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The Zimmermann Telegram (1958)

by Barbara Tuchman

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,2842311,397 (3.88)111
In the dark winter of 1917, as World War I was deadlocked, Britain knew that Europe could be saved only if the United States joined the war. But President Wilson remained unshakable in his neutrality. Then, with a single stroke, the tool to propel America into the war came into a quiet British office. One of countless messages intercepted by the crack team of British decoders, the Zimmermann telegram was a top-secret message from Berlin inviting Mexico to join Japan in an invasion of the United States. Mexico would recover her lost American territories while keeping the U.S. occupied on her side of the Atlantic. How Britain managed to inform America of Germany's plan without revealing that the German codes had been broken makes for an incredible, true story of espionage, intrigue, and international politics as only Barbara W. Tuchman could tell it.… (more)
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» See also 111 mentions

English (19)  Dutch (2)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (22)
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
A 3-star treatment of a 5 star topic, although it is a book which is 60 years old. Covers how the UK laundered their intercept and decrypt of the Zimmerman telegram (German military aid and entreaty to Mexico to wage war against the USA) which contributed to the US entry to WW1 and thus to the long term destruction of Europe, the US, liberty, and humanity. ( )
  octal | Jan 1, 2021 |
First: the blurb on the back cover from Saturday Review—“The tale has most of the ingredients of an Eric Ambler spy thriller”—is completely inaccurate. Anyone who picks this up in the hopes of gaining some insights into espionage is going to be disappointed, largely because Tuchman reminds us that espionage is much less an issue of triple-agents, exotic locations, and life-and-death struggles than it is of dedicated people in offices struggling with information and how to use it. This is not to dampen her achievement, only to let potential readers know what they’re about to begin.

Why the United States entered World War I is sometimes explained with basic word association, such as, “The Lusitania!” or, “The subs!” Tuchman argues that these were obvious factors, but that the interception of the Zimmerman telegram—a 1917 directive sent, in code, from Arthur Zimmerman, State Secretary for Foreign Affairs of the German Empire, to Heinrich Eckhardt, the German Imperial Minister in Mexico, urging Eckhardt to approach the president of Mexico with the offer of German support if Mexico attempted an American invasion—was the factor that pushed Wilson into war. “The telegram was not the only deciding factor upon the President,” Tuchman states. “It was, rather the last drop that emptied his cup of neutrality.”

The opening of the book details how the British counterespionage agents working in what was known as Room 40 intercepted and decoded the telegram, only to face an odd obstacle: how to let the United States know of its contents without telling them directly. If the British directly informed the United States, the Americans might act suddenly and then inadvertently prove to the Germans that their code had been deciphered. But much of the book examines the Mexican revolutions occurring at the time, Pershing looking for Pancho Villa, and the means buy which many German agents and ambassadors communicated in secret to gain favor with General Carranza, the President of Mexico. At times, any reader will wish there were a cast of characters in the back or that Tuchman used appositives when writing. Too often, I found myself looking in the index or in previous pages to remind myself who someone was. She often writes as if the players in the story were all household names.

But she also writes in a way that is so refreshing to anyone who has been reading academic writing. “Wilson was one of those few who formulate the goals for mankind, but he was in the impossible position of trying to function as seer and executive at the same time.” Theodore Roosevelt was “writhing like a bound Prometheus against the confines of American pacifism.” After Zimmerman was exposed, he assumed that German-Americans would support him, but found that they “retreated across the hyphen to take their stand, somewhat sullenly, on the American side.” There’s no jargon, no hand wringing about “agency,” or abstruse language offered for the purpose of impressing a tenure committee or puffing up its author. At times, it’s complicated—but so is the question of why the United States entered the War.
( )
  Stubb | Aug 28, 2018 |
The author explores the events around the entry of the US into WWI. An intercepted telegram becomes the impetus to change President Wilson's mind and enter the war. ( )
  addunn3 | Jul 16, 2018 |
Chock full of pithy, judgmental descriptions of historical figures, this book tells the story of the intrigue that helped push the US into WWI, as a result of the Kaiser’s attempt to recruit Mexico into an alliance with Germany and Japan to take US territory—by sending coded messages via the US’s own diplomatic messaging. Some of the incidents are so bizarre they’re funny—this was at the end of the Great Game, and spies did some pretty incredible things, even as the War to End All Wars ground on. ( )
  rivkat | Dec 13, 2017 |
The Queen of World War I does it again (or did it before-this was written before "Guns of August" and "Proud Tower"). A fascinating story of how the infamous Zimmermann telegram made its way to President Wilson via Britain's secret service and Room 40. Because the British didn't want to make public that they had the German code, they had to do some fancy dancing to make it look like the decoded version came from somewhere else, while convincing Wilson that it was authentic. Tuchman's books are never dry, even when you think "a whole book about a telegram?" I was lucky enough to get this book at a book fair where the cover made it look like a thriller novel, and that's where it was. If it had been in history, someone would have gotten it way before me! ( )
  tloeffler | Apr 24, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (22 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Tuchman, Barbaraprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cornets de Groot, P.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McCaddon, WandaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wahlén, JanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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The first message of the morning watch plopped out of the pneumatic tube into the wire basket with no more premonitory rattle than usual.
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In the dark winter of 1917, as World War I was deadlocked, Britain knew that Europe could be saved only if the United States joined the war. But President Wilson remained unshakable in his neutrality. Then, with a single stroke, the tool to propel America into the war came into a quiet British office. One of countless messages intercepted by the crack team of British decoders, the Zimmermann telegram was a top-secret message from Berlin inviting Mexico to join Japan in an invasion of the United States. Mexico would recover her lost American territories while keeping the U.S. occupied on her side of the Atlantic. How Britain managed to inform America of Germany's plan without revealing that the German codes had been broken makes for an incredible, true story of espionage, intrigue, and international politics as only Barbara W. Tuchman could tell it.

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