Summary and book reviews of Paris 1919 by Margaret MacMillan

Paris 1919

Six Months That Changed The World

by Margaret MacMillan

Paris 1919
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2002, 608 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2003, 608 pages

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Book Summary

'Without question, Margaret MacMillan's Paris 1919 is the most honest and engaging history ever written about those fateful months after World War I when the maps of Europe were redrawn. Brimming with lucid analysis, elegant character sketches, and geopolitical pathos, it is essential reading.'

Between January and July 1919, after "the war to end all wars," men and women from around the world converged on Paris to shape the peace. Center stage, for the first time in history, was an American president, Woodrow Wilson, who with his Fourteen Points seemed to promise to so many people the fulfillment of their dreams. Stern, intransigent, impatient when it came to security concerns and wildly idealistic in his dream of a League of Nations that would resolve all future conflict peacefully, Wilson is only one of the larger-than-life characters who fill the pages of this extraordinary book. David Lloyd George, the gregarious and wily British prime minister, brought Winston Churchill and John Maynard Keynes. Lawrence of Arabia joined the Arab delegation. Ho Chi Minh, a kitchen assistant at the Ritz, submitted a petition for an independent Vietnam.

For six months, Paris was effectively the center of the world as the peacemakers carved up bankrupt empires and created new countries. This book brings to life the personalities, ideals, and prejudices of the men who shaped the settlement. They pushed Russia to the sidelines, alienated China, and dismissed the Arabs. They struggled with the problems of Kosovo, of the Kurds, and of a homeland for the Jews.

The peacemakers, so it has been said, failed dismally; above all they failed to prevent another war. Margaret MacMillan argues that they have unfairly been made the scapegoats for the mistakes of those who came later. She refutes received ideas about the path from Versailles to World War II and debunks the widely accepted notion that reparations imposed on the Germans were in large part responsible for the Second World War.

A landmark work of narrative history, Paris 1919 is the first full-scale treatment of the Peace Conference in more than twenty-five years. It offers a scintillating view of those dramatic and fateful days when much of the modern world was sketched out, when countries were created--Iraq, Yugoslavia, Israel--whose troubles haunt us still.

Winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize, the PEN Hessell Tiltman Prize and the Duff Cooper Prize

Chapter 1

Woodrow Wilson Comes to Europe

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 ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!


  1. In 1919, Europe had just been through a devastating war, which left political, social, and economic turmoil in its wake. The war also had a considerable impact on the Middle East and parts of Asia and Africa. What were the main issues and concerns facing the peacemakers in 1919?

  2. Some historians–Arno Mayer, for example—have argued that the peacemakers of 1919 were determined to prevent the spread of revolution westward from Russia. To what extent did fear of Bolshevism shape the decisions made in Paris?

  3. It has often been said that there was a gulf between Woodrow Wilson and his new diplomacy, on one side, and the Europeans and their old diplomacy on the other. Discuss what is meant by the new and the old ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

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.

Library Journal - Frederic Krome

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.

Booklist - Jay Freeman

For those who seek a deeper understanding of one of history's most tragic failures, this book is a treasure.... Absorbing, balanced, and insightful narrative of a seminal event in modern history.

The Daily Telegraph (UK) - Allan Massie

It's easy to get into a war, but ending it is a more arduous matter. It was never more so than in 1919, at the Paris Conference. . . . This is an enthralling book detailed, fair, unfailingly lively. Professor MacMillan has that essential quality of the historian, a narrative gift.

The Sunday Times (UK)

Fascinating and funny . . . Most of the problems treated in this book are still with us today--indeed, some of the most horrific things that have been taking place in Europe and the Middle East in the past decade stem directly from decisions made in Paris in 1919. It is....instructive and sobering to read about the passions, the humbug and the sheer stupidity that gave rise to them.

Financial Times - Richard Vinen

MacMillan is brilliant at evoking the atmosphere of the conference. . . . Everyone who was anyone--from Elinor Glyn to Marcel Proust--hung around on the fringes of the conference. MacMillan enlivens her narrative with very funny stories about the regions whose affairs the negotiators sought to settle.

The Sunday Telegraph (UK) - Andrew Roberts

Macmillan's scrupulously researched, very fluidly written and closely argued book forces us to reexamine our assumptions about the supposed myopia of Georges Clemenceau, David Lloyd George, and Woodrow Wilson as they imposed their settlement on the defeated Central Powers and their allies. . . . To blame Versailles for Hitler's war is to let both him and the appeasers off the hook.

Author Blurb Douglas Brinkley, director of the Eisenhower Center
Without question, Margaret MacMillan's Paris 1919 is the most honest and engaging history ever written about those fateful months after World War I when the maps of Europe were redrawn. Brimming with lucid analysis, elegant character sketches, and geopolitical pathos, Paris 1919 is essential reading--the perfect follow-up to Barbara Tuchman's magisterial Guns of August.

Author Blurb Roy Jenkins, author of Churchill
Compelling . . . exactly the sort of book I most like written with pace and flavored with impudence based on solid scholarship; illuminating tangled subjects with irreverent pen portraits of the individuals concerned; and with a brilliant eye for quotations.

Author Blurb Blanche Wiesen Cook, author of Eleanor Roosevelt
Margaret MacMillan's compelling portrait of the heroes and rascals of Versailles, with all their complex and contradictory human and political foibles, breathes life into the most urgent issues still before us. This brilliant and dramatic book rekindles hope in the grand defining themes that emerged as World War I ended economic justice, human rights, and a league to ensure international amity.

Reader Reviews

Suzanne G.

History
This is a long, long book. It is about the six months in 1919 after WWI when President Woodrow Wilson, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George and French Premier Georges Clemenceau met in Paris to form a lasting peace. This narrative history shows ...   Read More

John Moore

Engrossing
The book takes a while to get going, but once a few chapters passed I was engrossed. I would recommend it to anyone with a passing interest in history...the book puts much of the latter portion of the 20th century into context.

costello

McMillan's day- to-day expose regarding the arbitrary redrawing of the map of Europe, Asia and the Middle East in the 1919 Paris Conference, provides a sobering critique when we have the advantage of addressing the end result today with all the ...   Read More

C

I can't comment on the entire work because I have so far read only Chapter 17, titled Poland Reborn (207-228) . Unfortunately, after what I have found there, may prevent me from reading anything else in Macmillan's book. I am just afraid that if ...   Read More

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