Seize the Hour: When Nixon Met Mao
By Margaret MacMillan
John Murray £9.99
FT bookshop price: £7.99

No US president had ever set foot in China before Nixon undertook the journey in 1972. The world’s most populous country had barely spoken since Mao seized power in 1949.

The background to the summit is clearly laid out by MacMillan, but the focus is the tension around the first encounter. It makes a great story: two veteran politicians putting their careers on the line for uncertain returns. The book is particularly worth reading for vignettes such as Nixon practising his chopstick technique on Air Force One.

MacMillan’s previous book, on the Versailles treaty, showed that she could bring the driest diplomatic exchanges to life. Her account of this immense gamble is also highly readable.

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