Paul Johnson

A Dance With the Devil

Seize the Hour: When Nixon Met Mao

By

John Murray 384pp £25 order from our bookshop

Summit conferences between heads of state or government are now so common they attract little attention. Nor, as a rule, do they serve much purpose. The prototype – Henry VIII’s meeting with François I of France on the Field of the Cloth of Gold, with its costly splendour – merely intensified the rivalry of the two gamecock monarchs. The Congress at Vienna (1814–15), by contrast, achieved much, settling Europe for nearly a century. But its counterpart at Versailles (1918–19) failed – mainly because the Germans were not part of it, merely the angry recipients of its verdicts. Churchill, to his dying day, believed in summits, and held several during the war, including the disastrous meeting at Yalta where Roosevelt let him down and Eastern Europe was handed over to Russia for forty-five years. There was no peacemaking summit at the end of the Second World War and no comprehensive treaty: events simply took their course, and the settlement really came in 1989 when the Soviet Union collapsed.

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