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I first heard about the Zimmerman Telegram a long time ago when in High School taking a U.S. History class. The telegram was mentioned as the reason the U.S. entered World War I, but we were also told that there was a common view that the telegram was actually a British hoax designed to draw the U.S. into the war. I remember thinking that I wanted to know more about what happened and the validity of the telegram.
Years later, when I started to actually read history for pleasure, I found that World War II consumed most of my interest in twentieth century history and I never actually got around to reading anything about the telegram. Thus, when I saw Barbara Tuchman's book on sale on Audible, I bought it thinking that finally I would find out what it was all about. I was not expecting too much, but was very pleasantly surprised.
Most of this book is concerned with the events leading up to the sending of the Zimmerman Telegram and reveals a part of U.S. history that I knew very little about. The tensions between Mexico and the United States prior to World War I are reasonably well known (for example, General Pershing's assignment to track down Pancho Villa) although the details seem to have been cast into the shadows by the U. S. efforts to first keep out of World War I and then by its actions as a participant. This prelude to U.S. entry is so interesting that I find it surprising that it was not covered in detail in the history classes I took in High School or College.
I have read several of Ms. Tuchman's books (The Proud Tower, A Distant Mirror, The Guns of August, Stillwell and the American Experience in China, The March of Folly) but until I read this book I never sensed any humor or sense of irony in her writing. While the events leading up to the sending of the Zimmerman Telegram were serious and involved Germany's efforts to get the United States involved in enough trouble to keep it from arming the Allies, a description of those events and the Wilson Administration's reactions to them sound more like a script from a Max Sennet comedy than the actions of a deliberative and serious government. Those who think highly of the Woodrow Wilson’s handling of domestic and international affairs might find this book at odds with that view.
Ms. McCaddon’s reading of this book is first class. Her narration fairly bristles with Ms. Tuchman’s sense of the absurd and the events are so interesting as to leave one wondering why much of this was not presented as a basic part of U. S. history. This is doubly so because it is clear that many of the views described prior to the release of the Zimmerman Telegram are representative of the American view of Japan during the first half of the twentieth century and make it easier to understand the U.S. reaction to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor 25 years later.
I recommend this book without hesitation to anyone who has any interest in the events leading up to the start of U.S. participation in World War I or, for that matter, to anyone with an interest in U.S. – Mexican or U.S.-Japanese relations in the twentieth century.
36 of 37 people found this review helpful
Before I found this book, I'd never heard of the Zimmerman telegram. Being Canadian, we never went into great detail on why the Americans entered the First World War - we were involved once Britain was involved. However, once I listened to other Barbara W. Tuchman books (The Proud Tower and The Guns of August), I knew I had to listen to this one too, and it didn't disappoint me.
Although this is not a particularly long audiobook, especially in the realm of nonfiction, that doesn't mean it isn't detailed. In fact, it gives practically a day-by-day account of some of the most critical periods and plenty of background to understand who the players are and what their motivations were. It is fascinating to listen to and it gives you a really good sense of the state of the world in early 1917 - the Germans moving to unrestricted submarine warfare, the French running out of energy, the British running out of money, the Mexicans caught in a series of coups, the Americans failing to understand why no one would agree to a negotiated peace. All of the backroom negotiations, intelligence operations, and diplomatic unease made for a really engaging story. And although you know from the start that the Americans will get involved, somehow there is still a sense of suspense in the telling where you wonder whether Mexico will attack Texas and the Germans will win in Europe after all.
The narration in this book by Wanda McCaddon was excellent. She can pronounce all of the foreign-language words (primarily German and Spanish) well, one of my personal irks with a lot of audiobook narrators, and in general reads at a good pace with great voice changes to represent individual speakers.
Filled with information from diaries and official records, this book makes you feel like you know the people involved well and that you understand why they are making the decisions they are. For such a small incident, really, in the overall view of the war, it makes for an interesting story with far-reaching consequences that affect how the world is today. Although I don't have a huge interest in American history, this was so much more than just a story about how they came into the First World War. It's about Germany, Britain, Mexico just as much as it is about the US, and Tuchman does a great job of showing the events from all those perspectives. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in WWI history, Woodrow Wilson, and/or stories of diplomatic intrigue.
15 of 15 people found this review helpful