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In the Garden of Beasts: Book summary and reviews of In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

In the Garden of Beasts

Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin

by Erik Larson

In the Garden of Beasts

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Book Summary

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 Martha is entranced by the parties and pomp, and the handsome young men of the Third Reich with their infectious enthusiasm for restoring Germany to a position of world prominence. Enamored of the "New Germany," she has one affair after another, including with the surprisingly honorable first chief of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels. 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 Jews are attacked, the press is 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 expectedly 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, addictively 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.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. An excellent study, taking a tiny instant of modern history and giving it specific weight, depth and meaning." - Kirkus

"Starred Review. In this mesmerizing portrait of the Nazi capital, Larson plumbs a far more diabolical urban cauldron than in his bestselling The Devil in the White City... Although the narrative sometimes bogs down in Dodd's wranglings with the State Department and Martha's soap opera, Larson offers a vivid, atmospheric panorama of the Third Reich and its leaders..." - Publishers Weekly

"Larson captures the nuances of this terrible period. This is a grim read but a necessary one for the present generation." - Library Journal

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Reader Reviews

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Mary G.

How did we let Hitler's Germany happen?
Adolf Hitler was building his Aryan dream of control for 15 years before most of the world recognized it. Larson takes us to the Berlin of 1933, with a new U.S Ambassador and his family, and weaves a story that attempts to answer that question. He takes the time to let us get to know Dodd, and we already wonder if he's the man for the job. We meet his 24-year-old daughter Martha, and scarcely get to know his wife or older son...but it is Martha who shares the diplomatic spotlight with her father - in a most unusual way; I didn't like her very much. As an American who remembers WW II, it was enlightening to follow the Dodds around the Berlin of that time, to actually understand the people who looked to Adolph Hitler as Germany's Messiah. Dodd has been heavily criticized for his handling of his tenure, but Larson does not support that; I was horrified at the strictures diplomats must observe in fulfilling their mission. There are no battles, no bombings, no blood, but this is a look at the enemy that fleshes out our memories, that makes them human. And besides...it's a good read.

Becky H

In the Garden of the Beasts
Lovers of history will find this a fascinating peek at Hitler’s Germany. Everyman William Dodd is made Ambassador to Germany in 1933 almost by accident. Dodd, a professor at the University of Chicago, goes to Germany with his wife, an adult daughter in the middle of a divorce and an adult son. The daughter is enamored with the glitz and pomp of the German officers she meets and has a number of affairs while her father is increasingly at odds with the career officers who are supposed to support him and are actually undermining his eyewitness account of events. Dodd, increasingly aware of the persecution of Jew, the censorship of the news and newly instituted and frightening laws, is largely ignored back home by the State Department. The last fourth of the book deals with the mounting terror of the Dodds, the disappearance of friends and acquaintances and finally, the return of the Dodds to the US. Somewhat slow, with many pauses to insert background, the book is still compelling. Give yourself time to appreciate the detail Larson includes throughout the book. History geeks will find the 75 pages of notes especially interesting.

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Author Information

Erik Larson Author Biography

Photo: Mary Cairns

Erik Larson is the author of four New York Times bestsellers, including In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin, which hit #1 and remained on the printed list for 35 weeks. It was published in Britain, France, Italy, Poland, Australia and a number of other countries. Movie rights were optioned by Universal Studios and Tom Hanks' Playtone. Erik's book The Devil in the White City remained on the Times' hardcover and paperback lists for a combined total of over three years. It won an Edgar Award for nonfiction crime writing and was a finalist for a National Book Award; the option to make a movie of the book was acquired in November 2010 by Leonardo DiCaprio.

Erik's research has taken him to far-flung locales, and down ...

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