In the Garden of Beasts
Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin
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Erik Larson, New York Times bestselling author of Devil in the White City, delivers a remarkable story set during Hitler’s rise to power.
The time is 1933, the place, Berlin, when William E. Dodd becomes America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Nazi Germany in a year that proved to be a turning point in history.
A mild-mannered professor from Chicago, Dodd brings along his wife, son, and flamboyant daughter, Martha. At first Martha is entranced by the parties and pomp, and the handsome young men of the Third Reich with their infectious enthusiasm for restoring Germany to a position of world prominence. Enamored of the “New Germany,” she has one affair after another, including with the suprisingly honorable first chief of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels. But as evidence of Jewish persecution mounts, confirmed by chilling first-person testimony, her father telegraphs his concerns to a largely indifferent State Department back home. Dodd watches with alarm as Jews are attacked, the press is censored, and drafts of frightening new laws begin to circulate. As that first year unfolds and the shadows deepen, the Dodds experience days full of excitement, intrigue, romance—and ultimately, horror, when a climactic spasm of violence and murder reveals Hitler’s true character and ruthless ambition.
Suffused with the tense atmosphere of the period, and with unforgettable portraits of the bizarre Göring and the expectedly charming--yet wholly sinister--Goebbels, In the Garden of Beasts lends a stunning, eyewitness perspective on events as they unfold in real time, revealing an era of surprising nuance and complexity. The result is a dazzling, addictively readable work that speaks volumes about why the world did not recognize the grave threat posed by Hitler until Berlin, and Europe, were awash in blood and terror.
From Publishers Weekly
© Publishers Weekly
In the Garden of Beasts
Extremely well written and well documented - like all of Larson';s work - the book reads as a novel, rather than a non-fiction piece. That it is true makes the book even scarier.
I love Larson's work, even when I think he has taken on a topic I don't care much about, or even one that I happen to know pretty well.
I think that everyone will learn something from this story.
Inside their pants & minds
I really appreciated how the book was both objectively factual and emotionally revealing. It really showed the deep personal struggles, denial, and strange brew of contradictory ideologies that were polarizing people on the international stage. The access Martha Dodd unwittingly gained thru her indiscriminate romancing also reveals the internal deceits, paranoia and calculated savagery of the Reich's inner circle.
Expect a good summer read just in time for Father's Day
I hadn't read any of Larson's previous books but picked this one up due to an interest in the time period and seeing some good reviews. It definitely kept my interest but could use better editing. You're given hints of more to come on certain situations or characters and then nothing is forthcoming. Two major characters, Dodd's wife Martha and especially his son Bill, really fade into the background and many pages go by without hearing anything about them or their reaction to historical events occurring in their midst. In all fairness, Larson explains that this will be true at the beginning of the book but I definitely would have liked to have learned more about Bill's life in Berlin. Another small complaint: the Author sometimes moves ahead in time without letting the reader know that he has done so in order to complete one person's tale or recount a series of linked events, quickly moving back to the approximate point in time where he left off before being side-tracked.
More importantly, Larson seems to shy away from the more personal, possibly because documentation didn't exist. I am curious about Dodd's opinions (and possible actions taken) regarding Martha's various relationships (many with potentially embarrassing diplomatic/political consequences) while in Berlin. Given Dodd's background and 18th Century era world-view combined with daughter Martha's behavior, I would have expected family fights--or at least discussion--aimed at reigning her in, undoubtedly an Impossible task given her strong personality. But more insight into the internal politics of the family would have been interesting.
Larson owes, and credits, both Kershaw ("Hubris") and Evans ("The Coming of the Third Reich") for much of the historical detail of the times. I found both of these scholarly books more freightening, detailed and successful at capturing the flavor of the era than Larson's, but Larson is writing an entirely different kind of book (novelistic non-fiction?).
This is basically an historically accurate (the footnotes are testament to that) good Summer read which will spike for Father's Day and continue to climb best-seller lists through Labor Day. Or you can wait for the inevitable movie that will likely be in muti-plexes two summers from now with Tom Hanks as the good ambassador and Anne Hathaway going against type as the naughty and politically confused daughter.
For a few laughs, dig into some of the longer footnotes for a rare look at Hitler-era "humor" enjoyed by some Germans at the expense of Hitler and the Nazis.