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The Zimmermann Telegram Paperback – March 12, 1985

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Editorial Reviews


“A true, lucid thriller . . . a tremendous tale of hushed and unhushed uproars in the linked fields of war and diplomacy . . . Tuchman makes the most of it with a creative writer’s sense of drama and a scholar’s obeisance to the evidence.”The New York Times
“The tale has most of the ingredients of an Eric Ambler spy thriller.”Saturday Review

From the Publisher

The average person thinks that it was the sinking of the Lusitania that brought the United States into World War I. Not so! In this slim volume that reads like a whodunnit, Barbara Tuchman reveals the little known secret of The Zimmerman Telegram. Basically, Germany wanted to keep the U.S. and its industrial might out of the European conflict by convincing Mexico and Japan to attack the U.S. Germany even promised Mexico it would get back Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona! What the Germans didn't know is that as soon as war was declared, the first thing the British did was cut Germany's transatlantic cable. All telegrams or telephone calls to North America had to travel over Britain's cable. And the British intercepted every telegram out of Germany. Even though the Zimmerman telegram was sent in code, it was broken. But the shrewd British held onto it, not revealing its contents until it was absolutely necessary, and in such a way that they didn't have to reveal that they were intercepting German messages! Brilliant! When the New York Times published the telegram in 1917, it was but a short time until pacifist Woodrow Wilson got a declaration of war from Congress, and the U.S. began sending troops "over there." A great read!

Doug Grad, Editor

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; Reprint edition (March 12, 1985)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345324250
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345324252
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (126 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #46,173 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

121 of 125 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on April 21, 2001
Format: Paperback
While the Zimmerman Telegram is one of the most important documents in history, and is perhaps the greatest result of code breaking in history, it is nonetheless frequently overlooked. Most people have at least heard "Remember the Lusitania" which had essentially nothing to do with the U.S. entering WWI. Few, however, are familiar with this short telegram that is truly a hinge on which history turned.

One cannot blame Barbara Tuchman for this, however, as this work brings alive the intrigue of the time like no other. Reading like a spy novel, and yet all the more chilling because it's true, Tuchman navigates the reader through the murky waters of WWI intrigue. We learn how, in a misguided effort to distract the U.S. from Europe, Germany sought to foment trouble on the U.S./Mexican border. We learn how the British scrambled to inform the Americans of this, without comprimising their sources. And we learn how a tortured President Wilson was forced to take the steps towards war.

"The Zimmerman Telegram" is history as it should be written; loaded with primary sources, and with the breathless pace that events really unfolded. While better known for "The Guns of August", it is this work that makes me rank Barabara Tuchman as one of the best historians of the 20th Century.

Jake Mohlman
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47 of 49 people found the following review helpful By John D. Cofield TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 26, 2002
Format: Paperback
This is one of my favorite Barbara Tuchman works. It is the story of the Zimmermann Telegram, a message sent by the German Foreign Minister to the Mexican Government in early 1917. In essence the Telegram was an attempt to make Mexico a German ally in the event of the US entering World War I on the Allied side, with the bait being the possibility of Mexico reclaiming the states of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. When British Intelligence intercepted and decoded the Telegram they made certain that the US government and public heard about it quickly in the hopes of bringing the US into the war.
The book is more than just the story of the Telegram itself. It includes a run through of the various German espionage efforts in the US before and during World War I and a good description of the unease felt by the US at the mysterious German machinations, including possibly collusion with Japan and an attempt to take control of the Panama Canal.
Like all of Tuchman's works, The Zimmermann Telegram is scholarly without being dull, and a real delight.
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50 of 56 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 13, 1999
Format: Paperback
The story that Barbara Tuchman tells in The Zimmermann Telegram is one of international diplomacy in the period just before World War One. Tuchman centers her story on the apex of a single article of communication (the telegram) and expands from there. The story begins in the North Sea just before the British declaration of war on Germany. The British cable ship Telconia dredges the sea searching for five cables at the bottom connecting Germany's communication with the of the European and North American continents. All five cables are cut. Furthermore, Britain coaxed Eastern Telegraph, the American owner of the only other cable to North America (running from North Africa to Brazil), to pull the cables that would allow German communication with the world. Germany was now bound to wireless communication for the duration of the war. This is significant because it allowed the British to secretly intercept all German communications, and begin to decode them in the British Naval Intelligence office referred to as "Room 40". Inside Room 40, Britain learned to crack the German code. This is how the British, and consequently the Americans, were able to learn about the Zimmermann Telegram. The Telegram put the British in a precarious position. They desperately needed the United States to become a belligerent and enter the war against Germany if Britain hoped to win the war. At the same time if the British gave the Americans the Telegram and it was released, the Germans might deduce the existence of Room 40 and discover that their code had been unraveled, thereby compromising all British ability to "listen in" on the Germans for the rest of the war.Read more ›
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Richard La Fianza on November 23, 2000
Format: Paperback
Ms. Tuchman wrote "The Guns of August" which I believe is the best book ever written about WWI. Unfortunately, she also wrote the book, "The Proud Tower" about the times just before WWI. The Proud Tower was a bore. As such, I wasn't sure what to think before I bought this one. I was hopeful that it might be good and, I was right. The Zimmerman Telegraph is a very good book which, if you like history and mystery, you should enjoy. The Zimmerman Telegraph was especially interesting to me because, while I was in school, I had a professor who taught his belief that the Zimmerman Telegraph was a fraud. It was not. The Zimmerman telegaph was very real and with it the British may have changed the tides of history. .
But first, what is the Zimmerman telegraph? Mr. Zimmerman was a German ambassador during WWI. As the war progressed, both sides looked for allies which would tip the scales in the war in Europe. Mr. Zimmerman, and his cohorts, were instructed to induce Mexico into fighting on the German side, if American declared for the allies.
Because General Pershing, who was to lead the Amercian troops in Europe, had invaded Mexico during this time (to attack a bandit revolutionary Pancho Villa); Because America had taken about 1/3 of Mexico eighty years earlier; And because America's army was one of the smallest in the world - Mexico's entry into the war seem possible to German leaders 5000 miles away.
Mr. Zimmerman, in secret code, wired back and forth to Germany to learn what he should do, and what he should offer. Worse, at times, the Germanys borrowed American supplies, while negotiating about declaring war on America. The British learned about these messages and wanted to share them with the Americans.
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