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.
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