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.
I read this book in paper format more than 30 years ago, but I had forgotten how good it really is. When I saw it available in audible format I jumped at the chance to listen to a previous good read.
Some of the reviews I have read are very hard on the book, but I believe that the are looking in the wrong place. What makes this book so interesting and unique, at least to me, was the idea that humans could encounter aliens so different that all of our assumptions would be wrong. How do two species interact when one is general and adaptive in nature and the other is differiented. That is at the core of this story; at least for me.
The process of meeting, all of the mistaken assumptions and the final realization as to just how different the species are is, I believe, a very interesting story with, for new readers, an unknown conclusion.
But listeners should know that this story is from 1974 and hence some of the story line is 35 years out of date. I believe that to be the cause of some of the bad reviews. Perhaps those listeners did not know the copyright date and might have been more charitable to the male-centered character of the story.
All in all I think this is a nearly great book with more than adequate reading.
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