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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Detailed yet never boring, well written
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...
Published on Feb. 28 2003 by Terence P Hutt

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Reading in Bed
"Paris 1919" took me quickly to unconsciousness. But reading it before bedtime meant I didn't finish it for nearly two months! I'm not saying it was bad but it wasn't a page-turner. I thought it would be more about the dynamics of the Conference itself rather than about the parties involved and all the geopolitical considerations. The book lacks an overarching...
Published on March 17 2004 by Randall L. Wilson


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8 of 8 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
By 
"douglasnegley" (Pittsburgh, Pa. United States) - See all my reviews
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.
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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
By 
Mark Kratina (Omaha, NE United States) - See all my reviews
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.
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.
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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, May 6 2003
By 
Frank (Stockton CA) - See all my reviews
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.
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."
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intensely Significant - Strange Conlusion, March 9 2003
By 
David M. Sapadin (Naperville, IL United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Paris 1919, by Margaret Macmillan, ought to be required reading for anyone alive in 2003. A previous reviewer entitled his "An overlooked historical event of importance," which, in my opinion, is a rather large understatement. The Balkan Wars of the 1990's (and most recently the assasination of the Serbian Prime Minister) were/are a continuation of the conflicts that the "band-aid" called The Treaty of Versailles tried to fix. So is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So too was the fundamentalist revolution in Iran in the early 1980's (remember The Ayotollah?) that propelled Ronald Reagan into power. And don't forget Iraq! The country of Iraq was created by the treaty...another "can of worms" held in check under the point of a gun, just like Yugoslavia. (Yugoslavia was conceived at Versailles and it didn't work either). Arab nationalism ignored, Kurdish nationalism never addressed, American idealism vs. isolationism, British Imperialism, French Colonialism and the other two extremes of timidity and paranoia (you think this is new?) jump out at you from the pages of this book. Oh yes - did I leave out Bolshevism? - that's in here too! (It wasn't created by Versailles, but it certainly affected the decision-making.)
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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Superbly Written Narrative, but Lacking in Clear Judgments, July 18 2003
By 
As a literary portrayal of the Paris Conference, this book can't be beat. Its nearly five hundred pages of text are not only well-written, but scholarly, comprehensive, and sometimes even entertaining. MacMillan focuses on the numerous personalities of the conference and arranges the book around the various issues they handled there. Most of the time, this is done on a country by country basis, although some issues - such as those surrounding the peace terms for Germany - are covered thematically.
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why no Pulitzer?, April 29 2003
By 
Eros Faust "erosfaust" (Jacksonville, Florida United States) - See all my reviews
If it was mine to give, I'd award Margaret MacMillan, PhD of the University of Toronto the Pulitzer Prize in history for Paris 1919.
You almost can't understand Hitler's rhetoric, his appeal to Germans, Austrians, German speaking Czechs, the residents of Alsace-Lorraine, the Poles, and the roots of WWII without understanding what happened at Versailles in 1919. You can't understand Versailles without understanding the underlying perplexities of language, religion, nationality, and economic worth that made dividing up Germany, Hungary, and the Austrian-Hungarian Empire so difficult a task.
What I admire about Ms. MacMillan's book is that she assumes little reader's knowledge, and most Americans know only a little about Western Europe and almost nothing about Central Europe, Eastern Europe, or the Balkans. She explains the tensions in those regions in understandable terms. Once she explains it, many of the important territorial claims make sense. German claims on Poland, Danzig and the Polish corridor, and Czechoslovakia suddenly have some logic to them. Once you see, from her perspective, what Wilson promised and what Clemenceau actually delivered, you understand the intense feeling of the Germans against France, and Wilson's failings as a statesman and leader. You may understand why French seizure of the Rhineland was such a betrayal to the Germans and why Wilson's Fourteen Points, and particularly his emphasis on self-determination, made it so difficult for America to condemn the "unification" (Anshluss) with Austria.
This is a wonderfully researched book. I thoroughly enjoyed it and heartily recommend it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Blockbuster, March 12 2003
By 
David H. Schmick (Salisbury, MD United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
If a book could in anyway advertise itself for a time this one would be the book that should do so. There are just so simply so many links between the age this book describes and our own. We find outselves now at the end of the Cold War with so many shifting alliances none of which relates to the reality of our times. And that is simply where Clemenceau, Wilson, and Lloyd George found themselves.
Trying to deal with a fractured world and confronting threats from all directions, these people tried to reconfigure the world.
