4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This should be required high school History...
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...
Published on Sept. 29 2003 by douglasnegley
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Paris 1919. An apology.
This book is highly interesting due to the rich detail in which the author relates the history of the peace-making after World War I. Much to the reader's joy she devotes a lot of attention to the settlements in the non-European parts of the world, in what is a lively treatment of the issues in 1919 and the subsequent events.
What in my opinion is the major shortcoming...
Published on April 16 2003 by M. Burger
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This should be required high school History...,
This review is from: Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World (Paperback)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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Skillful rendering of a crucial year,
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This review is from: Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World (Paperback)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.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Men who tried to fix the world, but left it broken still,
This review is from: Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World (Paperback)This book demonstrates why I am in awe of historians. The scope of research and the way MacMillan pulls it together coherently are remarkable.
Political leaders were more honest about the warlike nature of nations a hundred years ago. Before the human and financial enormities of the Great War, leaders and citizens assumed that wars were what countries did. It was how they grew and gained influence. In Paris, MacMillan reveals, some wanted to change that. But they didn't.
Perhaps they couldn't have. My impression from the book is that, while Woodrow Wilson in particular wanted (at least in theory) an end to war, and an end to the old land-grabbing power-mongering that led to it, nearly everyone at the Paris Peace Conference (including Wilson himself) was looking out for their own countries' interests, even if those countries didn't exist yet. It took an even more horrible conflict 20 years later, as well as the Cold War, to bring peace to Europe, and even that dissolved in the Balkans and elsewhere in the 1990s.
MacMillan shows that the Peace Conference delegates tried very, very hard. Often they were working at cross-purposes, and the results were, in the end, almost total failure. But they did not know it at the time. Maybe we never do.
4.0 out of 5 stars An outstanding work which helps explain the modern world,
I especially found fascinating her account of the Middle East and how what was done then set the stage for all the developments in this powder keg region of the world. Macmillan also gives a good account of the nations of the Balkans and Central Europe clarifying what they hoped to receive from the hands of the United States, Britain, France and Italy (the major
nations at the Conference).
Good thumbnail sketches of the major players from Woodrow Wilson the scholarly US leader to the ebullient Lloyd George and
a large supporting cast are valuable.
This book would do quite well in a college course on 20th century Europe and the Middle East. I recommend it!
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Detailed yet never boring, well written,
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.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An overlooked historical event of importance,
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.
An additional incentive to read this book is that I honestly learned more about the actual battles and goings on of World War I through this book than many other dryly written books on the war itself (see John Keegan's "The First World War"). We learn of many independent treaties signed between European countries prior to the war that not only played a part during choosing war alliances, but also in deciding what land should go to who and why after the war was over.
There were two main problems among many other minor ones that weighed on "the Big Three": because Germany was never really "defeated" in World War I (they signed an armistice on November 11, 1918), what was the proper punishment? Should the Allied forces militarily go into Germany and bury the country to the point where they couldn't become a future threat, or should they impose incredibly harsh "peace" sanctions on Germany regarding war reparations, loss of land, and a significant loss of munitions. Obviously, The Big Three opted for the latter. The other problem The Big Three had was that it was hard to draw nation-state boundaries when natives, nationalities, and religions were so spread out throughout Europe. As a result, major European countries (Germany, for example) were forced to deal with minorities that could not be geographically placed, and the result often lead to anti-semitism, extreme nationalism, and death or oppression for many.
The only difference I had with the book was in its conclusion. Macmillan's purpose is to show that the results and the mismanagement of the Peace Conference could not have led to World War II as some historians have claimed. To take on that thinking, Macmillan writes, would be to disregard every move from a diplomat, politician, ambassador, etc. etc. from 1919 to 1939. And while I agree with this assertion, I cannot agree entirely with her claim that had Germany been appeased by "The Big Three" and some of the more harsh penalties not been imposed on the Germans (such as war reparations), that Hitler still would have come to power and carried out his ideas for Germany. From all that I have learned about post-WWI Germany, Hitler's coming to power was a direct result of anger on behalf of the German people due to the harsh "peace" sanctions of the Treaty of Versailles. If you take away essentially what the Treaty of Versailles was attempting to do through its peace sanctions- if you appease Germany - I am led to believe that the German people would have been less inclined to provide a young, angry Adolf Hitler the political platform to stand on. The German people believed the Treaty to be incredibly unfair- and maybe it was - but if you take out the heart of what it was trying to do then, in my opinion, you take out the heart of Hitler's argument (and propaganda) he presented to the German people. Just an opinion.....
