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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.
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.