Sinclair, David Hall of Mirrors

ISBN 13: 9780099414957

Hall of Mirrors

 
9780099414957: Hall of Mirrors

Following his bestselling biography of the Pound Sterling; David Sinclair's next book is a fascinating insight into the single event which shaped the face of the modern world. If the Great War of 1914-1918 was a tragedy, then the Treaty of Versailles was a complete travesty. Rather than sealing a guarantee for peace, stability and prosperity for a new and better world, the treaty ensured that the remainder of the twentieth century would see horror, brutality and suffering unparalleled in human history. The treaty was engineered and manipulated by self-interested politicians with individual motivations and contrasting agendas. Hall of Mirrors reflects on how the representatives of America, Britain and France - Woodrow Wilson, David Lloyd George and Georges Clemenceau - deliberately ignored the possibility of finding a progressive international solution. Instead, driven by ego and personal vendetta, these statesmen stimulated a European future of faction, dispute and conflict. Hall of Mirrors is a fascinating story of destruction, delusion and greed, illuminating the personalities and politics involved in making the treaty. It is also a valuable and topical discussion on the political structures which enable individual character and will to dictate the course of history and culture.

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Review:

Journalist David Sinclair, whose previous book was a biography of The Pound, adopts a more novel approach to the infamous Treaty of Versailles of 1919. Literally. Rather than lay out the fraught, crucial post-war negotiations in conventional terms, he would appear to have swallowed his source books, ruminated for a while and then started to speak in tongues. What emerges are the voices, gestures and manoeuvrings of the Big Four--Lloyd George, Woodrow Wilson, Clemenceau and Orlando--depicted in bold outline as they twist and backtrack in often desperate attempts to protect their national and personal interests at home. Bearing out Sinclair's introductory assertion that "much imagination and some invention has been employed in the re-creation of important scenes", the reader observes scenes such as Lloyd George plotting aloud with his secretary/lover Frances "Pussy" Stevenson, and eavesdrops on the machinations behind closed doors on all sides, described with an often expositional zeal, and irresistible hindsight.

This unusual, lively approach succeeds in opening out the major issues, such as Wilson's New World idealist obsession with creating a League of Nations, France's call to occupy the Rhineland to prevent German aggression (sadly justified by later events), and the public clamour for punitive reparations, but whether it sheds new light on such a pivotal moment in 20th century history, is a moot point. The po-faced will despise its baggy liberties, yet in a way it is a decidedly old-fashioned historical narrative drama, which admirably strives to take the subject beyond academic confines. Lacking the literary alchemy of novelists such as Pat Barker and Sebastian Faulks, though, it charges bullishly through its sources with a confidence perhaps greater than it imparts, also proclaiming itself, confusingly, "a careful reconstruction of what really happened". It is not because it can't be. In eschewing analysis for reconstruction, its ambition outstrips its means, too frequently surrendering to the dictates of period drama rather than history. And, ultimately, this Hall of Mirrors leaves an uneasy sense of not knowing what reflects true, and what flatters to deceive. --David Vincent

Review:

Brilliantly Executed. -- The Spectator, 2001

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