'It is not easy to see how matters could be worsened by a parley at the summit.' Winston Churchill coined the term in 1950 but the temptation of summitry has been around for centuries. In this incisive and readable book, David Reynolds takes us from the Babylonians right up to Blair and Bush. But the core of his account is six case studies of modern summitry - made possible by air travel, made necessary by weapons of mass destruction, and made into household news by the mass media. Using the records of the meetings, he explores how world leaders saw their opponents and how they played their own cards. He also reconstructs the enormous physical and emotional pressures upon them during encounters that could spell life or death for millions. The pioneer of modern summitry was Neville Chamberlain, whose dramatic flights to meet Hitler in September 1938 set patterns and taught lessons for all who followed. Some of the meetings involve a trio of leaders - Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin at Yalta in 1945; Jimmy Carter, Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat at Camp David in 1978 - but the heart of the story are three superpower duels that span the Cold War.
Drawing on newly-opened archives, Reynolds examines the disastrous face-off between Kennedy and Khrushchev at Vienna in 1961, which helped spark the Cuban missile crisis and America's disastrous war in Vietnam. He looks at the Moscow summit between Nixon and Brezhnev in 1972, which began a promising era of detente but whose Machiavellian negotiation by Nixon and Kissinger also helped ensure detente's decline. By contrast, the Reagan-Gorbachev summit at Geneva in 1985 began a series of summits that brought the Cold War to a peaceful end. From it, Reynolds draws larger lessons for successful summitry. Written with verve and insight by a prize-winning international historian, "Summits" takes us into the minds of statesmen caught up in a bizarre mixture of competition and camaraderie as they stand, for a moment, on top of the world.
David Reynolds, FBA, is Professor of International History at Cambridge University and a Fellow of Christ's College. He has held visiting positions at Harvard and at Nihon University in Tokyo. He is the author or editor of ten books on aspects of twentieth-century history, including One World Divisible: A Global History since 1945 (2000) and In Command of History: Churchill Fighting and Writing the Second World War (2004) which was awarded the Wolfson History Prize. Both of these books are available as Penguin paperbacks. Summits is linked to a BBC TV series written and presented by David Reynolds.