Lucid, authoritative account of big-power diplomatic parleys from Munich to Camp David.
World leaders met mano a mano for many centuries before the 20th, notes Reynolds (International History/Cambridge Univ.; In Command of History, 2005, etc.). In 1520, Henry VIII of England and François I of France gathered with their retinues on the outskirts of Calais for two weeks of jousting, feasting and dancing. In 1807, Napoleon and Czar Alexander I gabbed on a ceremonial raft on the Niemen River, at their shared border. But summits became more possible, urgent and significant with the rise of air travel, weapons of mass destruction and, somewhat later, television. The first truly modern summit, held at Munich in 1938, branded in public memory the image of Britain’s Neville Chamberlain, umbrella in hand, predicting “peace for our time” after talks with Hitler. Winston Churchill coined the term “summit” to describe such meetings in 1950, when climbing to the peak of Mt. Everest was all the rage. Reynolds draws on transcripts to recreate six notable meetings. Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin brought false assumptions to 1945 talks at Yalta about Germany’s future while sleeping among bedbugs in the Livadia Palace. John F. Kennedy’s “disastrous” 1961 Vienna summit with Nikita Khrushchev seeded the Cuban missile crisis and the Vietnam quagmire. At the 1972 Moscow talks on missile accords, Leonid Brezhnev tried to unsettle Richard Nixon by playing with a toy cannon. Reynolds offers revealing insights into the quirks and negotiating skills of leaders, finding Menachem Begin the savviest in 1978 sessions with Jimmy Carter and Anwar Sadat at Camp David, and Ronald Reagan well-prepared after reading 24 briefing papers while en route to his successful 1985 talks in Geneva with Mikhail Gorbachev.
Bound to please both specialists and general readers.