Book Review In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson


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

Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Pub. Date: 5/10/11
Hardcover: 464 pages
Genre: Nonfiction, Historical Biography
How obtained?: Purchased at Barnes and Noble for my Book Club (Smart Bitches Who Read) meeting.

RATING: 2 **
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 Marthais entranced by the parties and pomp, and the handsome young men of the Third Reich with their infectious enthusiasm for restoring Germany toa position of world prominence. Enamored of the “New Germany,” she has one affair after another, including with surprisingly honorable first chief of the Gestapo, RudolfDiels. 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 Jewsare attacked, the pressis 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 unexpectedly 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, 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.
I would like to start off by saying that I am not a fan of nonfiction books.  I especially dislike historical novels.   Unfortunately this book was no different.  I would not have even read this book if I had not agreed to it for my Book Club.
The book is about an American man named Dodd and his appointment as Ambassador to Berlin in the very beginning of Hitler’s rise of Germany.  He takes his family with him to Berlin and they end up renting a house from a Jewish couple, who live on the floor above them in the home.  Dodd’s wife and son do not play an important role in the book, and were only included to remain historically accurate.  The main part of the book is about Dodd and his daughter Martha. My only true complaint about the writing is that,  I did not feel that Larson did a satisfactory job keeping all of the characters clear.  A lot of the names were only listed as last names, especially of the German Nazi Leaders.  It was hard for me to decipher who was who until midway into the book.
I did not think that Dodd was the correct choice for Ambassador to Berlin, as he did not really have any experience in the job, and only wanted time to work on his own book Old South.  I also did not understand how Martha could have a romantic idea of Nazi Germany.  Even if she truly believed all of the violent stories were exaggerated, she could not deny that they were based on something.  And she actually saw with her own eyes violence against a woman who was not even Jewish, but had fallen in love with a Jewish man. At the very least she should have believed that the Nazis were as bad as everyone was claiming after she saw that.
I was surprised by the fact that many of the people working in the Ambassador’s office sent notices to the American government warning them of all the violence that Hitler’s people were doing, and the fact that Hitler was going to cause a world war as soon as he was able to.  I do not understand how all of the American government could disregard all of the reports and warnings.
This was a very slow read.  The story demands absolute concentration to recognize all of the German names and locations.  I do not recommend this book, unless you love historical novels.

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