General Hastings ‘Pug’ Ismay

Soldier, Statesman, Diplomat: A New Biography

May 2024 9781911723202 424pp, 28 b&w illus
Available as an eBook
EU Customers


General Lord Ismay’s name is little known today, but he participated in, and was witness to, decision-making at the highest level of government, before, during and after the Second World War. Immediately prior to the outbreak of hostilities, he was Secretary of the Committee of Imperial Defence responsible for advising government on strategy and preparations for war. As wartime Chief Staff Officer to Prime Minister Winston Churchill, he became a close confidant and rarely left Churchill’s side, whether in Britain or abroad at international conferences. He was instrumental in conciliating the sometimes-fractious relationship between the Prime Minister and the Service Chiefs of Staff.

In 1947, Ismay went to India as Chief of Staff to the Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, and was closely involved in the drama of Partition. As the first Secretary General of NATO from 1952 to 1957, he was instrumental in building the foundations of the Alliance and preserving its unity and cohesion at the height of the Cold War. He also played a central role in reshaping the higher management of defence in Britain, including the creation of the Ministry of Defence. This fascinating book tells the story of his life and work.


‘This is a major achievement and a truly important book. Kiszely has rightly returned Ismay to the front rank of key figures in the Second World War. His perception of character and of the dynamics and pitfalls of power is unsurpassed.’ — Antony Beevor, historian and author

‘Ismay is always in the background in the narratives of Churchill at war, but as Kiszely shows, he played a significant role in British military affairs. This is a very welcome addition to our understanding of Britain’s war effort and an indispensable guide to Ismay’s undervalued contribution.’ — Richard Overy, historian and author

‘An ambitious examination of the career of a man who deserves to be better known. By assembling a mass of evidence with forensic thoroughness, Kiszely reveals that Ismay was a supremely effective oiler of the wheels of any bureaucracy that he encountered, be it in Whitehall, Delhi or at NATO’s Paris headquarters.’ — David French, Professor Emeritus of History, University College of London

‘Ismay was at the heart of British and allied strategy for two decades, but he has been hiding in plain sight. Kiszely explores his role and explains his influence with fluency, scholarship and empathy.’ — Hew Strachan, Professor of International Relations, University of St Andrews

‘Illuminating Ismay’s life and role, this is an excellent study of the man who did more than most to win the Second World War. Kiszely’s book is not only a fine work of history, it also bears important lessons for the decision-makers of today—should they choose to listen.’ — Jonathan Boff, Professor of Military History, University of Birmingham


John Kiszely served in the British Army for forty years, including as Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff and Director General of the UK Defence Academy. He has been a visiting professor at King’s College London and visiting research fellow at the Changing Character of War Centre, University of Oxford.

Request an academic inspection copy Request a press review copy
Inspection Copy Request
Review Copy Request
Join our mailing list

Subscribers receive exclusive discounts and early access to new books from Hurst.