Title: In the Garden of Beasts
Author: Erik Larson
Review: I don’t know if I have a particular affinity for history but when I read it through Erik Larson’s eyes I just love it. He manages to make history come alive and be at once accessible and enjoyable. Typically he will find some anchor point to some famous time and then explore that period through that anchor. A serial murderer at the Chicago’s World Fair, or a wife killing Doctor at the invention of the radio.
In the Garden of Beasts we see the first year of the rise of Hitler and Nazi-ism in Berlin as told through the newly appointed US ambassador and his daughter. Looking back with hindsight at the events and how they played out it is easy to become a little to judgmental of the people who had to figure it out as they went along. As most humane people would, Ambassador Dodd and his family kept giving Hitler and his party the benefit of the doubt that all they truly wanted to do was recover Germany from the social and material loss it suffered due to WWI. So as the minor inconveniences slowly built up and eventually became horrific atrocities you can see how most governments extended olive branch after olive branch there way.
As it turns out Germany could have been easily stopped in the beginning but no one of consequence saw it coming; at least not on the scale that it did. What makes this most intriguing was the story of Martha Dodd, the ambassador’s 20 something daughter who was a total party girl. A early version of Paris Hilton so to speak. She hit Berlin running and initially was quite taken with Nazi’s and all the glitz they brought to the table. She became romantically involved with several leading figures within the regime and once was even set up as a possible love interest for Hitler himself. Eventually she settled down with a young man from the Russian consulate. This leads all kinds of interesting places that are only touched upon briefly by the book (post war Martha was quite intriguing indeed) as they were out of the scope of the original target.
Anybody who is a history buff, or finds typical historical texts too dry should immediately pick up an Erik Larson book and see what they are missing. He is the most reader friendly historian going and In the Garden of the Beast in particular will bring pre-WWII Germany to life. It was especially enlightening if you are like me and all your WWII knowledge comes from Hollywood.
Quick Review: 4 stars out of 5
Why I Read It: I have read two of Larson’s previous works and have really enjoyed them. Plus I heard a speech he did about the work presented on NPR and it sounded compelling.
Where I Obtained the Book: From my local library.
Synopsis: In this readable narrative, author Larson (The Devil in the White City, Thunderstruck) offers a real-life, eyewitness perspective inside the Nazi hierarchy as Hitler came to power. William E. Dodd, a mild-mannered professor from Chicago, became the first US ambassador to Hitler's Germany in 1933. Dodd, his wife, their son, and their 24-year-old daughter Martha lived in Germany for about five years. Drawing on Martha's diaries and letters, much of the book centers on Martha's romantic affairs with high-ranking Nazi officials and her eventual heroism as she realized Hitler's true character. Meanwhile, her father William Dodd informed the US State Department of increasing Jewish persecution, with little response from the State Department. The book sheds light on why it took so long for the world to recognize the threat posed by Hitler
Author Biography: Erik Larson was born on January 3, 1954 in Freeport, Long Island. He studied Russian history at the University of Pennsylvania and graduated summa cum laude in 1976. After a year off, he attended the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, graduating in 1978. His first newspaper job was with The Bucks County Courier Times in Levittown, Pennsylvania, where he wrote about murder, witches, and environmental poisons. He is a former features writer for The Wall Street Journal and Time magazine, where he is still a contributing writer. His magazine stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, and other publications. He is the author of Lethal Passage: The Story of a Gun and The Naked Consumer: How Our Private Lives Become Public Commodities. He has also written Isaac's Storm , about the experiences of Isaac Cline during the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, about the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago and a series of murders by H. H. Holmes that were committed in the city around the time of the Fair, and Thunderstruck, which intersperses the story of Hawley Harvey Crippen with the story of Guglielmo Marconi and the invention of radio. Larson has taught non-fiction writing at San Francisco State, the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, and the University of Oregon, and has spoken to audiences from coast to coast. (Publisher Provided) Erik Larson was born in Brooklyn on Jan. 3, 1954. He graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Pennsylvania and went to graduate school at Columbia University. Larson worked for the Wall Street Journal and then began writing non-fiction books. He is the author of the bestselling book, The Devil in the White City, which has been optioned for a feature film by Leonardo DiCaprio. He also wrote In the Garden of the Beasts, Issac's Storm, Thunderstruck and The Naked Consumer. Larson lives in Seattle with his wife and three daughters.