A very well-written book whose subject, though nearly eighty-five years behind us, still holds shocking relevance today. While reading this book I often thought of the circumstances some historical figures are put in and the incredible ramifications of how one (or in this case, three) man's decisions can effect millions. I also thought of how different the Conference (indeed, the world) might look today had Teddy Roosevelt represented the United States instead of Woodrow Wilson.
An interesting side-note that you may overlook (located in her bio) is that Macmillan is the great-grand daughter of Great Britain's Lloyd George.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Paris 1919. An apology.,
What in my opinion is the major shortcoming of the book, is that the purpose it has been written for becomes so apparent all along. The book should be termed "Paris 1919. An apology". Highly critical on all other settlements (the farther away from Europe, the more critical the author allows herself to be: see Turkey, Palestine, China), she asserts that "Versailles is not to blame".
Indeed, the author too easily jumps to conclusions. The most widely cited conclusion of her book is that the reparations forced upon Germany are not to blame for the rise of Hitler and WW II. Indeed events of 1919 never can be fully the reason for subsequent events say in 1933 or 1939. But it would be interesting to learn how much these events in 1919 were responsible for later developments. This would require a detailed study of the period 1919 to 1939 and one can only wonder how an author writing about a few months of peace negotiations in 1919 could ever come to a sensible conclusion about this issue! It is appalling to see that the author is even being applauded for this "research".
In fact, the only supportive argument the author offers, is that Germany until 1932 only had paid a comparatively small amount of its reparations - as if any debtor would relish about the (small) amount paid so far instead of the (much larger) sum outstanding! The facts are never presented by the author, only her conclusions. Indeed every study of this issue shows the devastating impact on German public opinion, as the reparations were constantly present due to endless negotiations - 24 conferences alone until 1924 - and new plans for repayment. E.g. the plan of 1929 still asked for yearly instalments that would have continued until 1988 (!). One can imagine what would happen to Iraqi oil reserves in the next 70 years - i.e. until 2073 - if the Big Three had a say.
The peacemakers in Paris in 1919 were a failure. Contrary to the hopes and inspirations of all the people of their age (victorious and defeated alike), they failed to establish new principles for peacemaking choosing to follow Wilson's principles where they fit the victors and to ignore them where they might have fit the defeated.
There are two sets of piece treaties: the "just treaties", those that enforce the will of the victors according to certain, broadly fair principles and those that are imposed largely against the will of the defeated and which subsequently have to be kept with force.
The "just peace" was not achieved, indeed there were not even negotiations with the defeated nations (producing calamities such as this, where Wilson only finds out after having agreed to the Czechoslovak borders that some 3 million Germans were also living there, indeed even more numerous than the name-giving ethnic Slovaks! "Why Masaryk - the Czech president - has not told me", Wilson famously asked).
So the peace had to be a forced one, one that needed to be kept with force. The author actually mourns that Germany was not more severely defeated in 1918 and expresses regret that the allies have not marched upon Berlin. With the same reason she might asked herself who actually won the first World War? Was it really France, which on its own would have been defeated in 1914 already? Or in other words: Why at all should US-soldiers fight for France having coal mines in the Saar area?
No new world order was established in Paris in 1919, instead the principle that the stronger nation imposes its will on others was once again confirmed. A discussion of the peacemakers of Paris 1919 should also include a reference to these other peacemakers (or "appeasers" as they now are called), those of 1938. Applying exactly the same principles as their fellows in 1919 Chamberlain & Co. gave away what was "just" in terms of the then prevailing equilibrium of power: E.g: exactly those 3 million Germans of the Sudetenland about which Wilson only learned so late in 1919.
The Treaty of Versailles is indeed to blame. Like this other Treaty with the Turks at Sèvres it called for a revision. In the case of Turkey, due to the swift recovery of Turkish forces under Attatürk, the dictated Treaty of 1919 was never implemented and later on was substituted with a negotiated one, leaving Turkey intact in almost exactly its present borders. Unfortunately for Europe and for Germany especially, the person that - as Attatürk undid the Sèvres treaty - undertook to undo the Versailles treaty was Adolf Hitler.
The Versailles Treaty asked for its revision, through war (WWII) or negotiations, so out of line it was with the actual balance of power and broad principles of justice. This is its ultimate failure and it is for this that "Versailles" and the peacemakers of 1919 can be blamed. But certainly they cannot be blamed for Hitler and his mass murders - nobody actually ever did.
So the book is a must read due to the facts presented and the lively picture it draws of those critical months, but should be read with great care when it comes to the far-reaching conclusions, not supported neither by facts nor by subsequent history.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive and readable book on aftermath of World War I,
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.
