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Books: Eden’s Scrapbook

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THE RECKONING by Anthony Eden, Earl of Avon. 716 pages. Houghton Mifflin. $8.50.

Anthony Eden’s public life ended in the public disaster of Suez. Broken in health and spirit, he devoted his pasture years to that unbidden duty that commands so many retired statesmen. This is the third and last volume of the Eden memoirs, which altogether fill more than 2,000 pages.

In Full Circle he sought to answer his Suez critics by shifting the blame to them. He had been right, Eden insisted, and charged the U.S.’s John Foster Dulles with misleading him into assuming that the U.S. would support the use of force in making Nasser “disgorge” the canal. Facing the Dictators traced Eden government years from election to Parliament in 1923 to his resignation, in 1938, as Foreign Secretary to Neville Chamberlain, whose appeasement policy appalled him.

“W. in a Rage.” This final installment opens on that act of defiance and closes with victory in World War II. As Churchill’s Foreign Secretary and acknowledged heir, he had the power to dispute the Prime Minister’s judgment, and frequently did. As early as 1942 he foresaw the postwar threat of Russia and at summit councils vigorously opposed the inclination of Churchill and Roosevelt to give Stalin just about anything he demanded. The Reckoning could have rested securely on those wartime achievements. But the memoirist could not resist shrouding them with the dark afterthoughts that beset the involuntary and unhappy exile from power.

Eden’s love and respect for Churchill are dominated in the book by exasperation at a leader who did not always heed his right-hand man. “W. rang up in a rage because Bevan and Attlee had taken my view on how to handle De Gaulle. I didn’t budge an inch.” When Churchill frowned on an Eden proposal for a strong postwar France and hinted that the two of them “might be coming to a break,” Eden decided that the old man was losing his balance.

The Dynamite Juggler. He dismisses Roosevelt as an amateur whose interest in Europe probably sprang from “his hobby of stamp collecting. But the academic yet sweeping opinions which he built upon it were alarming in their cheerful fecklessness. Too much a conjuror, skillfully juggling with balls of dynamite whose nature he failed to understand.” All told, Eden preferred Joe Stalin, though he did not trust him: “Indeed, after something like 30 years’ experience of international conferences, if I had to pick a team for going into a conference room, Stalin would be my first choice. Of course the man was ruthless.”

Historians will surely mine the Eden memoirs for their occasional insights: Harry Hopkins’ confiding in July 1941, five months before Pearl Harbor, that the U.S. was already committed to joining the war; Eden’s notes on the summit conferences at Yalta, Moscow and Teheran, his off-guard glimpses of world leaders playing at the game of war: “The Prime Minister’s valet came into my bedroom and said: ‘The Prime Minister’s compliments, and the German armies have invaded Russia.’ Thereupon he presented me with a large cigar on a silver salver.”

But only historians will be equal to the task of excavation. The memoirs have been assembled like a scrapbook, by a man who could not bear to leave anything out. They sorely lack the editor’s pencil—and an editor’s restraint.

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