I just finished reading "The Congress of Vienna: A Study in Allied Unity 1812 - 1822". It was interesting to me in more ways than one - the author, Harold Nicholson, was one of the British diplomats at the Paris conference of 1919. He wrote this book about the post Napoleanic era in 1945, at the close of World War II - he notes at the beginning of the book that much archival material was unavailable to him due to the war.
The striking thing about this book is just how different Europe was then. Reading about the negotiations, for instance - one of the Italian Kings (there were several Italian states then) was nearly removed from his throne, and they conference cast about looking for another principality to give him as a feifdom. Very different indeed. One thing remains the same though - the kind of horse trading that happened in 1919 happened in 1815, and again in Dayton in 1995. The only thing that changes are the public justifications.
The principal players at the Vienna Congress are well known and very famous - Tallyrand of France, Metternich of Austria, Alexander of Russia. I hadn't known much about Castlereagh of England before reading this book, but Nicholson painted a very sympathetic portrait - he was a complex man living in a difficult age. Tallyrand isn't described much in this book - it was written very much from a UK perspective. Still, it was fascinating to see how he brought France from the position as loser of the war to near equal at the negotiation table - the man was brilliant.
After reading this book, I went to my shelf in search of another tome on that era - "The Birth of the Modern: World Society, 1815-1830". It's a very different book, looking at the forces that drove the creation of the modern world, according to the author, Paul Johnson. I bought it years ago, but I guess it wasn't time for me to read it. Now it is. It's massive - 1000 pages. I suspect I'll be reading it for awhile. I'm not done with WWI yet, either - I've got Tuchman's "The Guns of August" as my bedtime book.
The end of Nicholson's book has me interested in Europe through the revolutions of 1848 - Metternich spent a lot of time trying to tamp that down, and I'd like to read about that era. Anyone have any suggested reading?