Book Review: Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World

Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World

Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World by Margaret MacMillan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The second of two books I chose to read about the end of the World War on its 100th anniversary, Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World by Margaret MacMillan is far and away the best of the two, the other being 1919 Versailles: The End of the War to End All Wars by Charles L. Mee Jr. Paris 1919 is more in-depth, more detailed, and offers more analysis. MacMillan gives the reader more insight into not just the Great Powers’ representatives but the representatives of the other countries’ representatives as well. The reader gets a lot of insight into not just how Clemenceau, Lloyd George, and Wilson interacted, but also into the politics and divisions within the French, British, and American delegations. She provides backgrounds on the conflicts between regions and peoples, explaining the fighting over territories of the former Austro-Hungary and Ottoman Empires. Those explanations offer insight into how difficult it was to redraw the map in some areas once those empires were no more. More importantly, MacMillan offers much more analysis of negotiations and the treaty, stating almost from the outset that “It has become a commonplace to say that the peace settlements of 1919 were a failure, that they led directly to the Second World War. That is to overestimate their power.” She argues that the Treaty of Versailles wasn’t a “vindictive peace” that “crushed” Germany through overly harsh reparations and strict enforcement, leading to World War II. In essence, her argument seems to be that mistakes were made by the negotiators, but that things could have been a lot worse.

Paris 1919, at 624 pages, is a long book but isn’t a boring one. It may feel like you’re often re-exploring topics, but MacMillan has organized the book by regions and issues instead of chronologically. Given the complexity and wide range of topics encompassed by the Paris negotiations, I think that was the best way to organize the book. If I have any complaint, it is a lack of maps to help illustrate how the former Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires were broken up. Maps with the pertinent text would definitely have made it easier to visualize the borders being discussed. Normally, I would drop a book one star for that but the quality of the text makes up for it in this case. Overall, this is very much a book worth reading if you want to understand the peace negotiations that followed World War and the ongoing ramifications of the peace that ended World War I. It’s not hard at all to give this book five stars.

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Categories: Books, History, World War I

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2 replies

  1. No, we didn’t, but it didn’t make much of a difference. We entered into an isolationist period following WW1. That combined with Britain and France looking elsewhere resulted in non-enforcement of the treaty and that’s where she goes with her assessment that it wasn’t as bad as it has been made out to be. I’m inclined mostly to side with her on that as there were other issues that helped bring about WW2. Even if it wasn’t as harsh as it was made to be, it certainly left the perception that it was in the defeated countries and I think we can all agree that if you have the perception of a problem, you have a problem whether the perception is correct or not. Nazis and Fascists were certainly able to use the Treaty to their political advantage during the interwar years. On the other hand, it’s clear that the United States, in particular, learned something from the aftermath of World War I and saw that the defeated Axis powers in WW2 weren’t left in dire economic straits after they were defeated. The Marshall Plan and the rebuilding of Japan resulted in stable countries after WW2 unlike what was left in Germany after WW1.

    The Treaty of Versailles was a huge failure in other areas, however. 100 years later, we are still dealing with the ramifications of how territory was parcelled out and how borders were redrawn in Africa, the Balkans, and the Middle East, not to mention the mess that Balfour Declaration, etc. created in Palestine.

  2. The US never ratified the Treat of Versailles.
    Pols and pundits said at the time it would lead to another war and guess they were correct.
    Yes interesting the World map pre WW1. Lots of Kings,Oligarchs,emperors etc.
    Didn’t care much for Pres Wilson but US did finally become a World power.
    Interesting time in history for sure 1919 🙂

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