Semi retired small business person/ college professor/ investor.
Depends on the friend. This is not a book for the average reader.
If you are not at least a little bit of a history nut this is not the book for you. It is an exhaustive history, (I mean that in both meanings of the word). I suspect that no matter how much history you know you will learn something new in reading this. That said this is not a book for the beginner, a reasonable knowledge of per WWI European geography is necessary to follow the discussions of what lands went to whom.
One final note it is important to understand the the word "liberal" did not have the same meaning in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as it does today. At that point in time a liberal was one who believed in less government power and more individual rights and freedoms. The meaning is closer to what is considered libertarianism today.
I am a bilingual high school teacher. I mostly read non-fiction, especially history, but I am also a sucker for science-fiction and fantasy novels.
This was quite a marathon listen, even for me - and I regularly listen to long, dense non fiction and enjoy it. It wasn't so much the length but rather the degree of detail that made it seem like such a long book - it really went over every little bit of the peace conference. I appreciated this, since I bought it to learn about the conference, after all, but it was excruciating at times. It covers not only the peace treaties with Germany, Austria, Hungary, Turkey, and Bulgaria, but also the formation of Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Poland, Iraq, Armenia, Turkey, Syria, and Palestine (it covers border disputes in detail, so pulling up a map is really helpful if you do not have detailed maps of Europe and the Middle East memorized). It covers the Chinese-Japanese conflict in China, the origins of the dispute between Zionist Jews and Arab nationalists in Palestine, and the Russian civil war. It also gives a great deal of insight into the personalities of not just the biggest players, but also less well-known people like the leaders of British Empire dominions (like Canada and Australia - something this Canadian really appreciated), the leaders of defeated countries, nationalist leaders like Ataturk, and delegates from minor players like Greece and Romania. I feel like I know so much more than before I started that even now, less than a week after finishing the book, I'm having trouble straightening out all the details in my head. It's one of those books you need to listen to three times to really get everything, and not always in a good way.
Because it covered everything, it could be difficult to keep track of at times because of all the events that you need to remember over the course of the book. This problem, which is mostly inevitable with historical non fiction that focuses on such a short time period, was made worse by the author's decision to divide the book by issue covered at the conference rather than telling it as a more coherent narrative. I understand that this was done because telling it day-by-day would have been even worse (they were dealing with multiple issues every day), but there should have been some sort of compromise between those two extremes. It had some, though not enough, references to events going on at the same time to help you piece together the context of the timing, but overall it was often confusing, especially since a reference might be to something you haven't listened to yet because it's discussed in a later section. If the format had been at least a little chronological (maybe by month first and then by issues covered that month?), it would have been a lot easier to appreciate the good qualities of the book.
I have listened to several audiobooks about this time period and therefore was familiar with some of the people and a lot of the preceding events (like the armistice agreement and the abdication of the Kaiser), but even with background knowledge this book was at times totally overwhelming. It made a lot of assumptions about what you already knew as a reader and it required very close attention in order to keep track of everything. It's too bad that the book would be inaccessible to someone who doesn't know much about this time period, because the consequences of the peace conference were at times surprising, enlightening, and fascinating and I'm sure a lot of people would find them interesting in a more accessible format. There were a lot of times where I said out loud, alone in the car, "What?! I didn't know that!" - it gave me a new perspective on a lot of things, both historical and modern. There was a lot of good material in there, once you got over the hurdles of too much tiny detail and not enough context for non-enthusiasts.
One other strange thing about the book was the ending. After having been neutral and factual throughout the book, the end was all about the author's point of view that the Versailles Treaty should not be blamed for the Second World War like it often is by historians. This was an interesting point of view that was well-supported by facts I didn't know beforehand, but it felt sort of out of place when the focus of the book was not exclusively - not even primarily - the German treaty.
The narration was good. It was easy to follow and mostly not monotonous, which was good because you needed to stay engaged in the book constantly in order to follow it.
