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The Zimmermann Telegram

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  3,684 ratings  ·  291 reviews
The Proud Tower, the Pulitzer Prize–winning The Guns of August, and The Zimmermann Telegram comprise Barbara W. Tuchman’s classic histories of the First World War era
In January 1917, the war in Europe was, at best, a tragic standoff. Britain knew that all was lost unless the United States joined the war, but President Wilson was unshakable in his neutrality. At j
Paperback, 244 pages
Published March 12th 1985 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published January 1st 1958)
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 ·  3,684 ratings  ·  291 reviews

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May 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
There is something very strange about the First World War. I mean, surely there must be something I previously knew about it that must be true.

The $64,000 question is: what event brought the United States into the First World War…..

Before reading this book I would have said that it was the sinking of the Lusitania that brought the US into the war – but in fact, that happened two years prior to the US entry. Woodrow Wilson, following this sinking, said he was too proud to fight over something lik
Brian DiMattia
Jan 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I recently criticized a book on this site for trying to tell a history by jumping around, and said that it takes a very good writer to make that work. Barbara Tuchman has that skill. She tells a very complicated story with a very diverse cast, and keeps everything straight and lucid.

Now, that might be enough for four stars, but Tuchman does all this by making the whole thing sensible as well. You understand why people took the actions they did. You understand why people make the assumptions they
Nov 25, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: German diplomats, British codebreakers, American isolationists
I listened to this book because I have kind of an interest in cryptography and its historical impact. The Zimmerman Telegram is ostensibly about the famous telegram that was the final straw that brought America into the first World War, and how the British decoded it and then made use of it. But that turns out to be only a relatively minor part of the story. Really, most of the book is about the geopolitics of the early 20th century and the personalities of leading American, British, and German ...more
Feb 25, 2012 rated it liked it

As it was sent from Washington to Mexico

Complete decryption and translation

4* A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century
3* The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War 1890-1914
CR The Zimmermann Telegram
Apr 19, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history, audiobook
I thought that lots of information--stuff I didn't know, would translate into an interesting read. While I learned a lot, the flow was never compelling to me like other good books that "bring you there". I was never engaged. Typically, a narrator can bring the story to life, but this reader did not do that for me. I think both the author and the narrator failed me on this one. Interesting topic but this version was just OK for me.
Mar 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I am fascinated by the fact that "history" often happens because of seemingly small, uneventful, accidental or coincidental events.

Tuchman, one of my favorite historian/authors, tells the story of the happenstance that got the United States into World War I--despite President Wilson's firm stance of neutrality. The British, having cracked the German code, had intercepted a telegram filled with the promise of an alliance between Mexico and Japan against America. How could the Brits let the Ameri
Rebecca Wilson
Apr 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american, war, histories
This book shocked me, for a few different reasons:

1. I had NO idea that a decoded telegram was the thing that finally drove the U.S. to join the allies in WWI.
2. I had no idea that Germany had proposed to ally with Mexico and Japan in order to return Mexico's lost territories (ie, California, Texas — little places like those).
3. The sinking of the Lusitania happened two years prior to all of this! Wilson didn't love it, but it didn't come close to driving him to war.
4. With his irrationality, di
Evan Leach
”In itself, the Zimmerman telegram was only a pebble on the long road of history. But a pebble can kill a Goliath, and this one killed the American illusion that we could go about our business happily separate from other nations. In world affairs, it was a German minister’s minor plot. In the lives of the American people, it was the end of innocence.”

- Barbara Tuchman, The Zimmerman Telegram

This short book describes an incredible scheme that I knew nothing about. In 1917, after two and half yea
Clif Hostetler
Apr 05, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This is the history of the political and diplomatic events that caused the United States to enter World War I. Most of us have a vague recollection from our school text books that the sinking of the Lusitania had something to do with the war. But the Lusitania was torpedoed on May 7, 1915 two years prior to America entering the war in 1917. Furthermore, the Lusitania was a British ship, not American. "Remember the Lusitania" came into existence as a rallying cry after the USA had declared war.

