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Nixon and Mao: The Week That Changed the World Hardcover – February 13, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Richard Nixon's 1972 visit to Beijing to open relations with Communist China was both a Cold War milestone and compelling political theater. Diplomatic historian MacMillan, author of the acclaimed Paris 1919, gives a lively account of the pomp and protocol surrounding the trip: the awkward banquets, the toasts to peace and friendship (punctuated by occasional anti-imperialist lectures), the Great Wall pilgrimages, the proletarian operas (Nixon attended The Red Detachment of Women, in which peasants and revolutionaries battle landlords). MacMillan's even better on the behind-the-scenes negotiations, as the two sides wrangle over every word of the climactic Shanghai communiqué. More than Nixon and the cloistered Mao, the central figures are Henry Kissinger and Chinese premier Chou En-Lai, tasked with finding common ground and finessing differences with subtle verbiage and winks and nods. The author fills in the background with colorful, incisive biographical sketches and a lucid history of Sino-American relations. The encounter seems to have had little impact on the issues discussed during the trip—the Vietnam war, the fate of Taiwan, relations with the Soviets. Still, MacMillan argues, it opened the door to today's necessary relationship between the two Pacific powers, and she turns a potentially dry diplomatic story into a fascinating study in high-wire diplomacy, full of intrigue and drama. Photos. (Feb. 20)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

Margaret MacMillan follows Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World (**** Mar/Apr 2003) with another tale of a world-changing encounter. She draws parallel narratives of how the two world leaders met in a momentous (if stilted) handshake, and she peppers her analysis with fascinating details, such as what led to Mao's 1958 decision regarding the offshore islands of Quemoy and Matsu and the American commitment to defend Taiwan. MacMillan's use of flashback (the narrative begins with Nixon's trip to Beijing and then moves backward to the months leading up to the flight) confused a few critics, and some wished for more nuanced analyses of Chinese and Soviet politics. Macmillan's portrayal of key characters, including Henry Kissinger and Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai, stands out. After meeting Mao Zedong, Nixon remarked to him that "history has brought us together." Thirty-five years later, it has brought them to MacMillan's capable hands.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (February 13, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 140006127X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400061273
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,002,912 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Seth Faison on February 16, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I found this book a pleasure to read, since it deals with some fascinating history. Nixon's trip to China in 1972 was an iconic event. A brilliant diplomatic stroke, it melted decades of deep freeze between two of the world's great powers and realigned the geopolitical triangle with the Soviet Union. It was a savvy political move too, clinching Nixon's image at home as a foreign policy virtuoso and helping ensure his reelection later that year, despite his inability to solve the quagmire in Vietnam. Nixon's trip to China was one of those rare political coups that seemed utterly impossible beforehand and unavoidably logical afterward.

Yet more than anything, it was terrific theater. To see Nixon, that beady-eyed communist-hater, toasting the Mao suits in the Great Hall of the People, climbing the Great Wall and meeting Mao Tse-tung himself in the Communist Party's inner sanctum -- it was mesmerizing. No one cared that the visit was largely symbolic and light on content. It was great symbolism at play.

The scene was unforgettable: China, though still embroiled in a violent paroxysm called the Cultural Revolution, appeared serene and enchanting to American viewers. A gaggle of U.S. reporters followed Nixon to scenic spots and his meetingw with China's happy workers and smiling schoolchildren. The cast of characters was top-notch: Nixon, Mao, Henry Kissinger and Premier Chou En-lai, each with his own individual brand of psychosis, paranoia and dastardly political skill. The intermingling of these four, in a complex diplomatic mating dance that could easily have gone wrong, is a historian's dream.

It's no wonder that the trip inspired an entire Western opera and a permanent place in our lexicon, as in "It was a Nixon-goes-to-China moment.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Eric Hobart VINE VOICE on July 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Margaret MacMillan, previously known for her book on the Paris peace negotations ending the first world war, has given us an interesting look at Nixon's historic trip to China in 1972.

The trip was only a week in duration, and hardly seems worthy of an entire manuscript unless the historian is able to provide a comprehensive analysis of the ramifications of Nixon's visit. MacMillan, however, does not provide us with this evaluation.

She writes a rich story, filled with wonderful images and colorful characters, but fails to fully analyze the significance of Nixon's journey. Her book provides us with a nice portrait of Mao Tse-Tung, the Chinese leader whom Nixon met with (only once) during his journey to China, Henry Kissinger, Nixon's national security advisor, and Chou En-Lai, Kissinger's primary contact in Beijing.

MacMillan's details about the trip are amazing, and certainly indicative of strong research abilities - she profiles Nixon in such a way that his paranoia and self doubt are on full display (see chapters 1 and 2 for a nice discussion on how nervous Nixon was as he prepared for the meetings). She also throws in lively quips to remind us just how human the participants were (giving us an image of Nixon parading around his hotel room in his undergarments, or a request made by Nixon for the phone number of ladies in a black book - not for himself, but for Kissinger). This is the highlight of her writing, and she does a fantastic job of giving us the details that allow us to remember the participants as people rather than just politicians.

Overall, however, the book is incomplete - it just does not explain why the meetings changed the world in enough depth to justify the title ("Nixon and Mao: The Week that changed the world").
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Izaak VanGaalen on March 27, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Margaret MacMillan, a University of Toronto historian, is well-known for having written "Paris 1919," which explored some crucial moments following the First World War. Now she has produced another first-rate work of an event that changed the course of history. She is apparently a follower of the "great men" school of history which attaches central importance to the agency of a few key players. The dramatis personae of Paris 1919 as well as those of Beijing 1972 all had a strong vision of what they wanted the future to look like and all had the requisite egos to pursue those visions. What these events set in motion, however, was unforseen by most parties. In Beijing 1972, it was as Nixon said, "a week that changed the world," but in ways that he never imagined.

MacMillan's account focuses not only on Nixon and Mao, but also on Kissinger and Zhou Enlai. These two arch-realists worked behind the scenes to negotiate the terms of this new diplomatic understanding that later became the Shanghai Communique.

Memories of "ping pong diplomacy" and "playing the China card" are distant but Macmillan does an excellent job of resurrecting this period. She delves deeply into what motivated Nixon, a life-long anticommunist and red-baiter, to open diplomatic relations with China. It was a time when the US was mired in an unwinnable war in Vietnam, as well as dealing with race riots and antiwar protests at home; Nixon was looking for a dramatic gesture. A trip to China was an extremely risky political undertaking whose success was by no means guaranteed.

Mao was also desparately in need of a win; not only was China's economy in shambles due to his mismanagement, the country was also on the brink of war with the Soviet Union.
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