The Zimmermann Telegram

Barbara W. Tuchman

Introduced by Margaret MacMillan

Published by Folio to mark the Telegram’s centenary, Barbara Tuchman’s gripping account reveals the events that finally brought the United States into the First World War.


‘We propose to begin on 1 February unrestricted submarine warfare … ’ There was nothing immediately to distinguish it from the material that arrived for routine decoding at British Naval Intelligence. But on 17 January 1917, a young publisher and a priest – part of the team of civilians who pored over hundreds of telegram intercepts each day – unravelled a message sent by the German foreign minister, Arthur Zimmermann. Their discovery would change the course of 20th-century history, supplying evidence both of the deadliest peril that could befall the Allies, and their greatest hope of salvation.


Production Details

Quarter-bound in cloth with printed paper sides

Set in Sabon

248 pages

Frontispiece and 16 pages of black & white plates

Plain slipcase

9½˝ × 6¼˝

The story behind the telegram

The Zimmermann Telegram is Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Barbara Tuchman’s dramatic account of the events that forced the United States to enter the First World War. President Woodrow Wilson had won a second term of office in 1916 largely on the back of the slogan, ‘He kept us out of the war’, and his nation’s neutrality had survived even such incidents as the sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915. New revelations of a military alliance between Germany, Mexico and Japan, and the imminent resumption of indiscriminate U-boat attacks, however, shocked and terrified America. The press variously castigated Germany for ‘writhing in the slime of intrigue’, and Britain for planting this ‘preposterous document, obviously faked’, in a desperate effort to unlock the American war-chest.

‘A most exciting book, full of vivid pen portraits and curious episodes’ 
The Sunday Times

The fascinating story behind the Zimmermann telegram is one of espionage and counter-intelligence. Tuchman takes us into the emotionally charged atmosphere of Room 40, Whitehall, the London nerve centre of the code-breaking operation, and into the secret negotiations that underpinned German policy. Above all she details the frenzied diplomatic activity that brought the United States into more than just an international conflict, but an ‘unwilled wedlock to the rest of the world’. 

Historian Margaret MacMillan’s introduction examines what made Tuchman such an accessible and successful writer, pointing to her gift for storytelling and her ‘fascination with history as a record of human behaviour’. This edition features a frontispiece and 16 pages of black and white plates, including images of the infamous telegram itself.

About Barbara Tuchman

Barbara Tuchman was an American historian and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, best known for her books The Guns of August (1962), a historical analysis of the beginning of the First World War, and Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911–45 (1971). After receiving a Bachelor’s degree from Radcliffe College in 1933, Tuchman began reporting for The Nation, a weekly magazine owned by her father, covering political events, including the Spanish Civil War. Throughout her career as a journalist she published several books; including The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War 1890-1914 (1966), and A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century (1979). Tuchman’s died on 6 February 1989.

About Margaret MacMillan

Margaret MacMillan is the Warden of St Antony’s College and a Professor of International History at the University of Oxford. Her books include Women of the Raj (1988, 2007); Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World (2001); for which she was the first woman to win the Samuel Johnson Prize; Nixon in China: The Week that Changed the World (2006); The Uses and Abuses of History (2008); and Extraordinary Canadians: Stephen Leacock (2009). Her most recent book is The War that Ended Peace (2013). She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a Senior Fellow of Massey College, University of Toronto, a Honorary Fellow of Trinity College, University of Toronto; and of St Hilda’s College, University of Oxford, and sits on the boards of the Mosaic Institute and the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, and the editorial boards of International History and First World War Studies. She also sits on the Advisory Board Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation and is a Trustee of the Rhodes Trust.


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