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7 of 7 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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Reading in Bed, March 17 2004
By 
Randall L. Wilson "Randy Wilson" (San Francisco) - See all my reviews
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"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 narrative that would have helped bring the Conference alive. What I was hoping for was more of how the personalities of the leaders; Wilson, George and Clemenceau along with the national interests they represented played themselves out on this international stage.
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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Conference that Made the 21st Century World, May 15 2003
By 
Lauren S. Kahn (McLean, VA USA) - See all my reviews
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World War I ended with an inconclusive result. Basically the Germans lost because they were exhausted. France was in ruins. Germany was never invaded.
The "Big Four" sat around the conference table to divvy up Europe and the Near East and we have lived with the results ever since.
This book details the events that took place in Paris in 1919. Woodrow Wilson, who was already ill, was obsessed with his 14 points. However, those points did not always fit what the big powers saw as their national interest. Compromises were made and we are still living with the results--for example the borders in the Middle East which often have more to do with the French and the British than they do to where the ethnic groups actually live. Think about Iraq: It's a mishmosh of groups. Then there is Turkey, whose borders resulted from events on the ground (as in Ataturk).
This is a well written book that will interest any history nut. It should appeal to a larger audience, however, due to the current interest in events in the Middle East and the continuing turmoil in the Balkans. After all, it was the turmoil in the Balkans that began World War I. Somethings never change.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Political Basis of the Modern World, Feb. 27 2003
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Go out and get this book immediately and read it: it supplies the framework for the reconfiguration of Europe and the Far East that makes it possible to understand the alignments of the modern world and the problems we face. The wrangling and the greed of the greater and smaller powers in 1919 gives you an insight into the confusion that follows the end of a world war.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Paris 1919. An apology., April 16 2003
By 
M. Burger - See all my reviews
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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 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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Splendid, candid, and well written., Feb. 26 2003
By 
"forchewzee" (lake elsinore, CA United States) - See all my reviews
Magaret Macmillan, writes a candid account of the Paris Peace accords which followed World War I. But she choose to do so in a less critical way then her fellow historians. She has a positive outlook on the deliberations, but makes it well known that many things were left unadressed, causing turmoil throughout the world. The current situation in the Middle-East, the Palistenean-Israeli conflict, and unfinished business in Yugoslovia in the late 1990's, can be accredited to the poor diplomacy of the post-World War I era. Her writing is coherent, well-organized, and well-researched, making it worth all five stars.
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5.0 out of 5 stars dragon's teeth, July 16 2004
By 
Robert D. Harmon "bobnbob3" (Mill Valley, CA) - See all my reviews
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Hindsight is valuable in history and Ms. MacMillan's work, coming now, puts more perspective on the Paris conference and the effects that haunt us to this day. Ms. MacMillan does assert that the Versailles Treaty - one of its products - should not bear sole blame for the catastrophe that came 20 years later (though she notes that Hitler found it a gold mine of propaganda).
However, a reader can find in her story that the Paris conference, and the resulting treaties, sowed dragon's teeth that would erupt year after year: the bloody 1922 war between Turkey and Greece; the mutual suspicions between Poland and the new republics around her that left them divided later; the bad blood between Rumania and her neighbors over her new borders; the creation of fragile nations and economies in Hungary and Austria that would be easy prey for fascism; the Italian populist fervor over Fiume and Trieste that contributed so much to the rise of Mussolini; the Sudetenland issue that would awake in the 1930s; the Allied mandates in Arab lands that would cause so much resentment later; the creation of amorphous nation-states that would implode in the 1990s - Rwanda, Burundi, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Iraq.
Ms. MacMillan does provide an epilogue to each decision, as well as a new look at Woodrow Wilson, the first U.S. president to travel outside the U.S. in his term, and whose 14 Points proved perhaps the greatest unrealized promise of the period.