John Mccullough
Barbara Tuchmann’s histories are wonderful reading for the educated and curious public. In “The Zimmermann Telegram” she combines the qualities of the unlikely pair of Rachel Maddow and Paul Harvey to give a great and important if forgotten story, and a great background to that important story, including “The Rest of the Story.” This “story” is how the US was dragged, step by step, kicking and screaming, into The Great War, World War One.

By the middle of 1916 the war was at a stalemate. Both sid
Patrick Murtha
Feb 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A masterpiece, one of the most entertaining, unbelievable, and beautifully written historic narratives I have ever read.
Nov 28, 2012 rated it liked it
The decoding of the Zimmerman Telegram is one of the final straws to break Woodrow Wilson's policy of pacifism and isolationism. This book explores the United States position in relation to European events in WWI and the German efforts to prevent the US from joining the Allies. To this end Germany engaged in sabotage and notable attempts in funding Mexico and / or the Revolutionaries to hairy the United States border. A busy America at home can only be good for Germany as she is stuck in a quagm ...more
Scott Danielson
Jan 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, audio
Listened to this history book on audio while I was wiring a couple of network cabinets.

Here is the Wikipedia entry about the Zimmermann Telegram, which was a diplomatic message from Germany to Germany's Ambassador in Mexico during World War I (January, 1917):

"We intend to begin on the first of February unrestricted submarine warfare. We shall endeavor in spite of this to keep the United States of America neutral. In the event of this not succeeding, we make Mexico a proposal of alliance on the
Helen Foster
Aug 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Tuchman tells the riveting tale of a 1917 German telegram which may have forced Wilson's reluctant decision to take America into World War I. She begins, "The first message of the morning watch plopped out of the pneumatic tube into the wire basket with no more premonitory rattle than usual." Immediately we are drawn into British efforts to decipher a telegram sent in early 1917by the German foreign minister to the president of Mexico, proposing that the two countries "make war together on the u ...more
Aug 04, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This brief book describes the events that led the US to join the WWI. The Zimmermann Telegram, sent by the German Foreign Secretary, was the last drop that led Wilson to declare war on Germany. Tuchman vividly painted the picture of court intrigues in the build-up to the declaration of war. The plot is focused on the Wilson, initially reluctant to join the war, along with German and American ambassadors and high-ranking officials. Zimmermann sent a telegram to German ambassador in Mexico, hoping ...more
Nat Cabrera
Apr 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was a really good book, it is not the kind of literature I’m used to read, so obviously it was pretty hard for me to be hooked. It has a lot of information, and that made reading it slightly tedious. In overall, the book was honestly tiresome, but the information it gives is actually incredibly interesting. I loved how something that might seem small like the Zimmermann Telegram has SO many things behind. I also enjoyed knowing what was happening during the war outside the trenches. It’s am ...more
May 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
British ciphering skills, German craziness, the idea of Mexico invading the US to keep the Americans from entering WWI----truth really is stranger than fiction---what's not to like. Tuchman is such a great writer! More once I've finished it.
Finished the book, appropriately enough on Memorial Day. This is a short book, only 200 pages, but is packed with research and the writer paints an amazing picture of Woodrow Wilson, whose pacifism bordered on the insane (to me anyway). There is beautiful iro
Mar 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
In January 1917, British intelligence intercepted a top-secret telegram from Germany to Mexico that the British felt would jar the United States from its neutrality and bring it into World War I on the side of the Allies. The communication was a proposal made by Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann that Germany and Mexico should sign a military alliance. Germany was concerned that the U.S. would be drawn into the war because Germany was getting ready to launch unrestricted submarine warfare on Fe ...more
Dec 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Lovers of history, American history, WWI, espionage and a darn good story
It's a while since I read this but I will read it again some day. The story is, I believe, little known and almost incredible.

