Jack Matlock

Jack Matlock

Former U.S. Ambassador

While at Duke, Ambassador Matlock taught two courses each year that helped students 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 as part of the Duke in Russia summer program. Matlock also regularly engaged in public events, writing, and discussions with students, scholars, journalists and policymakers about U.S.-Russian affairs.

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


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

An Oral History Interview with Ambassador Jack Matlock

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

The Harriman Institute | September 4, 2019 The Harriman Institute at Columbia University conducted an oral history interview with former Rubenstein Fellow at Duke, Ambassador Jack Matlock. Read the interview online.

29Jul, 2015

Ambassador Jack and Rebecca Matlock Archives Open at Duke University

Monday, May 13, 2019

American Diplomacy | May, 2019 Diplomacy, to my mind, is a thoughtful, patient, and long-term approach to international relations, a constant building of relationships, leading eventually and hopefully to trust, cooperation and mutual benefit.   It is not merely a negotiation, no matter how successful. Without the foundation of the relationship, you might “win” once, but not…

29Jul, 2015

'We Must Not Call it Victory': New Archives Illustrate U.S. Cold War Strategy

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Duke Today | January 31, 2019 By Eric Ferreri Jack Matlock, left, joined President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev at the historic 1985 summit. Photo via Wikimedia Commons. As he headed to Switzerland in 1985 for a landmark first summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, President Ronald Reagan wrote a…

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