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Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World

339 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0375760525
ISBN-10: 0375760520
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Editorial Reviews

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

In an ambitious narrative, MacMillan (history, University of Toronto) seeks to recover the original intent, constraints, and goals of the diplomats who sat down to hammer out a peace treaty in the aftermath of the Great War. In particular, she focuses on the "Big Three" Wilson (United States), Lloyd George (Great Britain), and Clemenceau (France) who dominated the critical first six months of the Paris Peace Conference. Viewing events through such a narrow lens can reduce diplomacy to the parochial concerns of individuals. But instead of falling into this trap, MacMillan uses the Big Three as a starting point for analyzing the agendas of the multitude of individuals who came to Versailles to achieve their largely nationalist aspirations. Following her analysis of the forces at work in Europe, MacMillan takes the reader on a tour de force of the postwar battlefields of Asia and the Middle East. Of particular interest is her sympathy for those who tried to make the postwar world more peaceful. Although their lofty ambitions fell prey to the passions of nationalism, this should not detract from their efforts. This book will help rehabilitate the peacemakers of 1919 and is recommended for all libraries. Frederic Krome, Jacob Rader Marcus Ctr. of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks (2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375760520
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375760525
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (339 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #42,995 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

239 of 260 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Spady on February 6, 2003
Format: Hardcover
For the last couple of weeks, since finishing "Paris 1919", I have grappled with writing a review that would do justice to a book that is not only excellent reading, but also has the potential to reshape the way a reader views current events. Rather than wait longer for the writing muse who refuses to appear, I will take the more direct approach and simply write, "Buy this book and read it. It will afford you a greater understanding of international events unfolding in the world today."
Margaret Macmillan is an exceptional history writer: engaging, direct and interesting (sometimes even funny), but also a wide-ranging thinker who see and explains the vast sweep of history as well as the apparently minor ripples. She juggles the enormous cast of characters in the drama that unfolded in Paris, 1919 and explicate the myriad brought to the major players at the peace conference. Her knowledge of world history and her ability to explain it concisely are fully illustrated in her explanations of the various ethnic claims for land and self-rule individual; her ability to compare and contrast these claims is extraordinary.
She quickly reduces the Big Five to the Big Four, as the Four themselves did when they eliminated the Japanese representative from most of the debate and negotiation - he could barely follow the mostly English conversation anyway.
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197 of 224 people found the following review helpful By M. Burger on April 16, 2003
Format: Hardcover
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.
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127 of 144 people found the following review helpful By David J. Gannon on December 23, 2002
Format: Hardcover
There's an old adage that posits that the real outcome of a war is to teach one to hate one's allies more than than opne's enemies. Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World by Margaret Olwen MacMillan and Richard Holbrooke outlines why this old adage exists. The book covers the 6 month period in mid 1919 where the victorious allies of WW I converged to carve up the spoils of war and how this exercise set the stage for most of the subsequent conflicts of the 20th century.
While the book focuses on the Big Three Personalities of this exercise--Wilson (United States), Lloyd George (Great Britain), and Clemenceau (France) who dominated the critical aspects of the Paris Peace Conference-this focus doesn't detract from providing an encompassing review of the entire process as well as a detailed analysis of the devastating results of the conference. It delineates all too clearly how the best intentions can be overwhelmed by both insatiable avarice as well as unencumbered and unchecked egos in conflict.
This is a timely book. As we are poised to invade Iraq and effect "regime change" it would be wise to look at a previous exercise in managing post war victory to be reminded of both the complexities as well as the risks involved in such an undertaking.
Although an expressly historical tome, this is a well written and fast paced read.
Probably the best historical work I read in 2002. Highly recommended.
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41 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Soren Swigart on January 16, 2007
Format: Paperback
This book is another fine narrative history in same vein as Robert Massey's Dreadnought, and Alistair Horne's The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916. If you have an interest in the Great War and want history to come alive on the page, this book is one for you.

In the introduction Professor MacMillan says; "For six months in 1919, Paris was the capital of the world. The Peace Conference was the world's most important business, the peacemakers its most important people." The six-month session in Paris that took place between January and June1919 and involved representatives of 29 countries drew many of the boundaries of Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans that exist to this day, recreated Poland, set the terms by which the major powers would attempt to live with one another and forged the model for the future United Nations, among many other things.

MacMillan tells the story by getting under the skins of the three primary actors, Woodrow Wilson, David Lloyd George and Georges Clemenceau. She presents them with all their flaws and qualities and does not judge whether they were good men or evil fools as they struggled with a task of monumental difficulty as best they could.

In the end, the author is writing what we may call a revisionist history of the subject. It has long been felt that the Peace Conference was a miserable failure, that narrow national and partisan interests ruled the peacemakers, that the terms offered to Germany were too harsh and contained within them the seeds of the next war. Wilson, George and Clemenceau have been excoriated over the years but Professor MacMillan holds that they have unfairly been made the scapegoats for the mistakes of those who came later.
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