Thoughtful variations on the theme that historic blunders can be traced as often as not to the booby traps that await even well- prepared leaders who engage in summitry. Drawing freely, if selectively, on a wealth of sources, Mee (Rembrandt's Portrait, 1988, etc.) offers seven sharply focused essays on turning-point parleys whose eventual outcomes illustrate pitfalls faced by great men bent on reshaping their worlds. He begins with a necessarily speculative account of the A.D. 452 meeting between Pope Leo I and Attila the Hun, neither of whom had accurate information about the other's position or aspirations. Mee moves on to delusions of grandeur, as exemplified by the unavailing means employed by Henry VIII to daunt his French counterpart--and vice versa--at a 1520 confrontation in Val d'Or. About the same time, albeit half a world away, CortÇs and Montezuma learned (at the cost of an ancient culture) about the stunning impact of chance. Advancing by three centuries, Mee documents the principle of contingency, which (though understood) was ignored at the 1815 Congress of Vienna, with the result that Prussia became a dominating threat to Europe's balance of power in the post- Napoleonic era. To make his point about history's false lessons, the author fixes on the 1919 Paris gathering that produced the Treaty of Versailles, ``peace with a vengeance,'' which ended one global conflict and set the stage for another. Covered as well are the unexpected results of Yalta (e.g., the nuclear-arms race and the cold war), plus the reality check given Gorbachev during his 1991 attempt to thrust a collapsing USSR into the clubby circle of the so-called ``G7'' nations. Diverting and informative takes that confirm the suspicion that Western civilization's march through time has been a tragicomedy of errors and ironies.