunity allows killers to escape justice, how Russia broke up the Soviet Union and then nursed its resentment at the consequences — and how to throw a great cocktail party.


Lessons in Diplomacy cover

For original German edition click here/Auf Deutsch hier.

Lessons in Diplomacy: top quote

Lessons in Diplomacy is the English version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Diplomacy, published in German in 2023 by Czernin Verlag (Vienna). One reader sent me this message after reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Diplomacy.

Dear Mr Turner,

I have just read your book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Diplomacy” and wanted to say thank you for writing such an interesting and entertaining book! Before I started reading I was already considering a path in diplomacy and after reading this my wish has been confirmed. I will hopefully be starting my studies at Oxford University in October where I will be reading history and politics. I wanted to ask if you had any further tips for aspiring diplomats. Thank you once again for the excellent book!

Lessons in Diplomacy: lessons for life

“Lessons in Diplomacy” tackles a series of questions that preoccupy both diplomats and everyone else. Chapters include How to survive a crisisHow to fail at geopolitical change: BrexitHow to understand Putin’s war on Ukraine, and How to handle politicians. I promise a good read.

Not your standard manual on diplomacy

This is not your standard manual on diplomacy. If you are looking for an explanation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations or the theory of diplomatic etiquette, please look elsewhere. But if you seek concrete examples of how diplomats really work with spies; how immunity allows killers to escape justice; how Russia broke up the Soviet Union then nursed its resentment at the consequences; or how to be a good diplomat, or ambassador – read on.

Lessons in Diplomacy: opening paragraphs

Here is an extract from the introduction.

Diplomacy in flux

These, however, are parsimonious days… The telegraph has made a difference in the position of Ambassadors. When men can and do receive instructions hourly about the smallest details, and, indeed, ask for them as if anxious to escape responsibility, it is easy to conceive that the Foreign Office will not again insist on the Treasury behaving with boundless liberality. 

“The Times”, reporting on the debate about rebuilding Pera House, British Embassy in Istanbul, after the fire of 1870.

Diplomacy has been in flux for centuries. Are diplomats and their tradecraft redundant in today’s world? Or are they more vital than ever for humanity’s survival?

When I started this book, the simmering Russia-Ukraine conflict, launched in 2014 by President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Russia’s peaceful neighbour, had already claimed 14,000 lives. Yet it seemed remote and obscure to many in Britain, the European Union, and the United States. Putin’s decision in February 2022 to launch a full-scale war of annihilation against a sovereign country larger than France with a pre-war population of over forty million transformed the world and upended diplomacy.

Lessons in Diplomacy: Leigh Turner and Boris Johnson

With Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in Vienna, 2016

This book explores the background to the conflict: what the world did wrong, what it did right and what Vladimir Putin does not understand. It puts twenty-first century diplomacy in context by digging into the Berlin Wall, the rusting of the iron curtain, terrorism, espionage, and how British politics prepared for Brexit – from 1987 onwards.

How, where and why does diplomacy happen, and what can it teach the rest of us? What can Jonathan the tortoise on Saint Helena tell us about institutional stability? Why is diplomatic immunity a necessary evil?  I explain why you can’t cure international terrorism, and what to do if you find broken glass in your fruit salad at a banquet at the Argentine Foreign Ministry. On the way, we meet extraordinary people, from The Queen, Vivienne Westwood and Jane Goodall through Paul McCartney and the wisdom of Deep Purple to US former C-17 pilot Brigadier General Lyn Sherlock – and Satan, whom I met one night in Moscow. More on him later.


Lessons in Diplomacy: Leigh Turner Russian driving licence

1993: my Russian driving licence. Soviet photographers tended to make subjects look… a bit Soviet

Lessons in Diplomacy: Leigh Turner and Lady Diana

1986: photobombing The Princess of Wales 

Lessons in Diplomacy: sign up!

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Lessons in Diplomacy: Leigh Turner at the rocket museum

2010: the Ukrainian Strategic Missile Forces Museum

Other things to read

You can find summaries of my other published books at the foot of the page.

Lessons in Diplomacy cover

From Chapter 9, “How to drink wine and know things”

Foreign writers, too, can reveal new worlds.

When learning a language I always seek out easy fiction to build fluency and vocabulary. On my first visit to Moscow in 1992 I was delighted to find in a bookshop a single copy of “The Lord of the Rings”. In the apparent absence of any Russian-language thrillers, a story I liked and knew well would be just the thing.

I took it to the counter. The grumpy saleswoman[1] said I could order the book. Delivery would take six weeks. Instead I bought a copy of “Day of the Triffids,” which for some reason was available at once.

The scarcity of consumer goods and rigid control of culture and information in the Soviet Union are the subject of much black humour. The authorities vetted all literature, banning and mounting campaigns against works such as “Doctor Zhivago” that did not present the communist one-party system in the “correct” light[2].

One by-product was that many Russians owned a complete library of “the classics” – Russian and foreign literature approved by the authorities. The list included many masterpieces, such as Dickens; but also works by authors who had fallen out of fashion in the west – such as Nobel Prize-winner John Galsworthy’s “The Forsyte Saga”, which happens to show that owning things does not lead to happiness. An intellectual[3] could reasonably claim to own, and to have read, all important literature.

Censorship and authoritarianism mean a finite quantity of literature.  Just as some children are said to benefit from clear rules about bed-time, some citizens might feel comforted at the idea of having explored every corner of the literary landscape, rather than wandering in an endless jungle of world literature stretching to the horizon in every direction. Others might be appalled at the thought of being allowed to read only pre-approved books.

How you feel about either option may be a good guide to how well you would cope with living in an authoritarian state.

[1] Tautology. In the early 1990s all Russian sales staff were beyond grumpy.

[2] “The Zhivago Affair”, by Peter Finn and Petra Couvée, details how the authorities banned the book and hounded Pasternak to his death.

[3] In Russia, unlike in the United Kingdom, no-one is shy of calling themselves an intellectual. In the 1990s a “Union of Intellectuals” even existed. ‘How do they join?’ foreigners mused. ‘Do they have to take an exam?’

More Books

Eternal Life by Leigh Turner

Eternal Life

“Eternal Life: a “what if?” satirical thriller about inequality, migration, drugs, politics, organ trafficking and the limits of capitalism. Reviews:

– “hardly ever have I found staring into the depth of human depravity more entertaining… I laughed out loud”

– “the time is the twenty-third century, but the events are rooted in our very age: the yearning for immortality… a great read for those who enjoyed Orwell’s 1984 or Fahrenheit 451, Lem’s Solaris or Huxley’s Brave New World”.

Book Details
Palladium by Leigh Turner


British ex-spy John Savage was thrown out of MI6 in Moscow for gross misconduct. Now, haunted and vengeful, he finds his lover has been kidnapped by terrorists who threaten to kill millions. A white-knuckle ride to save a great city from destruction.

Book Details
Blood Summit by Leigh Turner

Blood Summit

The leaders of the eight most powerful countries in the world, and one hundred schoolchildren, have been taken hostage by the terrorists from hell at a summit in the Reichstag in Berlin. Then the executions start, streamed live on TV.

You’re in charge. What do you do?

Book Details
Leigh Turner Seven Hotel Stories

Seven Hotel Stories

Dark feminist comedies featuring seven tales of the glamorous, petite Ms N, the world’s deadliest hotel manager, and her ally the beautiful but naive Tatiana. You’ll never make a fuss in a hotel again!

Book Details

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