Ping-Pong Diplomacy Book Summary - Ping-Pong Diplomacy Book explained in key points
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Ping-Pong Diplomacy summary

Nicholas Griffin

The Secret History Behind the Game That Changed the World

4.6 (67 ratings)
28 mins

Brief summary

'Ping-Pong Diplomacy' by Nicholas Griffin tells the story of how ping-pong matches between the US and China in the early 1970s helped thaw the frosty relationship between the two nations and ultimately paved the way for President Nixon's historic visit to China.

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    Ping-Pong Diplomacy
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    Young, aristocratic Ivor Montagu became an enthusiast for ping-pong and socialism.

    Ivor Montagu was the man who changed ping-pong. More than 100 years ago, he took this quaint pastime of English aristocrats from stately homes to international stadiums. Soon enough, ping-pong would play a major role in international politics.

    Montagu was born into the grandeur of one of England's richest families. As a boy, he would play in the garden of 10 Downing Street, the British prime minister’s residence. He remembered standing at his nursery window as he waited for the arrival of his mother’s good friend, the future Queen. 

    Ivor Montagu was, then, a true English aristocrat – and, like other members of his class, he was expected to embrace sports. The boy’s father was an excellent shot and keen cricketer; his older brother Stewart was a brilliant rugby player. Montagu himself was not the sporting type. But there was one exception. Ivor loved ping-pong.

    The key message here is: Young, aristocratic Ivor Montagu became an enthusiast for ping-pong and socialism. 

    When Montagu was six, he persuaded his father to buy a table. From that moment on, he’d been playing with great enthusiasm. 

    At the time, ping-pong was little more than a fad. The British, who’d spread soccer, rugby, and cricket across the world, saw it as just a type of after-dinner amusement. Other sports developed infrastructure that would support their growth. There were teams, stadiums, rulebooks. But ping-pong remained incoherent and rule-less. Even so, Ivor Montagu loved the game. 

    And he had another passion – one he discovered on his walk to London’s elite Westminster School. One day, he noticed a pamphlet entitled “Socialism for Millionaires.” It was sitting in a window of London’s Fabian Society, and Montagu thought the brochure might have been written just for him.

    Soon, the young aristocrat declared himself a socialist. He worked with the Labour party and even helped to store copies of one of Lenin’s books. His socialism was eventually discovered when the butler found a copy of a pro-Communist speech Ivor had drafted. The schoolboy’s aristocratic parents were appalled, relations in the family cooled, and Montagu was only too happy to escape to Cambridge University. 

    The time he spent there only made his twin passions deeper. 

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    What is Ping-Pong Diplomacy about?

    Ping-Pong Diplomacy (2014) is the tale of how China and the United States ended two decades of diplomatic silence and antagonism. This breakthrough did not originate in embassies or politicians’ offices. Instead, it began at the ping-pong table. These blinks show how a sport shaped by a communist-leaning aristocrat changed politics forever. 

    Who should read Ping-Pong Diplomacy?

    • Those with an eye for unusual history
    • People who are interested in ping-pong and politics
    • Sports fans interested in how their passion can change the world

    About the Author

    Nicholas Griffin is a novelist and journalist. He has written for The Times, the Financial Times, and Foreign Policy. His published books include four novels and The Year of Dangerous Days, a history of the year 1980 in Miami.

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