Reagan at Reykjavik is an important book for all of us to read. The events at the summit and those that unfolded as a result of the summit are a real-world reminder that our perceptions of the monolithic character of other nations and peoples are almost always illusions. When we have the courage to meet and speak and work with the people representing those other nations in settings that allow our mutual humanity to assert itself, we can achieve great things. Ken paints a picture of Reagan as a man whose faith gave him this courage. We see Reagan as one who believed he could reason with Gorbachev. In spite of the limited gains at the summit itself, the humanizing effect of intense work among key leaders on both sides allowed the process to continue and ultimately bear fruit. There are lessons here, I think, for how we approach other seemingly intractable diplomatic issues.
My favorite anecdote from the book was Ken’s description of the basement of Hofdi House, the building where the negotiations took place. This space was necessarily shared by both CIA and KGB communications teams. A dispute arose over which team would get the larger of two bathrooms, and the KGB station chief ultimately pointed out the silliness of the dispute and suggested both sides share both facilities. Ken writes, “Thus, while intelligence agencies normally operate on a need-to-know basis, for this weekend in Reykjavik, the world’s two main intelligence agencies operated on a need-to-go basis.”
I would encourage everyone to read Reagan a Reykjavik. It is more than a historical description of a key diplomatic event. Indeed, as we prepare to select our next president, this book affords us a personal account of a president ranked in the top tier of all presidents by many recent polls of historians and scholars. In this light, we may find here some insights into the kind of leader we should seek as we approach the 2016 elections.