Review: In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson


“Larson is a marvelous writer…superb at creating characters with a few short strokes.”—New York Times Book Review   Erik Larson has been widely acclaimed as a master of narrative non-fiction, and in his new book, the bestselling author of Devil in the White City turns his hand to 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 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.
My Review:
  I’ve heard a lot about this book, as it has been out for some time now. However, I resisted reading the book. I actually didn’t like the title of the book…so it certainly didn’t draw my attention at first.  I had just finished reading a book and was in a book slump for awhile.  Then, I got this notice from my library that the book had come available for me to download.  I had forgotten that I requested it a loooong time ago!  It couldn’t have come at a better time than now!
  This was a rather interesting read. Erick states this is a book of non-fiction. I was amazed at how much research and piecing together facts from various sources he did to make this book. This book has extensive research!! I was surprised at how many people journaled and kept diaries back then, coupled with saved letters, Erik lets the story unfold.  WWII, Jews in concentration camps, and other stories about that era are things I hate to read, but love to read.  Does that make sense?  I really resist reading these kinds of book because the stories stay with me long after the book has been put down.  This book is told through a different side. It’s told from the perspective of the Ambassador to Germany, William Dodd and his daughter, Martha.
While the daily persecutions of the Jewish people wasn’t written in detail, the mass killings of those who followed Hitler was described.  People didn’t trust each other, didn’t know who would turn them in for saying something negative about the government, Hitler, hysteria, and this indescrible amount of fear consumed the people of Germany.  A Jewish banker was rather smart when he offered his extravagant home for very cheap rent to Ambassador Dodd and his family.  The banker knew living with the American Ambassdador would provide protection and immunity from the daily harrassment of Nazis.
Enamored with the Old Germany Ambassador Dodd knew as a college student, and his daughter enamored with the New Germany under Hitler’s regime, both are given a real glimpse into what is happening, that is not being reported to the world: mass killings, tortured Jewish people in concentration camps, passing of laws to make it okay to sterilize people that are not deemed Aryan worth, people being exiled from their homes and businesses, beatings for not giving the Hitler salute or not doing it properly, American tourists being beaten and paid off to not report it back to the states, etc.
Americans were still recovering from the Great Depression, so they didn’t want to accept  immigrants into the States for fear that it would burden the economy, bankers were concerned about the excess money Germany still owed and were afraid if they spoke out against Hitler that the money would not be repaid, Americans were not being told everything that was going on in Germany (including FDR), and so many mistruths were told to pacify Hitler and his regime.  Parties, excess drinking, sex, and bribery were common amongst the supporters of Hitler and only when it was truly too late to do anything about what was happening, did people start speaking out in silent protests….which often resulted in disappearances and death.
  This is an excellent book and one that I took my time reading. There was so much information and people affected during those times, that I didn’t want to rush through the book.  It’s worth reading, it’s a story that should be told to remind us of what can happen, what does happen when someone is given too much power, and how once the wheels starts turning, it truly is too hard to stop the eventual negative impacts of decisions made.

2 thoughts on “Review: In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson

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