During the First World War, Germany tried to persuade Mexico to invade the USA, in order to distract the Americans and prevent them sending troops to Europe. The telegram of the title was one of many intercepted by Naval Intelligence in London and passed to Washington - the Americans were also intercepting messages I think. Either way it signaled close ties between the in
Scott Martin
Apr 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
(Audiobook). Concise, fact-filled, and incredibly informative, this is one of the better Tuchman works I have read. This won't surpass her magnum opus, The Guns of August, but this is a very good work in its own right. She not only discusses the actual telegram itself, but brings in the context of the telegram, the key individuals involved and the various dealings (overt and covert) during this critical, if less-publicized part, of World War I. I certainly learned a great deal about the interpla ...more
Ann Mcelligott
May 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Recently PBS has been showing many World War I dramas, not the least being Downton Abbey. Being aware of how little I knew about the War, I sought a copy of Tuchman's Guns of August. A friend offered me The Zimmermann Telegram. I could not put it down. It tells the story of a telegram intercepted by the British in 1917 containing explosive information that, when communicated to President Wilson, finally drew the reluctant American forces into war. The telegram is introduced in the first chapter, ...more
Dec 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: cryptographers, politicians, historians, spies, diplomats, aggressors, public relations folks
Shelves: history
I continue to love Barbara Tuchman, and this was entralling. A very large percentage of the information in this book was previously unknown to me, which is exactly what I want out of my history.

Unfortunately, Tuchman left me wanting me. The Germans had made their decision for unrestricted U-boat warfare thinking that the Americans may declare war, but that they'd not be able to mobilize before the British succumbed to the embargo. So...I know that didn't happen. Why not? How quickly did we get b
Jan 24, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history buffs.
Shelves: history-general
I enjoyed this story very much. It tells the story of German attempts to keep the US out of WWI by trying to goad Mexico and Japan into keeping the US too busy to make them enter the war against Germany. Wilson, President at that time, wanted to get the warring factions to sit down and discuss peace. The British discovered the German activities and plans by breaking down the telegrams sent from Berlin to Washington. The book deals with British plans to break the news of the German plots against ...more
Detailed account of the deciphering of the stupid secret telegram by which Germany proposed an alliance with Mexico (and Japan) against the United States, whose disclosure helped tip the scales in favor of American entry into WWI. In my view, that entry was the single most disastrous decision in our history.

Wilson was an "infeliz," an unfortunate figure and our worst President. His worst trait was a detached-from-reality idealism that led him to take disastrous decisions out of noble motives.

aPriL does feral sometimes
Apr 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Unbelievably good writer of history, and it appears her research is impeccable. The arguments, as always, seem to be about her conclusions (per some of her peers when I googled her), which is true of all good historians. As a layperson, once assured of her credentials, all I need to do is read the book, learn something extraordinary about the history I thought I knew, and enjoy.
Andrew Obrigewitsch
Dec 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: educational, history
Another great very informative Tuchman book, she turns history into an interesting story not just facts and dates, and always reveals things I never knew before, cuts through propaganda and generally leaves you feeling like a history savant.
Mike Carpenter
Jul 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A very interesting read on a forgotten, but very important part of U.S. and world history.
Frank Theising
Dec 04, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: war-wwi
It is has been said that history doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes. Reading this book I was struck by how much these WWI-era events foreshadowed similar events in World War II: An eccentric German leader; German cryptographers supremely confident in their “unbreakable” ciphers and codes; wily British intelligence officers who not only intercepted and broke those codes, but had to strategically balance the value of using the intelligence versus the very real risk to the war effort if the ...more
I am a big Barbara Tuchman fan and this book was as well written as the previous books that I have read by her. This is a short book that looks at the U.S. entry into the war with a focus on the German efforts to convince Mexico to join. I learned a great deal from this book - for example, the fact that Germany had made a concerted effort to involve Mexico and possibly Japan long before the Telegram. Also the fact that once it was made public, Zimmermann admitted to sending it and continued to t ...more
Molly Jean
I have wanted to read this book for many years and since I am taking a class on it in a few weeks, the time had finally come. It is an excellent book but, I must admit, not an easy read for me. I am woefully ignorant of Mexico's history and particularly Mexico's history vis à vis the US. And I thought I had a better understanding of WWI history than I really do. These personal deficiencies made the book more difficult for me but I am still very glad I read it and I learned a lot from it. This bo ...more
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Barbara Wertheim Tuchman was an American self-trained historian and author and double Pulitzer Prize winner. She became best known for The Guns of August (1962), a history of the prelude and first month of World War I.

As an author, Tuchman focused on producing popular history. Her clear, dramatic storytelling covered topics as diverse as the 14th century and World War I, and sold millions of copie

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