The volumes look dry-as-dust, more than 350 of them dating back to 1861, handsome, fat, and stuffed with "the official documentary historical record of major U.S. foreign policy decisions and significant diplomatic activity." But there is much that is human between their covers. Take a period of several weeks in mid-1967 concerning Saudi Arabia. On June 8, in the midst of the Six-Day War, we learn that President Lyndon B. Johnson sent a letter to King Faysal indicating that while the U.S. government had "been in close touch with the parties" involved in the war, it "had received no indication that such fighting was in prospect." Further, this letter goes on, "It is not clear to us how it started" — a peculiar but telling admission. Two weeks later, in a no less startling comment, the Saudi king is quoted complaining to the U.S. ambassador that American policy planners did not comprehend the "mob psychology" (the king's words) that prevails throughout the Arab world. "You are dealing with irrational people," he stated and advised Americans always to bear this in mind when developing tactics. When referring to the Arab public, Faysal called them repeatedly "crazy people." At another point, he was asked how he could have said that Johnson had endorsed an Israeli withdrawal of forces from the conquered areas almost simultaneous with the president's announcement of this policy. "I made it up," Faysal admitted. The American ambassador then commented: "We had a good laugh over this one." Not dry at all, this diplomacy business.
Best of all, the State Department is up to date; in addition to publishing a paper version of FRUS, it now makes the entire contents available for free online (the volume under review can be found at http://www.state.gov/www/about_state/history/vol_xxi/index.html).