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  • Apr 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, NC, a bedroom community outside Raleigh near where I live), Dodd brought his wife, adult son and daughter, and old Chevy to Berlin determined to live within his $17,000 salary and continue his quiet, early-to-bed lifestyle.

The tale Larson weaves quickly belies Dodd's desires.  The seemingly serene surface of German life covered a growing legal, political, and law enforcement strangulation of the life of its Jewish citizens, a snarling cynicism at its core and an erotic but thin and brittle veneer of glamour on the surface.  Dodd's daughter Martha proves to be a central character as she is first enamored within the German lifestyle (and sexually attracted to the powerful Nazi leaders she actively courted) and then disenchanted and finally horrified by the truth as it unveils itself to her.

Meanwhile, poorly matched to deal with both his opponents back in Washington (who favored conciliation and a diplomacy of normalcy) and his charges in Berlin (who violently attacked every American expression of displeasure with Nazi policy) Dodd faced an impossible task.  Concludes Larson: 

"he had done as well as any man can be expected to do, given the strange, irrational, and brutal nature of Hitler's government" (p. 242).

More tellingly, an insubordinate undersecretary on his Berlin staff who actively worked to undermine Dodd's tenure later confessed

"I often think that there were very few men who realized what was happening in Germany more thoroughly than he did, and certainly there were very few men who realized the implications for the rest of Europe and for us and for the whole world of what of what was happening in the country more than he did." (p. 355)

In Larson's hand this is history as noir mystery, with the added punch of awareness of the horror to come.  But he takes no shortcuts, documenting his facts with 40+ pages of notes and 10 pages of bibliography.  This is not fictionalized or dramatized history, just history well done, documenting Dodd's honorable service in his life during wartime.

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More In the Garden of Beasts: Love,... reviews
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 . 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 …
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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Todd Stockslager ()
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I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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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

"The evil that men do"
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