In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Isaac's Storm, The Devil in the White City, and Thunderstruck have all proven Erik Larson's ability to adroitly craft multilayered nonfiction. In his new In The Garden of Beasts, he demonstrates that gift again as he unfolds the often startling story of William E. Dodd, the first American ambassador to Nazi Germany, and his family. History professor Dodd was an unlikely choice to represent the United States in Hitler's Berlin; indeed, he was FDR's fifth choice for the post. His on-the-job education in the barbarities of the "New Germany" sometimes contrasted with that of his romantic, impressionable, party-loving daughter Martha. Larson places these very personal stories within the context of the ever-worsening events.
Ambassador Dodd was out of his element from the very beginning of his post in Berlin. He was no one's first choice for the job and remained always on the outside as an ambassador since he was not a career diplomat like most of the American corps, the majority of whom were wealthy and came from Ivy League backgrounds and schools. I think his attempts to notify the powers that be in Washington of the developing doom in Germany fell on deaf ears because he was such an outsider. How sad.
The most interesting character in the book was Martha, Dodd’s 24 year old daughter. Shallow and spoiled, she was enamored with the Berlin nightlife. She slept her way through Nazis, Russians, Germans - and some famous US literary figures only to become a Communist. It wasn’t until the end of her father’s tenure that she started to see the horror of what was taking place around her.
I thought this was a fascinating book. Filled with details, it was obvious the author did a tremendous amount of fact gathering. No skimming allowed with this book, it is best read in small pieces to fully absorb all the facts.
Bravo Mr. Larson!
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