For a conference founded on such post-war hope and good intentions, it certainly proved a road to hell. All in all, a worthwhile read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Paris 1919 : Six Months That Changed the World, April 19 2004
By 
B. Viberg "Alex Rodriguez" (New York, NY United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World (Paperback)
MacMillan (Univ. of Toronto) uses the deliberations surrounding the Treaty of Versailles (together with its adjuncts: Trianon, St. Germain, Neuilly, Sevres, and Lausanne) in several ways. First, she introduces readers to a stellar cast of characters: Lloyd George, the "Welsh wizard"; Clemenceau, the "French tiger"; Wilson, the "American professor"; as well as King Faisal, Lawrence of Arabia, Ataturk, Ho Chi Minh, and even Gandhi. Second, she clearly articulates the intricacies of the welt politik that led up to WW I. Third, she discusses many of the issues that were on the table in 1919 and are still present: Balkan ethnic politics, Europe's relationship with Turkey, Britain's involvement with Europe, tensions in the Middle East. But, most important, 1919 marks the advent of the US as a moralizing force that at once castigated Old World imperialisms while initiating its own self-appointed role as global arbiter of good and evil. Somewhat poignantly, MacMillan closes this study of the aftermath of the "war to end all wars" with two questions: "How can the irrational passions of nationalism or religion be contained before they do more damage? How can we outlaw war?" Well footnoted, referenced, and illustrated with clear maps and intriguing photographs.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Ultimate Narrative History of Versailles, April 18 2004
By 
Review of British/ Canadian Edition (Title is "The Peacemakers")
That such a narrative history could be feted by the world at large and be a best-seller in the English speaking world speaks volumes about the timeless nature of the search for international peace and, more importantly, the rich writing style of MacMillan. It is a very accessible book and one that should be read by the world's leaders and the general public.
The book tries to cover all aspects the peace conference dealth with. In 500 pages that is hard, but there are chapters on all relevant countries and issues: for every country from China Hungary. Not surprisingly some topics are dealt with better than others. I was a little surprised at the German Treaty. It actually takes up less than 100 pages in this book. There is so much to cover that it is not surprising that one feels a little cheated in details.
A few areas that are covered well is the attitude of Italy and is puerile histrionics at the talks and its boastful stance worthy of its eventual leader Mussolini. Hungary is the real orphan of the treaty with no friends at all. Rumania the great winner despite being on both sides in the war. China and Japan and the nacsent warfare between them boils below the surface with Japan's claims on China and the Shantung Penninsula.
I liked this book a lot, but I thought it was a little blown out of porportion. I have honestly read better history of the early 20th Century (eg. Piers Brendon's "The Dark Valley), but I was still noticably impressed.
In our postmodern world where everyone is a critic judging the problems of yesteryear through the lens of today, this may look like a bunch of stodgy toffs of the leaders of western countries making imperialistic decisions on the broad unshaped territories of the world. MacMillan to her credit rarely judges. She, like most people who read and incredible amount of history, realise that there are rarely good choices devoid of negative consequences. There is only a whole lot of bad choices and an even greater range of worse choices. Even in the establishment of the Palastine Mandate it is hard to see what the eventual outcome would be. If anything the British come across -- again -- as the far-sighted imperialists, ruling indirectly, trying to square the circle between US idealism and French/ Japanese raw territorial aggression. Their experience meant that they usually knew the consequences of their actions. They also had much more of a mature democracy with an independent press that was less willing to give carte blanche approval to the imperial moves of national policy. This contrasts with the French and the Italian press, which were essentially arms of the national policy when needed (some may say this has not changed in the case of Berlusconi).
All in all a great book. worthy of plaudits, but I honestly do not know if it is as great as it is commonly touted to be.
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5.0 out of 5 stars War Winners, Peace Losers, Jan. 22 2004
By 
Serge J. Van Steenkiste (Atlanta, GA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World (Paperback)
After WWI, the victors, mainly the U.S., Britain and France, had the responsibility to draw a new world order after the fall of the old one, at the Conference of Paris and other conferences thereafter. Possibly frustrating some readers, Margaret MacMillan rightly chose a thematic approach to the issues that the Big Three had to address during the Conference of Paris. MacMillan does a good job making the necessary connections between the chapters so that readers do not lose sight of the big picture. Each theme is so complex that it could be the subject of a book on its own. Paris 1919 can entice readers to know more about this period.
MacMillan clearly shows the disconnect between a peace conference and happenings in the field. Despite the best intentions of the U.S., Britain and France, these countries were often inconsistent in the application of some key principles such as auto-determination and territory swaps, in their desire to reward the victors and punish the losers. Furthermore, the U.S., Britain and France tended to focus on short-term gains without considering long-term implications. Whoever needs convincing on this point can think about Palestine, Iraq, former Yugoslavia and Hungary, to name a few.
