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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin » User review

Superb Account of the Rise of Nazi Germany

  • May 14, 2011
It is easy to describe Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin as dark and foreboding. It is that. Especially since most people know what happened in 1933 Germany as the rest of the world made no move to alter history. The book weighs upon you. However, Larson does an admirable job of balancing those disturbing events of 1933 with moments of beauty, wonder, and righteousness using pre-war Berlin as a backdrop and using the new American ambassador's family as the eyes and ears of that tumultuous year in Nazi Germany. It is those moments that lighten the heart to make the narrative bearable. In the Garden of Beasts is an amazing record of an American family thrust into 1933 Germany as Hitler and his lieutenants cemented their power.

Contents: Das Vorspiel; The Man Behind the Curtain; Into the Wood; House Hunting in the Third Reich; Lucifer in the Garden; How the Skeleton Aches; Disquiet; Berlin at Dusk; When Everything Changed; Epilogue; Among the Monsters; Notes; Bibliography; Art Credits; Index

William Dodd, a University of Chicago professor, was looking for a job that would allow him time to complete a book. Thinking that an ambassadorship would provide him the time, he approached the Roosevelt administration for an appointment. While some smarter or more knowledgeable men declined the German ambassador position, Dodd, who remembered and loved Germany from his days at the University of Leipzig, accepted Roosevelt's appointment. Prior to leaving, Dodd met with bankers in New York whose overriding concern was that Germany would default on their loans. They wanted Dodd to make sure that their investments would be covered. Meetings with American Jewish leaders reported to Dodd that Jewish German citizens were experiencing rampant antisemitism and they wanted Dodd, and America, to protect them and to put pressure on the German government to change their policies. Setting sail for Germany, Dodd took his wife, son, and his daughter, Martha. And his late model Chevrolet.

Dodd was, not surprisingly, unprepared for ambassador. He had a very romantic view of Germany, for one. For another, most ambassadors were independently wealthy and used their positions for lavish parties and conspicuous consumption. Dodd was not wealthy nor willing to flaunt America's wealth. While top Germans rode in new Mercedes and recognized their station in life, Dodd drove around Berlin in a late model Chevrolet. As a status symbol, it was severely lacking. Martha threw herself into the "New Germany," enjoying many late night parties and affairs with high ranking German officers, including the first chief of the Gestapo, Rudolph Diels.

Erik Larson graphically recreates the events of 1933, as the Nazis consolidated their power, stripped the Jews of their businesses, property, and rights. He makes sure that the reader understands that even American citizens were not safe in "New Germany," suffering beatings or imprisonment. However, the State Department continued to inform America that travel to Germany was safe, not wanting to offend German officials or to provide the opportunity for Germany to default on their loans. Larson provides some reasons for the United States' silence in the matter; the Depression, the Roosevelt administration's fear of looking hypocritical, the treatment of black citizens in America during the same time. Regardless, it is difficult to understand the United States' position on Germany with the first hand reports from Ambassador Dodd. In the Garden of Beasts climaxes with "The Night of the Long Knives," when Hitler rounded up and killed most of his political opponents. It makes for some frightening, upsetting reading.

Overall, In the Garden of Beasts is an outstanding, first person narrative of 1933-1934 Germany. Dodd and his daughter are good references, but somewhat difficult for the reader to relate. Dodd, outmanned and not well understood by his superiors, seems worthless at his post. Thankfully, Larson completes the picture of Dodd by including his life after returning from Germany. He was, at the time, the correct choice as United States Ambassador to Germany. Martha, his daughter, loses her blinders to the situation in Germany, however it is difficult to empathize with a naive woman who is as flirtatious and adulterous as she. In the Garden of Beasts is a compelling and engrossing account of the rise of Nazi Germany, told from two unique perspectives.

Obtained from: Amazon Vine
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May 14, 2011
Sounds like a great book. Thanks for the heads up! Somehow I missed this one on the Vine.
May 14, 2011
I was quite happy to see this listed on Vine, Larson is one of my favorite authors. Don't forget to spend some time with his Notes, there are some real gems in there. :-)
More In the Garden of Beasts: Love,... reviews
review by . April 10, 2013
Larson turns his story telling skill to an amazing slice of history from a time most Americans, Germans, and citizens of the world would like to forget.  In 1933, as America was still deep in Depression and Hitler was still consolidating his grip on the throat of civilization, Roosevelt nominated William E. Dodd to serve as the American ambassador to Berlin.  Perhaps no diplomat was ever more poorly matched for his position. A plain speaking and simple living Southern academic (from Clayton, …
review by . June 02, 2011
Larson again brings his special talent for writing an historical account that reads like a novel. Bill Dodd, historian was picked by FDR to fill a position that nobody wanted. That is, become the US ambassador in 1933 Berlin as Hitler was establishing his stronghold on the German government. He went with his wife Martha and his adult daughter (also Martha)and experienced firsthand attacks on Americans and the ever increasing rules that were placed on the German Jews.     His …
review by . April 04, 2011
This is an interesting book that tells of the first FDR ambassador to Nazi Germany and his family as they resided in Berlin in 1933 and after. The ambassador, a former college professor, and his wife and son and daughter move to Berlin and make their way through the Nazi regime. The daughter, particularly, is one of the main focuses of this book. She's in her mid-twenties and somewhat promiscuous, having affairs back in Chicago (possibly with Carl Sandburg and Thornton Wilder) before she left …
review by . March 24, 2011
It has been observed that for evil to win all that needs happen is for good men to do nothing. That was what the United States government did, at least officially, for much of the lead-up to World War II. Too often chances to speak out and try to stop the madness that was engulfing Germany were ignored. Too frequently the atrocities were overlooked. Too many times our response to the crisis over there was nothing, nothing, nothing...    But there were exceptions. George Messersmith, …
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Gregg Eldred ()
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Praise for Erik Larson
“A ripping yarn of murder and invention.”—Los Angeles Times

“Larson’s gift for rendering an historical era with vibrant tactility and filling it with surprising personalities makesThunderstruckan irresistible tale.”—The Washington Post Book World

“Gripping….An edge-of-the-seat read.”—People
“[Larson] relentlessly fuses history and entertainment to give this nonfiction book the dramatic effect of a novel….a dynamic, enveloping book.”
The New York Times

“A hugely engrossing chronicle of events public and private. Exceedingly well-documented, exhaustive without being excessive, and utterly fascinating.”
Chicago Tribune
“An irresistible page-turner that reads like the most compelling, sleep-defying fiction.”—Time Out New York

“A gripping account…fascinating to its core, and all the more compelling for being true.”—New York Times Book Review

“Superb...Larson has made the Great Hurricane live again.”—The Wall Street Journal

“Gripping….TheJawsof hurricane yarns.”—Newsday

Amazon Best Books of the Month, May 2011:In the Garden of Beastsis a vivid portrait of Berlin during the first years of Hitler’s reign, brought to life through the stories of two people: ...
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ISBN-10: 0307408841
ISBN-13: 978-0307408846
Author: Erik Larson
Genre: History, Nonfiction
Publisher: Crown
First to Review

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