Generally, I would think of a 500 page book on a peace treaty to be pretty tough going. But I found this book to be absolutely fascinating. Of course, the Treaty of Versailles that closed the first world war wasn’t just any peace treaty. It was an attempt at picking up the pieces of several shattered empires in order to divide up the land in ways that would reflect the “self determination” of individual people groups. Granted, these altruistic motives weren’t always carried out very successfully, but the journey is an intriguing one.
Before reading this book, my main impression of the Treaty of Versailles was that it in some ways aided Hitler’s rise to power by leaving Germany in desperate economic straits. As usual, the more I learn, the less cut-and-dry the issue seems. I found it fascinating to learn more of the personalities involved in the peace making process, and the way their personal histories and their countries’ experience of the war affected the decisions that were made.
No book on history is completely unbiased. Many histories place far more blame on the peacemakers than Margaret MacMillan does. Her more compassionate portrayal of the “Big Three” – Woodrow Wilson, Georges Clemanceau, and Lloyd George – could be a byproduct of the fact that she is in fact Lloyd George’s great-granddaughter. But I found her portraits of these men to be very compelling – their strengths and idealism right alongside their flaws and (sometimes) downright ignorance.
This book’s subtitle, “Six Months that Changed the World” is very appropriate. The task of trying to create a peaceful world on the heels of one of the world’s most devastating wars was a colossal one. This book provides a fascinating glimpse into decisions that have in many ways shaped our modern world.