Sunday, February 25, 2007

Margaret MacMillan: Nixon and Mao: The Week That Changed the World (Random House, 2007). Two men, one a ferocious anti-communist and icon of the American right, the other a vicious communist and icon of the international left, met and talked for an hour. Is it fair to say they changed the world for the better? According to this new full-length study of the event, the answer is clearly "maybe". The most disappointing aspect of this fascinating, easy to read, historical narrative, is this never answered question. For all the terrible things both men did in their lives, it would be satisfying to find one undeniably good thing they both did together, but history is seldom so simple and pat. Both men certainly have their champions. Despite his tyrannical 40 years at the top of the Chinese communist party, there are still many who consider Mao a hero of the international peasant masses. Despite his desire to dissect the U.S. Constitution, there are some on the left who credit Nixon for his relatively sane legislative efforts. Nixon and Mao is not particularly gentle on either of these political criminals, yet it is even-handed and smart, and, in fact, does not call them criminals. Zhou Enlai, Kissinger and the other secondary characters get their fair share of the story, but MacMillan never forgets who are the central figures in this complex tragic-comic tale. The reader comes away from Nixon and Mao better informed about this crucial event in the history of the United States and China. Yet that same reader will want to know more about our two anti-heroes, a near perfect ending to a work of popular history, regardless of that one unanswered question.


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7:51 PM  

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