Jack Matlock

  • Jack Matlock

Jack Matlock

Former U.S. Ambassador

While at Duke, Ambassador Matlock has taught two courses each year that draw connections between history and the current geopolitical climate – Leadership in International Relations and The End of the Cold War and After – and lectured on U.S.-Russian relations in St. Petersburg, Russia as part of the Duke in Russia summer program. Matlock also delivers remarks across campus and outside of Duke, and engages with students, scholars, journalists, and policymakers.

Matlock is also spending a significant amount of time preparing his papers from his years in the Foreign Service for archival. This collection includes correspondence, diaries and journals, appointment books, daily notes, meeting notes, sound recordings, photographs, publications files, teaching files, personal files, and research archives. These materials, which represent a unique and substantial record of U.S.-Soviet relations during the waning years of the Cold War, will be donated to Duke University’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library for the public to access.


During his 35 years in the American Foreign Service (1956-1991), Jack Matlock served as Ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1987 to 1991, Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and Senior Director for European and Soviet Affairs on the National Security Council Staff from 1983 until 1986, and Ambassador to Czechoslovakia from 1981 to 1983.

Before his appointment to Moscow as Ambassador, Mr. Matlock served three tours at the American Embassy in the Soviet Union between 1961 and 1981. His other Foreign Service assignments were in Vienna, Munich, Accra, Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam, in addition to tours in Washington as Director of Soviet Affairs in the State Department (1971-74) and as Deputy Director of the Foreign Service Institute (1979-80). Before entering the Foreign Service Mr. Matlock was Instructor in Russian Language and Literature at Dartmouth College (1953-56). During the 1978-79 academic year he was Visiting Professor of Political Science at Vanderbilt University.

Since his retirement from the Foreign Service in 1991, he has held academic posts at Columbia University, Princeton University, Hamilton College, Mt. Holyoke College and the Institute for Advanced Study, where he was George F. Kennan Professor from 1996 to 2001.

He is the author of Superpower Illusions: How Myths and False Ideologies Led America Astray--And How to Return to Reality (Yale University Press, 2010); Reagan and Gorbachev: How the Cold War Ended (Random House, 2004, paperback edition 2005); Autopsy on an Empire: The American Ambassador’s Account of the Collapse of the Soviet Union (Random House, 1995); Leskov into English: On Translating Соборяне (Church Folks) (Columbia University, 2013); and a handbook to the thirteen-volume Russian edition of Stalin’s Collected Works (Washington, D.C. 1955, 2nd edition, New York, 1971).

Mr. Matlock was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, on October 1, 1929, and was educated at Duke University (AB, summa cum laude, 1950) and at Columbia University (MA and Certificate of the Russian Institute, 1952, PhD, 2013). He has been awarded honorary doctorates by four institutions including the Latvian Academy of Sciences. In addition to the books noted, he maintains a blog at www.JackMatlock.com and is the author of numerous articles on foreign policy, international relations, and Russian literature and history.

He and his wife, the former Rebecca Burrum, divide their time between Booneville, Tennessee, and Durham, North Carolina. They have five children and three grandchildren.

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Jack Matlock News & Events

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29Jul, 2015

Gorbachev Arrives in Washington for Summit, May 30, 1990

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Politico | May 30, 2018 By Andrew Glass On this day in 1990, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev arrived in Washington, D.C., for three days of talks with President George H.W. Bush. A potentially reunited Germany and its future place in Europe served as one focal point for the summit meeting. At the time, Gorbachev faced…

29Jul, 2015

To Make History at North Korea Summit, Trump Should Prepare Like Reagan did for Gorbachev

Thursday, May 10, 2018

USA Today | May 10, 2018 By John Heubusch, Opinion contributor With the release of three U.S. detainees in North Korea and Kim Jong Un’s recent reported openness to abandoning a nuclear weapons program, President Trump has gained some ground in potentially resolving the decades-long conflict in Korea. With such high stakes, Trump and his…

29Jul, 2015

"Is There A Pulse?" The Critical Condition of US-Russia Relations

Perkins Library 217 - Thursday, September 7, 2017

Panel Discussion with Ambassador Jack Matlock, Professor Charles Becker PhD, Professor Edna Andrews PhD, and Professor Michael Newcity, JD. Refreshments and reception to follow. No registration is required. Sponsored by Center for Slavic, Eurasian and East European Studies (CSEEES). More information.

29Jul, 2015

Dealing with Russia: Advice to the Next President

309 East Duke - Monday, September 12, 2016

Please join us for a talk and conversation on September 12, 2016 from 5:30-6:30 in 309 East Duke on East Campus. Light refreshments will be served following the talk. No registration is necessary. One of America’s most accomplished diplomats, Jack Matlock served in the American Foreign Service from 1956 to 1991, including as Ambassador to the…

29Jul, 2015

Putin vs. Obama: Are we in a Second Cold War?

04 Sanford School - Monday, November 2, 2015

Former Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Jack Matlock, and Former Ambassador to Estonia, Aldona Wos, discuss present day tensions between the United States and Russia at 6:00pm in Sanford 04 on Monday, November 2nd. This event is free and open to the public. Parking may be found in the Science Dr. Visitors Lot. During his…

“My primary goal has been to utilize my diplomatic experience and earlier studies to illuminate the complexities of international diplomacy and to distinguish strategy and tactics that are likely to work from those which history suggests are prone to failure. Teaching and advising undergraduates interested in a career in international relations has brought me both the pleasure and the insight that contact with the current generation of undergraduates provides. I also hope that my papers, now deposited in the Rubenstein Library, will provide an important resource for the study of one of the most successful periods of American diplomacy.”
- Jack Matlock, 2015/18 Rubenstein Fellow