The former Cambridge history professor returns with a survey of the political and economic ramifications of World War I and the Treaty of Versailles.
The narrative's most prominent figures are David Lloyd George (1863-1945), prime minister for much of the war, and John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946), then a young economist advising the British treasury on financing the war and later a prominent critic of the treaty that ended it. Tracing their wartime careers, Clarke (Mr. Churchill's Profession: The Statesman as Author and the Book that Defined the "Special Relationship,” 2012, etc.) sets out "to capture an understanding of events and causation as viewed at the time through the spectacles of Anglo-American liberalism." This, he contends, involves a "common heritage of moralism" and "a further important theme—the concept of guilt." The author suggests that "the moralisation of the origins of the war…led to the moralisation of the peace terms" and thus also to the reparations demanded of a defeated Germany, along with acceptance of the notorious "war guilt" clause in the Versailles treaty. However, he argues, the origins of the war might have been found with equal validity and less ensuing bitterness in the inevitable imbalance in European affairs caused by the unification of Germany under Otto von Bismarck and that nation's growing economic and military power. Taken as a whole, the book is pleasantly readable, though casual readers will find the sections on international macroeconomics tough going. The various historical incidents reported are well-researched and presented with clarity and wry humor. However, while Clarke seems confident that he is advancing an intriguing thesis, that thesis proves frustratingly elusive. Themes of economic power, political posturing, and the liberals' tendency to view international affairs through a moral lens recur, but they never coalesce into a coherent argument to reward the reader's effort.
Knowledgeable, well-written history that lacks thematic clarity.