In the very first words of her prize-winning book, Peacemakers, Margaret Macmillan says, "In 1919 Paris was the capital of the world." In the aftermath of the First World War, the great and good of all nations were there to reshape the world. New nations sprang into existence during lunches in expensive Parisian hotels; borders that had lasted centuries were altered with the stroke of a pen; empires that had outlived their sell-by date were unceremoniously dismantled. Presiding over this wholesale remaking of the globe were Woodrow Wilson, Lloyd George and the French prime minister Georges Clemenceau.
Margaret Macmillan's pen portraits of the Big Three, and of many of the other extraordinary delegates to the Peace Conference--from Lawrence of Arabia to the Polish pianist and politician Ignace Paderewski--are superb. Her own writing is engagingly witty and she has a knack for finding apposite and funny quotes to enhance it. This is one of the very few books on diplomacy and international relations that can make a reader laugh out loud. The liveliness and vigour of her writing rests on the solid foundation of her wide-ranging knowledge. The delegates presumed not only to solve the problems of war-ravaged Europe but were happy to turn their attentions to Africa, the Middle East and China. Margaret Macmillan seems equally comfortable discussing the intricacies of Balkan boundaries, the creation of new states like Czechoslovakia, war between Greece and Turkey, Zionist settlement in Palestine, Japanese ambitions in the Pacific and a host of other subjects. Above all she works hard to be fair to the participants in the conference.
We know that an even more terrible war was only 20 years in the future. They didn't and they were all working sincerely to create a world in which war would be impossible. Macmillan is rightly dismissive of the notion that the peace devised at Paris was so flawed that another war was inevitable. Her book not only does justice to the Paris Peace Conference but it's also massively readable. That's quite an achievement. --Nick Rennison
'A terrific piece of writing ... full of wonderful insights and portraits of the statesmen and women of the day'(listed among 'My Six Best Books' by Chris Patten) (Chris Patten, Daily Express)