An account of the stunning 1972 visit by President Richard Nixon, long a Red-hater and -baiter, to the People’s Republic of China.
Canadian historian MacMillan (Paris 1919, 2002, etc.) begins as Nixon enters Chairman Mao’s study, on Feb. 21 that year, for his lone meeting with the declining dictator, who was approaching 80 and in failing health. He then moves back four days, to the departure of the president’s plane for China and proceeds with a chronological account of Nixon’s weeklong visit, interrupting occasionally to offer contextual asides. These cutaways include biographies of the four principals (Mao, Nixon, National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, Prime Minister Chou En-Lai); sketch the history of Communist China and Nationalist Taiwan; trace the course of the Vietnam War; and examine China’s relations with the West and with the Soviet Union. We learn why Nixon made the decision to go and how Kissinger escaped from his press entourage in Pakistan to make a preliminary visit to China. We get glimpses of the president’s famous yellow legal pads (on which he jotted down his “talking points” for the diplomatic sessions). We see the infighting between Kissinger and Secretary of State William Rogers, who found himself out of the loop; we learn more about Nixon’s cold treatment of his wife and Mao’s fondness for nubile farm girls.
First-rate popular history featuring a compelling cast, swift narration and rigorous analysis.