Cousins and Strangers
R.J.B. Bosworth
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Buy *Cousins and Strangers: America, Britain, and Europe in a New Century* by Chris Patten online

Cousins and Strangers: America, Britain, and Europe in a New Century
Chris Patten
Owl Books
320 pages
December 2006
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Chris Patten was Chairman of the Conservative Party in the UK, was also the last Governer of Hong Kong and then became the European Commissioner for External Relations. This breadth of experience informs this book, which is a mixture of political theory, reminiscences about people and events in the past, discussion of America, Europe and the UK with their similarities and differences, as well as some of his thoughts about the future.

Patten can certainly write. His text is never boring; he has a good turn of phrase, he paints pictures of some of the 'characters' in Europe and America that he has met (and he seems to have met all the important people), and his incisive mind cuts through a lot of the waffle and rhetoric in modern politics to give a clear explanation of events. Writing from a UK perspective, although evidently someone who is pro-Europe and pro-America, he discusses the time of Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, giving a fresh view on many of the events to this English reader, then broadening the sweep to the European Union, to the "Special Relationship" with the U.S. and to the future of Asia with some discussion about the Israel/Palestine and Iraq situations. Patten isn't an armchair commentator; he has been involved in some of the major events of the past twenty years, and his knowledge of the background of some of these events is fascinating.

This analysis covers a broad sweep of 20th-century global history. Consequently, sometimes it's not entirely clear which way his argument is moving, but it's always a great ride. Patten identifies himself as a conservative and a Catholic, yet he is able to discuss the failings of the Conservative party and to give some credit to Tony Blair (although it's very clear he's not a fan of Blair's). George W. Bush comes in for some sharp criticism, along with Jacques Chirac of France and several other characters, and Patten can be quite caustic in his comments, backing them up with quotes and examples.

Overall, Patten comes across as surprisingly open-minded, a witty writer who is clearly a lover of both America and Europe and whose generally optimistic view of the future, including the new economies of China and India, is an interesting read. As an English reader, I found myself agreeing with Patten on many of his readings of opinions of fellow Brits about Europe and America, but I think this book would be just as helpful for people from other countries to take a fresh look at the situation of the Western countries and how they interact in our modern world.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Helen Hancox, 2007

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