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Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World [Hardcover]

Margaret MacMillan , Richard Holbrooke
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct. 29 2002
Winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize

Winner of the PEN Hessell Tiltman Prize

Winner of the Duff Cooper Prize

Between January and July 1919, after “the war to end all wars,” men and women from around the world converged on Paris to shape the peace. Center stage, for the first time in history, was an American president, Woodrow Wilson, who with his Fourteen Points seemed to promise to so many people the fulfillment of their dreams. Stern, intransigent, impatient when it came to security concerns and wildly idealistic in his dream of a League of Nations that would resolve all future conflict peacefully, Wilson is only one of the larger-than-life characters who fill the pages of this extraordinary book. David Lloyd George, the gregarious and wily British prime minister, brought Winston Churchill and John Maynard Keynes. Lawrence of Arabia joined the Arab delegation. Ho Chi Minh, a kitchen assistant at the Ritz, submitted a petition for an independent Vietnam.
For six months, Paris was effectively the center of the world as the peacemakers carved up bankrupt empires and created new countries. This book brings to life the personalities, ideals, and prejudices of the men who shaped the settlement. They pushed Russia to the sidelines, alienated China, and dismissed the Arabs. They struggled with the problems of Kosovo, of the Kurds, and of a homeland for the Jews.
The peacemakers, so it has been said, failed dismally; above all they failed to prevent another war. Margaret MacMillan argues that they have unfairly been made the scapegoats for the mistakes of those who came later. She refutes received ideas about the path from Versailles to World War II and debunks the widely accepted notion that reparations imposed on the Germans were in large part responsible for the Second World War.
A landmark work of narrative history, Paris 1919 is the first full-scale treatment of the Peace Conference in more than twenty-five years. It offers a scintillating view of those dramatic and fateful days when much of the modern world was sketched out, when countries were created—Iraq, Yugoslavia, Israel—whose troubles haunt us still.

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Margaret MacMillan's Paris 1919 is a colourful, epic history of the momentous days after World War I that saw U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and the other Allied leaders reshape the world. Wilson arrived in France to referee the Paris Peace Conference only a month after the war's end, sailing into a French port past an avenue of British, U.S., and French battleships. The world, horrified by the millions of war deaths, was desperate for peace and embraced Wilson's call for a League of Nations and self-determination for all peoples. Enthusiastic European crowds greeted the U.S. president and posters bearing his face lined the streets.

It was a conference unlike any other in history: attendees redrew borders, rewrote international relations, and tried--unsuccessfully--to contain German militarism. It unfolded in the midst of massive social upheaval as Europeans awoke to widespread hunger and the inequalities of their age. In the pressure cooker of Paris, this bubbling stew of social and political forces boiled over, and many of Wilson's dreams were dashed. The world lives with the legacy of these few months. Not only did the conference produce a new map of Europe and the Middle East, it led to the infamous Versailles Treaty, often blamed for provoking World War II. MacMillan, a University of Toronto history professor, argues that the Allied leaders did their best, and to blame World War II on them is to absolve Hitler and his appeasers. MacMillan could perhaps be accused of bias: her great-grandfather was British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, one of the main political players in 1919. However, her book has been acclaimed by historians and has won Britain's richest nonfiction award. Complete with backroom intrigue, personal drama, and vivid characters, Paris 1919 is a vital contribution to our understanding of the last century and the current one. --Alex Roslin

