Thursday, 6 May 2010

Book review: Great Negotiations by Fredrik Stanton

Great-Negotiations As much as wars, invasions and military expertise changed history and shaped world borders, it was often the endless negotiations and avoided conflicts that bore the greatest significance and impact on later generations.  In fact, conflicts often ended not with the stalemate or defeat of armed forces but in meeting rooms as the powers negotiated withdrawal and armistice.

Great Negotiations: Agreements That Changed the Modern World is a collection of eight vignettes focusing on negotiations that changed the course of history.  Author Fredrik Stanton has selected eight major episodes in modern diplomacy and he has gone to great lengths to describe the personalities of the key players, what each party held at stake and the influences impacting on their decisions. 

The cross-section of modern negotiations includes Benjamin Franklin's appeal to the French Court for support for the American revolution in 1778; the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from the French in 1803; the Congress of Vienna following Napoleon's defeat in 1814-1815; the Portsmouth Treaty that formally ended the Russo-Japanese War in 1905; The Paris Peace Conference at the end of the First World War in 1919; the Egyptian-Israeli Armistice Agreement in 1949; the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and the Reykjavik Summit in 1986 which eventually facilitated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 1987. 

Kennedy and his advisers, The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962 [Wikipedia/Public Domain]

Great Negotiations: Agreements That Changed the Modern World is an extremely well researched and well written book.  Stanton has utilized letters, diaries, transcripts and a host of historical texts in drawing up these vignettes and the level of detail in the chapters dating back to the 18th century is on par with events that took place within the last century.  It would be reasonable to expect that a book like this would be dry and a mere collection of fact but it is not.  For all of its detail, Great Negotiations reads like fiction and I found myself racing to the end of each vignette as the tension mounted and the stakes increased.  I was rather sad to reach the end of each chapter, thinking that the next wouldn’t be merely as riveting and I was pleased to be proven wrong in each case. 

Stanton chose his eight subjects carefully.  He focused carefully on major negotiations involving key players that impacted on the state of the world today.  The negotiations in the book were all elaborate feats of strategy and diplomacy and were ‘negotiations’ in the purest sense of the word.  To this end, Stanton was keen to avoid those meetings that were a pure dictation of terms or that simply consolidated the situation as it had emerged. 

Reagan and Gorbachev, The Reykjavik Summit, 1986 [Wikipedia/Public Domain]

This is a book that will appeal to both casual historians and those more conversant in international relations and foreign policy.  It is certainly on a level that could be followed by beginners in the field but it is also text that allows comparison across the many years and situations.  For example, it is interesting to see how the negotiations of the late 18th and early 19th centuries were slowed down by the snail’s pace at which messages took to cross the Atlantic Ocean.  Communication today is lightning fast and the effects of this were perhaps most obvious as matters during the Cuban Missile Crisis threatened dizzily to spin out of control as varying bits of information spun around the globe.  Today, we have the Internet and video conferencing and couldn’t be further removed from the days when letters and messages took weeks or even months to reach their destinations.

Likewise, in choosing these eight events, Stanton is able to show how the United States of America matured from appearing, hat in hand, as revolutionaries before the French Court to facilitators in negotiations in Europe and Asia before finally becoming the world power that was the subject of major negotiations involving nuclear power in the 20th century.

Great Negotiations: Agreements That Changed the Modern World is certainly recommended and gives an excellent introduction into some of the great triumphs and failures of modern diplomacy.  I will certainly keep an eye out for future publications from Fredrik Stanton as he has an excellent writing style that brings to life the events of the past.

This review was written by me and first appeared on  I was given a preview copy to review by Allison of Media Shop PR but all opinions are my own.



  1. Emm -- statecraft is a very important skill for any leader, especially in countries that do so much protecting and policing and providing-for around the world like the UK and the US. one of my favorite classes in law school was one on "Foreign Policy Post Vietnam" and it has stayed with me ten years on. i'll look for "great negotiations" and give it a read.

  2. The communications in this global venue in which we lives has changed with warped speed. It would be interesting to speculate on how these past scenarios would play out today. You have me intrigued, Emm, so I will probably buy the book.

  3. Such stately photos of Reagan! Unfortunately, I cannot purchase a book that only speaks to his "I cannot tell a lie, I did chop down that tree and tear down that wall" image.

    We are still dealing with the lingering effects of the Iran-Contra affair and the expansion of CIA and FBI powers and "citizens don't need to know" policies instituted and championed by his administration.

    Please correct me if I am wrong and a balanced view is presented.

  4. @ JG: "Foreign Policy Post Vietnam" sounds quite fascinating! I can imagine that it must have changed dramatically! I would certainly like to see Fredrik following up with a focus on more recent negotiations, that is for sure.

    @ Cher: I would definitely recommend it. He has really written it very well.

    @ Erik: A balanced book is indeed presented and Fredrik went to great lengths to represent this. In addition, that is not a stately photograph of Reagan at all but a photograph of two extremely distressed and stressed world leaders. It was taken at the point in which the talks had failed. By the way, you said "photos" - you did notice the first photo was of Kennedy, right?

  5. Yes, I said photos. The second photo in this blog post is of Kennedy. The first and third included Mr. reagan. I will try to read this one this summer on your suggestion.

    Do you have some balancing insights you might wish to share with your readers to entice us further to read it?

  6. Oh, you mean the book cover. Fair enough, I just didn't really see that as a photo, it was just a review asset).

    Erik, this blog is primarily educational in purpose. I put on no airs and graces and make no attempt to appear be an expert on any of the topics I write on. I knew nothing about any of these events before and now I know a fair bit. Reading the book spurred me on to read more about each of the events and I now have an burgeoning interest in American history. Perhaps the book would be too elementary for you if you do already have a wide interest and knowledge of this history.


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