In The Garden of Beasts – Erik Larson

5 Jul

Before I get much farther here I should give you the whole title of the book, In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin. This book is from the same author who wrote Devil in the White City which I also loved. That one was about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and serial killer who preyed on its crowd. In the Garden of Beasts focuses on an evil much more widespread.

This book is a page turner. I read it on my Kindle at the gym and my workouts flew by as I devoured it. This non-fiction book centers on the Dodd family in 1933. The father, a former professor, would serve as a reluctant ambassador to Germany during this turbulent time in history. The daughter, Martha, would play coquette and Russian roulette. She would date high-ranking party members, enjoying her flirtation with danger.

Dodd starts his post with a wish not to stir the pot. He hopes to keep the peace with Hitler’s Germany at any cost. The longer he stays in Berlin, the more he sees that a black cloud is taking over. Few in the American State Department will listen and they focus instead on his limited budget and his absence at Nazi rallies.

Meanwhile Martha is courting Russian spies, Nazis and… (drum roll) trouble. She initially sympathizes with the Nazis and it takes long exposure to this new world for her to wakeup to the harsh reality. People are being killed, lives ruined and democracy is a thing of the past.

Seeing this point in the National Socialist party from the view of Americans is terribly interesting. Larson delivers history with drama just as he did in Devil in the White City. It’s not drama for drama’s sake though, nowhere is it added where it didn’t already exist. He is cautious with his details and shares the facts as a journalist would, allowing us to draw our own conclusions. A terrific read even without the elliptical.


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