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Summits : Six Meetings That Shaped the Twentieth Century
The Cold War dominated world history for nearly half a century, locking two superpowers in a global rivalry that only ended with the Soviet collapse. The most decisive moments of twentieth-century diplomacy occurred when world leaders met face to face--from the mishandled summit in Munich, 1938, which brought on the Second World War, to Ronald Reagan's remarkable chemistry with Mikhail Gorbachev at Geneva in 1985. In Summits, eminent diplomatic historian David Reynolds takes us alongside the statesmen who stood, if only briefly, on top of the world, offering valuable lessons as we find ourselves confronting once again a war without end.
Starred Review. John F. Kennedy opined that nations in conflict would do better to meet at the summit than at the brink. Reynolds had the intriguing idea of examining the conflicts of the 20th century through the lens of its pivotal summit meetings. Given his Cambridge professorship and eight books on WWII and the Cold War (Command of History), the author's thorough mastery of his subject is reflected in the fluency and assurance of the writing. As he explains, many summits have been vitiated by misplaced trust: at Munich in 1938, Chamberlain believed Hitler would keep his word on Czechoslovakia. In Reynolds's view, Kennedy and Khrushchev failed at Vienna in 1961 in nearly all respects, and their failure had consequences, including Khrushchev's belligerence--and ultimate humiliation--in the Cuban missile crisis. In 1985, Reagan and Gorbachev held what the author believes was the most successful summit of all, a result of careful preparation and the old-fashioned, behind-the-scenes diplomacy of George Shultz. The Camp David summit with Sadat, Carter and Begin, in this account, rivals Munich for sheer drama. The stories of these summits (plus the post-WWII Yalta conference and Nixon/Brezhnev in 1972) reveal the calculation, bluff, mutual incomprehension and good intentions that make meetings at the top risky and, occasionally, productive. (Nov.)
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April 12, 2009
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