Paris 1919:
Six Months that Changed the World


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Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World by Margaret Macmillan


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Book Description

National Bestseller

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.

About the Author

Margaret MacMillan received her Ph.D. from Oxford University and is provost of Trinity College and professor of history at the University of Toronto. Her previous books include Women of the Raj and Canada and NATO. Published as Peacemakers in England, Paris 1919 was a bestseller chosen by Roy Jenkins as his favorite book of the year. It won the Samuel Johnson Prize, the PEN Hessell Tiltman Prize, and the Duff Cooper Prize and was a finalist for the Westminster Medal in Military Literature. MacMillan, the great-granddaughter of David Lloyd George, lives in Toronto.

From the Back Cover
“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.”
—Chicago Tribune

Editorial Reviews

World War I Books

World War I

The Great War: a HistoryWiz exhibit

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.

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.

From Booklist
Virtually all historians agree that the Versailles Peace Conference was a monumental failure that set the stage for the outbreak of World War II. However, there is no consensus regarding the causes of that failure. Some blame Woodrow Wilson and his high-minded but absurdly impractical ideals; others blame the cynicism and narrow nationalism of Lloyd George and Clemenceau. MacMillan is a professor of history at the University of Toronto and the great-granddaughter of Lloyd George. Her narrative and analysis of the critical first six months of the negotiations will not end the controversy. However, this engrossing and inevitably depressing account is a vital contribution to efforts at understanding the deeply flawed agreements that emerged. At times, MacMillan's recounting of the minutiae of negotiations can be overwhelming, but the great accomplishments of this work are her perceptive and eloquent depictions of the key players in the conference. Of course, Wilson, as the dominant force, is at the center of her account, and she convincingly tarnishes his image as a great statesman. He was often insufferably rigid and arrogant, and his espousal of frustratingly vague concepts like "self-determination" often confused even his own advisors. For those who seek a deeper understanding of one of history's most tragic failures, this book is a treasure. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Excerpt from Chapter 1 - copyrighted material

On december 4, 1918, the George Washington sailed out of New York with the American delegation to the Peace Conference on board. Guns fired salutes, crowds along the waterfront cheered, tugboats hooted and Army planes and dirigibles circled overhead. Robert Lansing, the American secretary of state, released carrier pigeons with messages to his relatives about his deep hope for a lasting peace. The ship, a former German passenger liner, slid out past the Statue of Liberty to the Atlantic, where an escort of destroyers and battleships stood by to accompany it and its cargo of heavy expectations to Europe.

On board were the best available experts, combed out of the universities and the government; crates of reference materials and special studies; the French and Italian ambassadors to the United States; and Woodrow Wilson. No other American president had ever gone to Europe while in office. His opponents accused him of breaking the Constitution; even his supporters felt he might be unwise. Would he lose his great moral authority by getting down to the hurly-burly of negotiations? Wilson's own view was clear: the making of the peace was as important as the winning of the war. He owed it to the peoples of Europe, who were crying out for a better world. He owed it to the American servicemen. "It is now my duty," he told a pensive Congress just before he left, "to play my full part in making good what they gave their life's blood to obtain." A British diplomat was more cynical; Wilson, he said, was drawn to Paris "as a debutante is entranced by the prospect of her first ball."

Wilson expected, he wrote to his great friend Edward House, who was already in Europe, that he would stay only to arrange the main outlines of the peace settlements. It was not likely that he would remain for the formal Peace Conference with the enemy. He was wrong. The preliminary conference turned, without anyone's intending it, into the final one, and Wilson stayed for most of the crucial six months between January and June 1919. The question of whether or not he should have gone to Paris, which exercised so many of his contemporaries, now seems unimportant. From Franklin Roosevelt at Yalta to Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton at Camp David, American presidents have sat down to draw borders and hammer out peace agreements. Wilson had set the conditions for the armistices which ended the Great War. Why should he not make the peace as well?

Although he had not started out in 1912 as a foreign policy president, circumstances and his own progressive political principles had drawn him outward. Like many of his compatriots, he had come to see the Great War as a struggle between the forces of democracy, however imperfectly represented by Britain and France, and those of reaction and militarism, represented all too well by Germany and Austria-Hungary. Germany's sack of Belgium, its unrestricted submarine warfare and its audacity in attempting to entice Mexico into waging war on the United States had pushed Wilson and American public opinion toward the Allies. When Russia had a democratic revolution in February 1917, one of the last reservations that the Allies included an autocracy vanished. Although he had campaigned in 1916 on a platform of keeping the country neutral, Wilson brought the United States into the war in April 1917. He was convinced that he was doing the right thing. This was important to the son of a Presbyterian minister, who shared his father's deep religious conviction, if not his calling.

Wilson was born in Virginia in 1856, just before the Civil War. Although he remained a Southerner in some ways all his life - in his insistence on honor and his paternalistic attitudes toward women and blacks he also accepted the war's outcome. Abraham Lincoln was one of his great heroes, along with Edmund Burke and William Gladstone. The young Wilson was at once highly idealistic and intensely ambitious. After four very happy years at Princeton and an unhappy stint as a lawyer, he found his first career in teaching and writing. By 1890 he was back at Princeton, a star member of the faculty. In 1902 he became its president, supported virtually unanimously by the trustees, faculty and students.

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