Messes in the Balkans, a question concerning Turkey, the end of empires, an expectent Japan and China, a divided and subdivided Africa and the German question all confronted them and in the wings awaited the League of Nations. Sound familiar? We are simply reliving their failures to confront problems we face today.
Their failures are our problems even today. And the breakup of the Soviet Empire has simply added to the equation. So if you are interested in where we are today I would commend this book to you. All of our problems today are problems not really solved by the powers that met in 1919.
Lastly the division of the Middle East during this time revisits us daily.
So I would commend this great book to anyone who wishes to ascertain the root causes of the problems we face today. Ms. MacMillan has served it all up on an easy platter to take in. When you pick up the book it looks like a real long challenge, but it is quick reading and she is an excellent author.
I rated this one 5 stars, but it is more valuable than that. It is the foundation of our current history and offers us a look at where our current challenges have evolved from. A great work and thanks to the author.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a fascinating look behind the scenes, Feb. 24 2003
By 
John Anderson (Bar Harbor, ME USA) - See all my reviews
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This is a remarkably intereresting, well-written, and timely book about a critical period in recent history. Anyone interested in "how we got to where we are" in international politics would be well-advised to dig into this highly readable yet scholarly examination of the process and personalities that came together (or in some cases FAILED to come together) in Paris during that critical period. As David Lloyd George's great grand-daughter Macmillan is in an interesting position vis a vis some of the key players at Versailles, yet while she does not disguise her interest in (and knowledge of) the real people in the photographs we get strikingly balanced portraits of most everyone without the vinidictive tittle-tattle & sniping that has marred several other recent history texts. Macmillan is able to convey both the grand sweep of history and the very human foibles of her subjects in a way that keeps one turning the pages late into the night and coming away with a real sense of what happened, what could have happened & what we might learn from what Churchill referred to all too prophetically as "Not Peace, this is Armistice for 20 years". One can only wish that the enthusiasts for the latest New World Order would read this book and ponder the fallibility of even the best of intentions
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Solid Overview, Feb. 5 2003
By 
R. Albin (Ann Arbor, Michigan United States) - See all my reviews
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This well written book is an informative overview of the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 and its associated treaties. This is an immense subject. As the author points out, for the period of the Paris Peace Conference, the primary conferees were essentially a world government. WWI largely destroyed the pre-existing world order and the decisions of the Paris conference would be the foundation for subsequent international, regional, and national politics for much of the globe. Macmillan systematically covers the whole gamut of decisions made by the conferees. The terms of the settlement with Germany, the political boundaries of Eastern Europe, the structure of the Middle East, the disposition of German colonies, the formation of the League of Nations. This is a real virtue as many tend to associate the Paris conference solely with the Treaty of Versailles that dictated terms to Germany. Macmillan shows nicely the world wide scope of the decisions and how decisions at the conference proper led to the series of important treaties that were aimed at settling the crucial issues. These included, for example, the Trianon treaty that set the borders of Hungary and the Treaty of Sevres that attempted to dictate the borders of Turkey. Any of these individual topics can and have been the subjects of substantial monographs. David Fromkin, for example, dealt very well with Turkey and the Middle East in his book A Peace to End All Peace, which covers much of the same ground. The breadth of the Paris 1919 means precludes in depth examination of each important topic but Macmillan has done a very nice job of explaining and covering the key issues and decisions. An unavoidable drawback of the book is its organization. Topics are covered thematically rather than chronologically. This makes topical analysis much more concise but makes it difficult at times to see how issues related to each other. A strictly chronological approach, however, would probably be less informative and I feel Macmillan made the correct choice. Macmillan is particularly good on the personalities of the major decision makers, Wilson, Lloyd George, Clemenceau, and in revealing the political tensions they faced in resolving issues. Macmillan is also very good in showing the underlying contradictions of the Paris Peace Conference. Wilson in particular had made national-ethnic aspirations a central issue but putting this into practice proved insuperably difficult in many situations, such as Eastern Europe, and rubbed against national interests in many others. Macmillan also does well in connecting decisions in Paris to some of our contemporary problems, such as the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Finally, she treats the failings of the Paris conference, particularly with respect to Germany, in a clear and careful fashion. While not sparing the mistakes of the treaty makers, she undercuts the common notion that the Versailles treaty was a vigorously punitive measure that was responsible in large part for WWII. Following considerable modern scholarship, she presents the treaty as more moderate than thought commonly and suggests that Germany was treated too leniently in some ways.
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Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World
Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World by Richard Holbrooke (Paperback - Sept. 9 2003)
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