From Publishers Weekly

A joke circulating in Paris early in 1919 held that the peacemaking Council of Four, representing Britain, France, the U.S. and Italy, was busy preparing a "just and lasting war." Six months of parleying concluded on June 28 with Germany's coerced agreement to a treaty no Allied statesman had fully read, according to MacMillan, a history professor at the University of Toronto, in this vivid account. Although President Wilson had insisted on a League of Nations, even his own Senate would vote the league down and refuse the treaty. As a rush to make expedient settlements replaced initial negotiating inertia, appeals by many nationalities for Wilsonian self-determination would be overwhelmed by rhetoric justifying national avarice. The Italians, who hadn't won a battle, and the French, who'd been saved from catastrophe, were the greediest, says MacMillan; the Japanese plucked Pacific islands that had been German and a colony in China known for German beer. The austere and unlikable Wilson got nothing; returning home, he suffered a debilitating stroke. The council's other members horse-traded for spoils, as did Greece, Poland and the new Yugoslavia. There was, Wilson declared, "disgust with the old order of things," but in most decisions the old order in fact prevailed, and corrosive problems, like Bolshevism, were shelved. Hitler would blame Versailles for more ills than it created, but the signatories often could not enforce their writ. MacMillan's lucid prose brings her participants to colorful and quotable life, and the grand sweep of her narrative encompasses all the continents the peacemakers vainly carved up. 16 pages of photos, maps.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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ON DECEMBER 4, 1918, the George Washington sailed out of New York with the American delegation to the Peace Conference on board. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Most helpful customer reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Detailed yet never boring, well written Feb. 28 2003
I've rarely found an author who can take such a complex series of parallel stories and weave them together into a coherent whole. Her writing reminds me of Sir Winston Churchill's, both in 'History of the English Speaking People' and 'The Second World War'. Hers is a rare gift indeed.
It's easy to look at the legacy of the Paris Peace Talks and proclaim them the result of arrogance and incompetence. But now I've read this book, I can see that at worst you can only blame Wilson for naivety and Lloyd George, Clemenceau, and Sonnino for trying to get reasonable reparations for their countries. None of them seemed to really understand the threat of emerging Russian Communism. The assertion that the failure of the four to support China's territorial integrity contributed to the establishment of a communist China is a new one to me, and very interesting.
I love the detail in this book; the characters and interplay between the main four. I liked reading about the staid Balfour going to a riskee play, about the petitioners and the players behind the scenes. I particularly liked the descriptions of the interplay that arose when a country had multiple factions competing for legitimacy. That's the kind of insight you rarely get with history books.
This is not a history book any more that Watership Down is a wildlife book. It's much deeper, yet so well written that it reads like a story - a complex story with multiple themes, but a well-written one.
Thank you Ms. Macmillan - I wish I could afford to attend one of your history classes.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This should be required high school History... Sept. 29 2003
I so badly want to give this book 5-stars, simply because of the great research, presentation, and 'inside' notes and documents which were consulted in order to give a comprehensive look at the conference. One of the problems with the book (mentioned, I believe, by another reviewer) is the lack of maps. Yes, at the beginning we get a few overall maps at different points in chronological time - but there should be a map or two at the start of every chapter. So complicated was this process of re-drawing nearly the whole of Europe, Asia, the Mid-East, etc., and so diverse and complex were the nationalities vying for a piece of it, that one loses track of who had what (if anything) before the war, and who wants how much afterward. Maps would help greatly in following this most important process. Nothing less than a pivotal point in World history whose reverberations still shake our globe nearly a full Century later, this book shows just how shaky and confused the victors were (let alone those who 'lost') as well as the naivety of Wilson, specifically, and of his "Fourteen Points". A great, if sometimes confusing and difficult read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An overlooked historical event of importance Feb. 17 2003
This book has so many things going for it. Outside of giving a detailed account of the Paris Peace Conference in the summer of 1919, I learned a great deal about the history of a number of European countries, their relevance toward the war and the Peace Conference (raise your hand if you knew that Armenia had something to do with World War I), as well as many of the key players' personalities and conflicts that they had to reconcile not only within themselves, but for their countries.
