Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World Hardcover – Oct 29 2002
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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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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
My only major complaint with the book is its judgments on the conference. While MacMillan clearly shows that the major players failed to deliver a workable peace on numerous issues, she plainly has a soft spot for the whole enterprise and defends it against most criticism, including the most common one: that its failings would lead directly to World War 2. She also defends the peace conference against its most famous critic, John Maynard Keynes, and his argument that the economic terms against Germany were too harsh.
Unfortunately, MacMillan's defense of the Paris conference is not up to the same standards as her narrative skills in describing it. I read Keynes' "The Economic Consequences of the Peace" soon after finishing this book and was surprised to see the famous economist's main arguments were still convincing. MacMillan really doesn't even touch on Keynes' points in any detail, but brushes them aside with an argument that Keynes already anticipated in his book. (See my review of "The Economic Consequences of the Peace" for details.)
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.
Instead the events at the conference came to a screeching halt every time a new country petitioned the Conference for more territory. Ms. Macmillan then provided the backstory on the country's history and the leader appearing at the conference. Often this was interesting but not gripping and I felt that the larger story and personalities got lost in the details. I got a good understanding of the political dynamics of various regions both going back and forward in time. The book made me interested in learning more about specific aspects of issues raised at the Conference such as the German presence on the Shantung peninsula and about the Turkish leader Ataturk. What I didn't get was a strong sense of the historic conference itself nor the larger themes that came out of it.
Most recent customer reviews
Great follow up to the War that Ended Peace. Margaret McMillan certainly has a skill for breaking down and bringing to life such a seemingly overwhelming topic as WWI and then the... Read morePublished 3 months ago by marsha l. reid
This book is an excellent resource for those studying early twentieth century history. It covers all the major topics of the Treaty of Versailles in great detail, and the... Read morePublished 3 months ago by R Helen
I read this book because I read Macmillan's 1919. 1919 is better, but this is still pretty good. The book is about the making of the Versailles Treaty. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Vince Marinelli
Very authoritative. Margaret MacMillan lays open the historical record for all to see. Great book in excellent condition. Great vendor.Published 5 months ago by TT
This exceptionally informative and interesting book should be required reading for anyone who watches the news. Read morePublished 10 months ago by Vernon Quinsey
Amazing insights. Rings so true (coming from Easter Europe)Published 14 months ago by Andrei Oliinyk
Excellent service -everyone in North America should read this book. Should be a High School text book.Published 15 months ago by A.Stedmann