Paradoxically, the Treaty of Lausanne that almost complelety wiped out the punitive Sevres Treaty (one of the aftermaths of the Conference of Paris) towards Modern Turkey has been the most successful and the most lasting of all the post-war treaties. Modern Turkey, one of the defeated nations at the end of WWI, successfully rebelled against the respective diktats of the victorious nations and humbled them one by one first on the battlefields and then in the diplomatic arenas. As George Curzon, a British imperial statesman, noted at the end of the conference in Lausanne: Hitherto we have dictated our peace treaties. Now we are negotiating one with an enemy who has an army while we have none, an unheard of position.
Iraq is a current example of how difficult making peace can be compared to winning war. Fair elections, though possibly subpar if organized in the short term, could promote peace in Iraq. These elections could send a strong signal to Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds alike. To the Shiites by making clear that the unjust, past rule of the Sunni minority is over. Elections would help convince the Sunnis and Kurds that in a federal structure they will be their own masters in a wide range of matters. Of course, each community will have to guarantee the basic rights of minorities in their respective entities. The Coalition and Iraqis should find some very useful inspiration in the Belgian Constitution and its implementation laws. The Flemish-speaking majority has coexisted peacefully with the French and German-speaking minorities for many years in a federalist structure while deciding on its own destiny in a wide range of matters that do not interfere with the viability of the Belgian federation. Similarly, the French and German-speaking minorities can preside over their respective future in the same matters without endangering the existence of the Belgian federal state.
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4.0 out of 5 stars MacMillan makes sense out of a perplexing historical event., Jan. 5 2004
By 
Patrick L. Randall (Silver Spring, MD) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World (Paperback)
If nothing else, Margaret MacMillan's book on the on the World War I peace conference, "Paris 1919", shows exactly how complex, intricate, and convoluted the politics were that began the war and would dictate the post war actions. It's nothing short of amazing how deeply MacMillan probed in order to make the serpentine mess of the Paris Peach Conference accessible to the lay reader. Most people superficially know that the Treaty of Versailles imposed harsh penalties on Germany for World War I and that Hitler used the national anger towards this treaty as his means of rising to power. Of course, that is a gross oversimplification. In truth, the terms of the Treaty were not as harsh as people make them out to be and the language of the treaty made it essentially impotent in enforcing those terms. By the time Hitler had rendered the treaty null and void, Germany had only paid about 10 percent of the reparations they were scheduled to. Discoveries like this are present throughout "Paris 1919".

MacMillan emphasizes the flaws of the Council of Four and how that affected their ability to develop an effect peace accord. France and Italy were the most greedy and demanding members of that Council, yet Italy had never won a single battle and France was saved from utter disaster only by the intervention of the United States in 1917. The other two members flopped as well. British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, frequent demonstrated his lack of political acumen and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson was both intractable with regards to his 'Fourteen Points' declaration and nebulous with his definition of what national 'self-determination' meant. With a leadership like this, it's hardly surprising that this treaty became such a debacle. On the other side, the Germans felt their dealings with the Council were quite suspect. For starters, many Germans even questioned if they had lost the war, given that no fighting had even occurred on the German soil prior to the armistice. Second, they felt that the punishments that were to be levied on their country should not be that severe, given that they had expelled the leadership responsible for the aggressive actions that started this war (including Kaiser Wilhelm, himself).

In the midst of the conflicts between the major powers, there were still many issues to contend with and fires that had yet to be put out. While the main body of fighting ended in 1918, different ethnic and geographic skirmishes connected to this war continued well into the 1920's. Turkey and Greece kept fighting for many years after World War I ended. Many of the Baltic States made their grabs for land and influence while also contending with the collapse of the empire of Austria-Hungary. Unnatural nations were built, like Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. Much of this occurred outside the realm of the Council of Four's focus. Then, there is the little matter of the Russian Bolshevik threat and the Japan's Pacific land grab, both of which received scant attention from the peacemakers (except for a brief expeditionary force sent to Siberia with an unclear goals in trying to contain bolshevism).

This is just the tip of the iceberg with regards to the wealth of information MacMillan gives to the reader. At times, the material can seem ponderous, but this is due to some of the subject matter. There is also the tendency of MacMillan to jump around events and briefly get redundant. These are minor quibbles, though, when one considers the rich, brilliant narrative that the author has provided in helping to unlock the mysteries and myths surrounding the peace conference that eventually ensured, as one quipster put it, 'a just and lasting war'.
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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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