Overall, I would say I expanded my knowledge of this time period and its effects on the present day, but I sort of felt like I was listening to a professor give a lecture series where I was expected to take notes and do more research on my own time. This isn't a book for people who are looking for a first foray into learning about this time period (you need to already know a reasonable amount about the First World War, and to some extent the Second World War, the Russian Revolution, and the Cold War, to fully understand it) - it is definitely not light reading. If you are interested in the subject already, as I am, it's worth listening to - I'm glad I did in spite of the book's flaws. But it takes some concentration and dedication to finishing it to do so because of the jumping around in time and the huge cast of characters. This book was so informative and detailed that it was more like taking a course than reading a history book intended for public consumption - it is not for everyone. For me, it was a four-star book - worth reading in spite of its organizational issues - but I wouldn't recommend it to very many people I know all the same.
I'm fairly new to audiobooks, this is by far the most serious book I've ordered. I work alone much of the time, so that's a great time to listen to a detailed reading. I've actually only listened to about a third of the book, which is so far 8 hours' worth, but wanted to post a review to say how much I like it. I imagine that I'll listen to it in the future, too.
What's so interesting about the book is how the decisions made at the Paris conference laid the groundwork for future controversies and wars, from World War II to the Balkan conflicts. The book does require really paying attention, but it pays off -- this is a detailed and well laid out history book, but it helps if you have some knowledge about the events surrounding World War I.
I'm impressed by Suzanne Toren's narration, she's excellent, and I didn't get tired of her voice. I think this could be a difficult book to read aloud, it's a very complex story, and she handles it so well. She performs with just the right amount of acting to dramatize the voices of many key world leaders, and this aspect probably wouldn't come through so well if one were actually reading the book as opposed to listening to it.
No, it's very long, but I am currently reading books about the same time period, so it fits in well. I'm very glad I've got time to listen to it.
The book ranged from "wow, I didn't know that", to blah, blah. You'll learn a lot about the formation of the countries Europem, Asia Minor, and Africa. You get insight into the "ancient" hostilities that lead to WWII, war between the Serbs and Croats, hostility between the Greeks and Turks, and more. I would rate it higher, but despite all the good things about the book, toward the end I was really ready for it to be over.
Others have written detailed reviews of this book that are useful and interesting, so I'll keep mine short, and address only the reader. I found the reader quite annoying, and had to leave off listening to this book and listen to something else for a while from time to time to give myself a break.
First, the positives; the reader has a very pleasant voice, clear diction (with perhaps some sort of mild northeastern United States accent? I can't quite place it, though it's clearly not British), and an obvious knowledge of her material. She speaks French as well as English, and speaks it well (almost unheard of in an audible book containing many French locations and characters!) and seems, as far as I can tell, to do at least reasonably well with the many other languages that are involved in this epic work.
What is my problem with her? She sounds annoyed, irritated, and sarcastically judgmental almost all the time, throughout the entire 18+ hours. Goodness knows I can see why, practically everyone in the book is deeply annoying almost all the time, but it makes her very difficult to listen to. If you are listening to the book and some background noise blocks out the actual sense, so all you can hear is the tone of voice, you will notice that the reader sounds like she's chewing someone out in a coldly angry way. I found this hard to take, so be sure to listen to the audio sample, to see if it strikes you this way, and how bothersome it might be for you.
I would not listen to anything else read by her, in spite of her many good qualities.
Gives the reader a good understanding of who was at the peace table and what they were looking for in1919.
If you want to read about the Great War and its aftermath, there are other, shorter books, and many of those will be more entertaining. I could have done with a lot less detail about some of the players, even Clemenceau and Wilson, and this book may be better in the "abridged" version. On the positive side, MacMillan provides a series of fascinating connections between Versailles and problems the world is still wrestling with today.
I read science, biographies, histories, mysteries, adventures, thrillers, educationals, linguistics but not no way, not no how, romances.
This book really was something special. At the end of the Great War the leaders of the world were in a position to actually remake the world. Going country by country, rather than chronologically, MacMillan discusses the players, the desires, the forces that conspired to literally change countries and divide up resources. Though many of their changes have no lasted to this day, their impact on world events can scarcely be exaggerated.
World War 1 has always seemed under-valued and under-read, and so the peace process right afterwards is not well understood. That in mind, I had very high hopes for the analysis, the depth, and the scope of this book. It still surpassed all expectations. Even the narration is great. Please, enjoy.