Reagan at Reykjavik

In his popular multi-media presentation, as in his highly-acclaimed book, Reagan at Reykjavik, Ambassador Adelman gives insights into the character and leadership of Ronald Reagan. He describes the 1986 summit cliffhanger in a “you-are-there manner,” enhanced by the fact that he was there. The presentation involves photos, video, and mementoes—put together in a masterful way by one of Ken Burn’s producers.

The story itself is gripping, as the Reykjavik summit was something out of an Agatha Christie thriller—two vivid characters meet over a weekend on a desolate and windswept island in a reputedly-haunted house, with rain lashing against its windowpanes. There, in such a weird setting, the two most powerful men on earth experience the most amazing things imaginable.

The summit between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev on October 11 and 12, 1986 was like nothing before or after—with its cliffhanging plot, powerful personalities, and sweeping significance. Originally intended as a short, inconsequential meeting to lay out plans for a future summit, their conversation turned to the major issues of the day, from SDI (“Star Wars) right up to the elimination of all nuclear weapons.

With both men at the height of their power, they had the rare opportunity to move towards peace and disarmament, which led to positive outcomes neither ever anticipated. While the leaders failed to reach a final agreement that weekend, their negotiations led to the most sweeping nuclear arms accord in history the following year, and the collapse of the Soviet Union half a decade later.

This gripping story is based on now-declassified notes of Reagan’s secret bargaining with Gorbachev over ten and a half hours. It was, as this record makes clear, Reagan’s finest hour.