- 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: 402 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #24,212 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World
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“The history of the 1919 Paris peace talks following World War I is a blueprint of the political and social upheavals bedeviling the planet now. . . . A wealth of colorful detail and a concentration on the strange characters many of these statesmen were keep [MacMillan’s] narrative lively.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“MacMillan’s book reminds us of the main lesson learned at such a high cost in Paris in 1919: Peace is not something that can be imposed at the conference table. It can grow only from the hearts of people.”
—Los Angeles Times
“Beautifully written, full of judgment and wisdom, Paris 1919 is a pleasure to read and vibrates with the passions of the early twentieth century and of ours.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“MacMillan is a superb writer who can bring history to life.”
—The Philadelphia Inquirer
“For anyone interested in knowing how historic mistakes can morph into later historic problems, this brilliant book is a must-read.”
From the Inside Flap
"New York Times Editors' Choice
Winner of the PEN Hessell Tiltman Prize
Winner of the Duff Cooper Prize
Silver Medalist for the Arthur Ross Book Award
of the Council on Foreign Relations
Finalist for the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award
For six months in 1919, after the end of "the war to end all wars," the Big Three--President Woodrow Wilson, British prime minister David Lloyd George, and French premier Georges Clemenceau--met in Paris to shape a lasting peace. In this landmark work of narrative history, Margaret MacMillan gives a dramatic and intimate view of those fateful days, which saw new political entities--Iraq, Yugoslavia, and Palestine, among them--born out of the ruins of bankrupt empires, and the borders of the modern world redrawn.
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MacMillan traces the theory of German victimization back to arguments first made by John Maynard Keynes at the time of the Paris peacemaking process. The Western powers, according to Keynes, placed such a crushing financial burden on Germany that the defeated state and its people were doomed to failure. Yet as MacMillan points out, Germany ended up paying a fraction of what had been required, and all payments were suspended as early as 1932. The Treaty of Versailles was never vigorously enforced, and Germany had more ability to wiggle out of obligations then has historically been espoused. But perhaps most significantly, the catastrophic intervening depression between the two wars set much of the world into an economic tailspin. Germany was no exception.
As a major explanation for what went wrong in 1919, MacMillan focuses on the rise of nationalism that was spreading around the world like wildfire. The Western powers struggled to draw borders in areas overflowing with nationalistic fervor that defied attempts to contain peoples and sentiments within neatly drawn lines. As if all this was not enough, the three major Western powers had to contend with the tatters of four major collapsed empires: Germany, Austria – Hungary, Russia, and the Ottoman Empire.
The complexities of the task might well have relegated to failure any attempts to put Humpty Dumpty back together. Nationalism had been on the rise since the mid-19th century, and the outbreak of WWI only fueled its flames. The peacemakers were faced with the impossible task of trying to impose order on an irrational world that almost defied resolution.
MacMillan aptly describes the personal dynamics that complicated the peacemaking process. Woodrow Wilson brought his myopic brand of idealism from a largely isolationist United States. His was a country still on the rise with more limited power than it would have by the time it entered WWII. Wilson was often at odds with France's Georges Clemenceau who was vigorously defending a country that had already suffered a humiliating defeat to Germany some 50 years earlier. Clemenceau's realpolitik was comprehensible. Meantime, David Lloyd George (who was Macmillan's great-grandfather) struggled to hold together a British Empire on the wane. The three Western leaders were, indeed, an unusual trio with both overlapping, but woefully competing agendas.
MacMillian certainly acknowledges that the peacemaking process was severely flawed. From the beginning, Wilson's ill-defined 14 points, while well-intentioned, greatly complicated the task by fortifying countless nationalist groups clamoring for self-determination. The world was becoming almost hopelessly fractured by voices of competing claims to territory.
One of the major failures of the Paris peacemaking process was to forge a fair and more lasting resolution between China and the rising power of Japan. China, rightfully so, felt betrayed by the Western powers, and particularly by Wilson, when the formerly German-occupied Shantung region of China was ceded to Japan. And Japan was not much happier with the Western powers for their failure to recognize its principle of international racial equality, contributing to the rise of Japanese nationalism. Again, Wilson was viewed as the ultimate sell-out on this point.
MacMillan describes Paris to have been the "center of the world government" for the first six months of 1919. And indeed it was. In addition to the main players, it was populated with such colorful and disparate figures as T.E. Lawrence, doffed in Arabian robes, and Ho Chi Minh, at the time a dishwasher in a Parisian kitchen. MacMillan provides dimension into these and other characters swirling in and around the near hysteria of the negotiating process.
MacMillan writes eloquently about the French capital in 1919 as a city of culture, fashion, and intellectual thought. While the peace conference is the centerpiece of MacMillan's book, she does not ignore how the table of Paris is exquisitely set around it. In addition to presenting a comprehensive narrative of the events and forces propelling the world inexorably towards the second world conflagration of the twentieth century, MacMillan succeeds in bringing to life the dynamic personalities, and their respective entourages, who struggled in vain to forge a peace purportedly to end all wars.
Incredibly well researched and written this is an entertaining and fascinating book that brings to light the immense political pressures and difficulties faced by the Allies who were negotiating the fate of the world. It makes it clear that while the intentions were good as evidenced by Wilson's 14 points ( included as an appendix) , real world considerations and political jousting created the need for compromises and decisions that ultimately had tragic consequences. The author concludes that history has simplified these complex factors into essentially a formula that blames the stringent terms of the Treaty Of Versailles on what was to follow in Germany and lead to the rise of Hitler ,and makes a sound case that the reality and circumstances were much more complicated. From the Middle East to Eastern Europe to Africa and Asia the horse trading and decisions made in these fateful days , so well described in these pages, have echoed down the decades and many of those decisions shape the world we still live in almost 100 years later.
Wilson's dream of a league of nations fairly constituted of nations of self -determined peoples seems naive in retrospect; a case of good intentions colliding with reality that had innumerable and still not fully realized long term implications.