In the Garden of Beasts
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 24 Jul 2012
Full Title: In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin
In 1933, the position of the United States ambassador to Germany became vacant, and William Dodd was tapped to fill that role. Dodd had gained his Ph. D. degree at the University of Leipzig in Germany back in 1900, and was known to be a loyal Democratic Party member, thus he seemed to be an ideal candidate. Dodd would remain in Germany as the US ambassador until 1937, thus he was among the Americans who witnessed the bulk of the pre-war period of Nazi Germany. In the book In the Garden of Beasts author Erik Larson presented a dual-biography of Dodd and his daughter Martha during this key time period, and a view of the 1930s Germany through their eyes.
Having known nothing of Dodd, I found this book to be wonderful in that respect; Larson did a great job in presenting the ambassador's background and personality, his Germanophilia, and his slow transformation into an anti-Nazi. Early in the book, Larson successfully made me cringe whenever he spoke of Dodd's blindness to Nazi atrocities, thinking that it was only a brief and necessary evil as Germany returned to the world stage; later on, I also felt Dodd's powerlessness when he had mentioned of Dodd's attempts, having realized the truth of Nazi ideologies, albeit too late to have much effect, to make known the suppression of freedom that was going on in Germany. Martha Dodd, the other central character in this book, was portrayed by Larson as an idealistic and unrestrained young woman who saw Nazi Germany from a wholly different perspective as she became romantically involved with German military leaders such as Ernst Udet, Nazi chiefs such as Rudolf Diels, diplomats such as Boris Winogradov, and civilians such as Carl Sandburg; perhaps even more so than her father, she was blinded by the rapid achievements of Nazi Germany, and Larson successfully presented her gradual realization of her false faith and the disappointment of witnessing a return of Germany back to the worse aspects of pre-modern times. The author's inclusion of key players such as Adolf Hitler, Franklin Roosevelt, Hermann GĂ¶ring, Cordell Hull, and Joseph Goebbels, and key events such as the Night of the Long Knives and Kristallnacht established the Dodds' personal experiences and views in the bigger historical context.
I had reviewed this title in its audio format. Stephen Hoye had done a fine job with the reading, with clear narration and what I believed to be decent pronunciation of the few German and other European languages names and terms.
I enjoyed this book. Though not nearly as comprehensive than titles dedicated to the retelling of Germany in the 1930s, In the Garden of Beasts could serve as a good companion volume to such histories.
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