Review: In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin

Editorial Review - - Kate Ayers

William E. Dodd, a professor of history at the University of Chicago, has become the United States ambassador to Germany. His timing couldn't have been much worse. World War I has ended, and Germans are in the process of rebuilding their country. At the same time, a powerhungry man named Adolf Hitler is poised to place himself at the head of the new Germany. This is the dawn of the Nazi ... Read full review

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User Review  - rdwhitenack - LibraryThing

Was surprised by how little happened in this book with the main characters. Larson seems to leave you to make a verdict on their actions, although, to me, they didn't really stand out. What I valued ... Read full review

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My daughters gave me this for a 2011 Christmas present. I have a fourteen year history teaching students about the Holocaust and the Diary of Anne Frank, so I was interested in this read. It was not what I’d expected at all. This is a true story set in Nazi Germany. Professor Dodd, a history instructor, is a friend of FDR. He is asked to serve as the American Ambassador to Berlin in January, 1933, the year Adolf Hitler is democratically elected as chancellor of der Deutchland. Dodd, 62 years old, decides this would be a great, last opportunity to keep his family together. He packs his 22 year old son, Bill, his wife, daughter Martha, and himself off to Germany.
They find a land of contrasts: idyllic Berlin set amidst a gathering storm. Dodd goes against the grain by being poor, bring his own Chevrolet to drive, and living in a Jew’s apartment house. Love that part. Martha is in heaven. She is attractive and sexually promiscuous. This makes her, of course, popular with the fast crows of the times: writers, politicians, and, of course, aggressive Nazis.
The story is powerful. Dodd is a Jeffersonian democrat who steadfastly represents American ideals. He meets—and argues—with Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler, and a whole gamut of Nazi monsters all gearing up to take over the world. He is viewed as a pathetic, inadequate puppet who is ineffective and unable to stand up to the Nazis, the only thing they understand.
The book is quite excellent. It gave me insights into the Holocaust from an angle I’d never heard or explored. I particularly liked Martha, who is friends with Carl Sandburg, Thornton Wilder, Hermann Goering, Ronald Biehls, and Boris, a KGB agent spy whom she desperately loves.
I found the communiqués between Martha and her associates intriguing and frequently, very beautiful. Sandburg writes terse notes that reveal the poet’s hand. Martha wrote this on page 198: “The smell of peace is abroad, the air is cold, the skies are brittle, and the leaves have finally fallen. I wear a pony coat with skin like watered silk and muff of lamb. My fingers lie in depths of warmth. I have a jacket of silver sequins, and heavy bracelets of rich corals. I wear about my neck a triple thread-like chain of lapis lazulis and pearls. On my face is softness and content like a veil of golden moonlight. And I have never in all my lives been so lonely.”
Prose like this juxtaposed with the terror and mayhem of Nazi Germany makes for a fascinating, albeit disturbing, read. **** and One-Half = Four and One Half Stars.

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Excellent book
Very engaging

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Larson has a gift for interweaving seemingly disparate stories. If you want to know just how the slow burn of Hitler and the Nazis destroyed Germany, this is a great place to start. Be prepared to book tickets Berlin to view the city brought to life here.

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I am a 60 year old Canadian. When a teen I wondered how Nazi Germany was possible. I knew Germans and they were like me. I arrived at the conclusion that we are all surrounded by potential Nazis, and therefore I was a potential Nazi. It was chilling, but nothing else made sense to me. I have mentioned it to people from time to time over the years if the topic came up, and I don't recall anyone agreeing. They could not see it.
Erik Larson explains it perfectly, and it is chilling. Humanity in detail and context led by very few to act out its darkest.
I don't see how Larson could have done better with this topic with the source material. I am so pleased he wrote it.

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It is a compelling book covering a brief period of time from the early 1930’s to 1937-38. It highlights the ascent to power of one of the most diabolical minds of modern time and explains how and why he was able to assume the “throne” in Germany and attempt to annihilate the population of the world that was not purely Aryan.
It was during this time, over a period of just over four years, that William Dodd served the government of FDR and moved to Berlin as the United States Ambassador to Germany. He was 64 years old and really wanted to remain in America, retire and complete his memoir, “Old South”, but he felt he owed it to his family and his country to accept. Living in Germany, with his wife, Martha, and two children, an adult son and daughter, both namesakes of their parents, William and Martha Dodd, he tried to warn FDR and the diplomatic staff about what he believed was coming down the pike, but was thwarted at every turn. He lived a humble life, not born with a silver spoon as most diplomats were and was the object of their scorn and ridicule; his attempts to warn the government about the horrors in Germany, were often undermined by the others in the diplomatic corps. His brief sojourn pretty much sucked the life from this well-meaning, but ill-equipped, sincere representative of the government. His prescient remarks, often laughed at, proved to have been correct, and if heeded, might have altered the turn of events and prevented the genocide that occurred as Hitler attempted to rule the world.
It is mind boggling when one thinks about the hero-worship often displayed for Roosevelt, when his judgment at that time was so clouded because of an atmosphere of isolationists and anti-Semites, which he tolerated and often agreed with, throughout his administration and government offices. His decisions were probably partly responsible for the failure to stop the horror that followed Hitler’s rise and the ensuing devastation in Europe.
From the prologue, the author had me. I had assumed the history of Hitler’s Nazi Germany might be a bit dry, but not so, this book is liquid, fluid, hot lava…igniting my thoughts and my interest. I think the writing style and organization will be less important, in the end, than the information and message delivered, however, both are superb. The book takes place predominantly through the period of 1933-1934, although it does extend in the last few dozen pages into 1937-8 very briefly.
Realizing that the book was pulled together, partly from the diaries left by Dodd, I thought that one must mourn the loss of the written word and the demise of the handwritten letters and diaries men of influence used to leave behind, to document their lives and momentous events. Digitized records just do not convey the emotion or passion of the actual original records. Holding a flash drive will never be the same as holding an actual page with the person’s handwriting scrawled across it.
Wiliam Dodd was a mild mannered academic and gentleman who was asked by FDR, to be Ambassador to Germany in 1933, almost as a last resort, because no one else would accept the position in a country many believed was undergoing a radical change, with increasing violence, under the leadership of the new Chancellor, Adolf Hitler. Already, in that early part of the decade of the thirties, the evil and brutality of Hitler and his thugs was well known but kept hidden for political and diplomatic purposes. The leaders of the free world would soon rue their decisions not to challenge him when they had the opportunity.
The “information highway” was not developed then. Technology had not advanced to where it is today. Dodd was naïve and largely unaware of the daunting task before him, as he set sail on July 5, 1933. He did know, however, that anti-Semitism was commonplace and acceptable in many places in our country, as well as abroad; his instructions were basically to do what he could to alleviate the brutality against them but not to interfere in the overall German policies toward Jews. Many believed, in

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Larson provides an interesting glimpse of the Third Reich's power-brokers as well as their impact on Berlin's social life; however, the mundane minutia employed to provide the picture becomes tiresome. The reader's aware of the eventual effect and outcome; therefore, the overall impression becomes marred. J.P. Miller. Cambridge, MA 

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User Review  - medialona -

Enjoyed this history love all of his books. Read full review

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