The respective rights of Zionists and Palestinians in the Middle East were at issue.
A young kitchen assistant at the Paris Ritz hotel sent in a petition asking that his native country, Vietnam, be granted independence from France. The petition was ignored, and the kitchen assistant was Ho Chi Minh.
The conference also faced the issues of the end of the Russian monarchy, and the new Bolshevik revolution. Although the Bolsheviks weren't in control of all Russia, should the Bolsheviks be recognized and invited to Paris? The political missteps here helped convince the Soviets that the Allies were not their friends.
Perhaps the largest issue, of course, was how to treat Germany. How important was it to assign "guilt" to Germany for World War I? How just was it to compel war reparation payments from Germany? What should have been included in the "bill" ? How large should those payments have been -- how much of Germany's economic product should be taken from it? Did the fact, and size, of these payments contribute to the rise of Hitler, and the Second World War? MacMillan deals with these issues at length.
The Paris Peace conference came down to several men sitting in a room and talking, remaking the world as they did. The ramifications of what they decided will continue well into the future. MacMillan says, "If they could have done better, they certainly could have done much worse."
I recommend this book to anyone interested in the historical underpinnings of the current world situation. When you finish it, it's like listening to the Paul Harvey feature -- "and now you know the rest of the story."
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intensely Significant - Strange Conlusion,
This is history the way it ought to be written. The subject of each chapter is a major field of study, yet each superbly written so that anyone with even a cursory understanding of world history can follow it. Best of all, each chapter is concluded with a time-line right up to the present making it easy to trace how today's world (and our lives) have been, and are continuing to be, influenced by what took place in Paris - in 1919.
Macmillan's conclusion is, in my opinion, a little odd. She goes easy on the peacemakers, claiming that they did their best. I agree with her on that. But I disagree with her claim that WWII would have happened anyway, Versailles or no Versailles. Macmillan contends Hitler would have wanted living space, and would have exterminated the Jews no matter what. But she downplays that without Versailles, and most importantly how the treaty was perceived by the Germans (as humiliation), not how it was actually adminstered or not administered, was what created the collective state of mind in Germany which allowed a Hitler to easily come to power.
The best that can be said for The Treaty of Versailles is that it was a "learning experience," a series of (at best) under-thought-out solutions, or (at worst) momentous mistakes made by a small, powerful group of well-intentioned humans - with emphasis on the word "humans." For human they were, as this book unabashedly reveals.
What we learned from Versailles was how NOT to make a peace. The US did learn from those mistakes - graphically illustrated by its adoption of the Marshall Plan after WWII, its entry into the UN, and its rebuilding of Japan.
What is happening in the World today...Arab nationalism in the form of terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, the Balkans, Iraq, Israel & The Palestinians are all leftovers from the fall of the Ottoman Empire after WWI and the Treaty of Versailles. The cultural, religious, and political conflicts are still being played out on the world stage after, in many cases, years of suppression amid the bi-lateral nuclear standoff known as the Cold War.
We did much better after WWII in regards to Europe and Japan. Let's hope we do better now in regards to the Middle East. To illustrate how difficult the peacemaker's job was in 1919, one only has to look at the complexities of today beause they haven't changed much. There needs to be an Israel. There needs to be something other than the oppressive ruling families in the Arab kingdoms. There needs to be someplace for the Kurds. The Arab countries need to join the 21st century. Cultures that have clashed for thousands of years need to live in close proximity to each other - and somehow get along without threatening the entire world.
So how many of you out there think we should go blasting our way into Iraq as a start toward addressing all these complexities? By a show of hands, I see its about even. Which only goes to prove that hindsight is easy, and I commend Margaret Macmillan for presenting a different point of view about the value of the work done by the peacemakers in 1919. (The previously held prevailing wisdom was that they were a collection of bumbling idealists and failures). But even though I agree with her that Wilson, Clemenceau, and Lloyd George may have done the best they could given the enormity of the changes taking place in the world in which they were living and that it all was new, I remain convinced that if Versailles had reflected the actual outcome of WWI (it was, more or less, a tie) then three or four years of diplomacy (rather than 6 months) would have, could have, and should have, prevented WWII. The world could have learned by 1919 the lesson of the Treaty of Austria. (Leniency does not breed the humiliation that breeds contempt, that breeds war.) Now it is up to us, those who have inherited Versailles,as Macmillan accurately points out, to pick up the baton and create situations in which the world can work.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Superbly Written Narrative, but Lacking in Clear Judgments,
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.)
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Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World by Richard Holbrooke (Paperback - Sept. 9 2003)
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