Powell was Tony Blair's Chief of Staff for over ten years and the chief negotiator during the peace process. If, like me, you are not familiar with the intricacies of Northern Irish politics (who could blame us?) and have only picked up information from the TV or the newspapers, then I think this book would be a good place to start.
Powell has an insider's view of the personalities and politics involved which makes for a riveting account. He also writes clearly about the history of the conflict and is honest about the mistakes he made.
I came away with two conclusions after reading the book:
One, the importance of talking. Powell's argument is that all sides in a conflict should always keep talking even if sometimes the problems seem intractable. When the talks stop, the vacuum is filled with violence. It is not hard to see how this policy could be adopted in other areas of conflict around the world. Indeed, one of the differences between Obama and McCain is that Obama argues persuasively that America should talk even to its most inveterate foes.
Secondly, the importance of a Prime Minister having good advisors. Powell was one of many loyal advisors who worked for Blair for a long time. By and large, they were well-rounded individuals who provided him with balanced, careful advice. They were also a good mixture of men and women, young and old, left and right. Brown has never had a strong team around him and indeed part of his problem may well be the quality of advice and personalities that he surrounds himself with.
This is a well-written, interesting political account of the peace process that sheds light on the politics and personalities who contributed so much to peace in Northern Ireland.