Sunday, 29 November 2015

Paris 1919

Read: November 2015
Pages: 496

Sometimes a book comes to right at the time it is most relevant to your life or to your understanding of the world.  Sometimes a book comes to you before you're ready for it, and you only realize later that you should have paid more attention.  And sometimes a book comes into your life too late.

I've been meaning to read Paris 1919 ever since it came out in 2000 to stunningly good reviews.  A copy even entered my house as a loan to Harvey in the intervening years....but I didn't get around to reading it before it departed back to its owner.   I finally read it this year and thought:  this would have seemed more relevant in the '90s or the Naughties, when the Wall had more recently come down, and the Bosnian war was fresh in everyone's minds.  The book has a lot to say about the ethnic and political divisions in the Balkans in particular, and understanding the post-WWI history of the region is quite illuminating in terms of understanding the events of the 90s.

But saying that I read Paris 1919 too late is too glib.  I'm sure it made a much bigger splash at the time of its release because of its discussion of the Balkans, and the immediate relevance of that history to then-current events.  But the book doesn't just talk about the Balkans.  World War I really was a global war.  It touched everywhere from Europe to the Middle East to the Far East, and understanding that war and its impact can help one better understand those regions and their history.  In fact, reading Paris 1919 even helped me better understand The Windup Bird Chronicle! not to mention Lawrence of Arabia (the movie, that is).  It also gave me some fascinating insights into the political background to the founding of the state of Israel.

The book itself delves into detail about the discussions at the Paris Peace Conference, and discusses in depth the personality, motivations, and political manueverings of all of the major players.  It's hard not to come away with an acute understanding of just how doomed that intensive 6 month period of "peace-making" was.  Woodrow Wilson, Lloyd George, and Georges Clemenceau between them tried to settle the concerns of many of the peoples of the world.  It was a task beyond any such group of men.

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