I was really taken aback by how many of the decisions by the Paris Peace Conference (ie. "The Big Three," after Japan and Italy were more or less muscled out, of the United States, Great Britain, and France) still resonate today. For example, the decision to move Israelis to Palestine (where there was supposedly, "more land than the Arabs could populate.") and how one diplomat characterized the move as a "great experiment." It is really incredible to think of the power the three heads of each country (Wilson, Lloyd George, and Clemenceau) had, not to mention the delicate and potentially dangerous risks they had to balance.
Macmillan does a wonderul job of making potentially dull material interesting. She writes of how the French, eager to bury the Germans no matter what the cost, made sure that the Germans' train ride to Paris (through the heart of Europe and her WWI battlefields and shattered towns) was ridiculously slow in order to allow the Germans to see what "they" had done to Europe. In addition, the French made sure the Germans' signing of the Treaty of Versailles was indeed a most humiliating experience.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By Frank
The American president discovers that the U.S. has a deep commonality of beliefs and goals with the British, while he comes to view the French delegation as "the hardest I ever tried to do business with." The winning coalition is in the process of trying to destroy the militarism of the vanquished, while rehabilitating the vanquished nation. Leaders face the generic question of which groups of people define a "nation," deserving of self-determination. Do shared race, religion, ethnicity, language, or even alphabet comprise a "nation" ?
No, this is not Baghdad 2003, but Paris 1919.
As an earlier review said, the story of the post-World War I peace conference in Paris in 1919 is a "complex series of parallel stories," which are masterfully told by author MacMillan. The author provides in-depth coverage of the peace conference, while also giving the reader background on the history of each country and important diplomat, providing an understanding of each country's motivations and agenda in Paris, together with each delegation's political pressures at home.
It was definitely a different time -- a time of paternalism and colonies -- a time when Wilson could pontificate about self-determination, but shoot down a proposed clause in the treaty calling for racial equality. The racial equality clause was proposed by our Japanese allies who were insulted by laws such as California's, which not only segregated Japanese but prohibited land ownership by Japanese. The dismissal of this Japanese proposal helped put Japan and the U.S. on an adversarial path.
It was a time when the British blithely decided that the very different peoples in Mesopotamia should be brought together into what are now the borders of Iraq.
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Most recent customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Somewhat Lacking!
I read the book after having heard much about it. I found the work lacking and the author's conclusions somewhat forced. It seemed that she is having an agenda. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Elfrad
5.0 out of 5 stars I often wonder how they were able or willing to remain in Paris.
For those who, like me, thought that The Treaty of Versailles was about all there was to the Paris 1919 Peace Conference, this is a book for you. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Marc Ranger
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a very well written book on the politics during the 6 months...
I' ve only finished a little over 50% of this book. It is excellent reading. I love historical documents but it takes me a long time to finish a book. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Bernadette Daigle
4.0 out of 5 stars Paris 1919
A great reference book if you want to understand the tensions and conflicts that have occurred and are still on-going. Well researched and wide ranging.
Published 14 months ago by jack smith
2.0 out of 5 stars Another Winner Written
Reeks with eugenics - only Brits and Amers have it, evryone else is primitive and stupid, according to this writer. I am sorryi paid for it.
Published 19 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Skillful rendering of a crucial year
Margaret MacMillan has created a well written account of a crucial year that shaped the world, and set the stage for the rest of the 20th century.
Published on Jan. 21 2012 by Hektor Konomi
5.0 out of 5 stars Insight and understanding
Paris 1919 recounts the history of the Treaty of Versailles and the manner in which different ideas, so critical to 20th century thought, were born politically: The League of... Read more
Published on Aug. 27 2011 by SnowPharoah
5.0 out of 5 stars Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World
MacMillan explains in very readable terms how the Allies re-organized the world after the First World War. Read more
Published on Nov. 2 2010 by meb
2.0 out of 5 stars Well written an researched... but clearly biased.
As another reviewer has written, John Maynard Keynes' work already covers much of the attempts at defending the result of the 1919 conference. Read more
Published on March 23 2010 by Ian
5.0 out of 5 stars Required reading
An engaging, colourful diplomatic history of the key decisions deciding the fate of millions and sowing seeds of conflict from Palestine to Vietnam. Read more
Published on Aug. 18 2009 by Adam Woelders
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