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In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin

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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 Goring 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.

448 pages, Hardcover

First published May 10, 2011

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About the author

Erik Larson

61 books65.6k followers
Erik Larson’s latest work of narrative nonfiction is DEAD WAKE: THE LAST CROSSING OF THE LUSITANIA, which became an immediate New York Times bestseller. His saga of the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY, was a finalist for the National Book Award, and won an Edgar Award for fact-crime writing, and lingered on various NYT best-seller lists for the better part of a decade. Hulu plans to adapt the book for a limited TV series, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese as executive producers. Erik’s IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS, about America’s first ambassador to Nazi Germany and his daughter, has been optioned by Tom Hanks for development as a feature film.

His next book, THE SPLENDID AND THE VILE: A SAGA OF CHURCHILL, FAMILY, AND DEFIANCE DURING THE BLITZ, due out in early spring 2020, is a story of geopolitical brinksmanship during Churchill’s first year as prime minister, but also an intimate domestic drama, set against the backdrop of Churchill’s prime-ministerial country house, Chequers, and his “full-moon home,” Ditchley, where Churchill, his family, and his “Secret Circle” convene when the moon is in its brightest phases and the bombing threat is highest.

Erik is a former features writer for The Wall Street Journal and Time. His magazine stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's and other publications.

He has taught non-fiction writing at San Francisco State, the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, the University of Oregon, and the Chuckanut Writers Conference, and has spoken to audiences from coast to coast. A former resident of Seattle, he now lives in Manhattan with his wife, a neonatologist and author of the nonfiction memoir, ALMOST HOME, which, as Erik puts it, "could make a stone cry." They have three daughters in far-flung locations and professions.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 16,190 reviews
Profile Image for Kemper.
1,390 reviews6,974 followers
August 3, 2011
Picture Principal Skinner from The Simpsons and Paris Hilton going to Nazi Germany, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what this book is like.

I was split on Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City because I found the half of the book about the 1893 Chicago’s World Fair incredibly interesting but thought the other half about serial killer H.H. Holmes to be just another true crime gore fest. Then in Thunderstruck he again gave us some nice pop history with the story of Marconi and the invention of the radio, but then he stretched the inclusion of a crime story to a ridiculous exteme by trying to tie in a manhunt for a killer across the Atlantic that used early wireless.

I was hoping that In the Garden of Beasts would allow Larson to play to his strengths with a story about Nazis in the 1930s because I thought he could give a detailed look at life in Berlin as Hitler was consolidating his power, and this time he’d actually have a legitimate horror story to tell without it feeling like something just tacked on to sell books. Instead, I got a story about a couple of people who were surrounded by evil and didn’t do a helluva lot about it.

The story centers on William Dodd and his daughter Martha. Dodd was a history professor in Chicago with minor political connections and a dream of obtaining a quiet government post somewhere so he could finish writing a history of the American Civil War. When President Roosevelt couldn’t get anyone else to take the job, he asked Dodd to be the ambassador to Germany. Dodd accepted and took his wife and two grown children along with him. Like a lot of Americans, Dodd was worried about some of the stories of Nazi violence coming out at the time, but thought that Hitler might be nudged towards controlling the extreme factions since he‘d just taken over as chancellor. His interactions with the Nazi power brokers and the rise of German nationalistic fervor eventually convinced Dodd that Hitler and his people were bad news for the entire world.

Here’s where the book falls down for me. Larson got me interested in the Chicago World’s Fair because I knew nothing about it, and he made it come alive. I already know about how the Nazis came to power so the history piece of this is old news to me. While there’s some interesting slice of life details and Larson does a nice job of giving you a sense of the weird combination of paranoia, pride, terror and zeal that pervaded Germany in the 1930s, it’s really nothing I haven’t heard before. Maybe I would have been more interested if I would have found Dodd’s story more intriguing, but frankly, the ambassador seemed about as interesting as a saltine cracker to me.

Dodd comes across as a decent enough guy for his time. He did advocate policies of getting tougher with Germany when most of America was in full isolationist mode, but aside from irking the Nazis with a couple of speeches and boycotting a couple of official functions, he really didn’t do anything. (And as one of his critics of the time pointed out, an ambassador who refuses to meet with the government of the country he’s in really isn’t accomplishing much.) Dodd irritated others in America’s diplomatic service with his constant criticism of their spending and seemed more concerned with cutting costs at the embassy rather than dealing with the Germans.

The odd thing about this book is that Larson all but ignores Dodd’s wife and son in favor of giving a detailed portrayal of his daughter, Martha. Martha came along with her father as her first marriage was ending, and to put it mildly, she got around. I mean, it’s good that a woman in her time was sexually liberated enough to carry on with guys like the poet Carl Sandburg. However, once she dated the head of the Gestapo and a top Soviet spy as well as many, many others, I had the impression that Martha was less than discriminating with her affections. Hell, she even kinda went along with a half-assed scheme one of the Nazis had to try and hook her up with Hitler himself.

So this becomes the story of a mild mannered diplomat dealing with the rise of some of the most evil fucks in history, but he’s pinching pennies at the embassy instead of giving visas to every Jewish person he could find. And his daughter is a sleeping her way through Europe while at first extolling the virtues of the Nazis, then deciding that she’s kind of a communist, but in the end Martha doesn’t do much but put a smile on the face of any guy who gives her a wink and a smile.

In this case, I knew the history and only got a story about a couple of people who seem like they should have been maybe a chapter in larger history of the time and place. Dodd and Martha just didn’t impress or intrigue me enough to warrant reading a whole book about them. It’s disappointing that Larson decided to make them the center of this.
Profile Image for Corina.
175 reviews27 followers
May 30, 2011
I didn't think you could make the rise of Hitler boring, but...this was. Ever so much. 300 pages of "But unknown to Dodd, all the rich dudes in the US hated him and were saying things like blah blah blah" and "Martha was having yet another affair" and "Everyone in Berlin seemed happy but THE ATMOSPHERE WAS TENSE" that all led up to a rather anticlimactic Night of the Long Knives. I really just didn't care for anyone in the Dodd family - Dodd himself seemed stuffy and did not, over the course of the book, seem to have the brilliant insight into the implications of the Nazi regime with which the epilogue credits him. Martha was pretty insufferable and ultimately I had no idea why so much time was spent on her affairs. I would've vastly preferred a book about characters named only briefly, like Bella Fromm or Sigrid Schulz.
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,310 reviews120k followers
July 16, 2020
In 1933, William Dodd, a Chicago academic is appointed the first American ambassador to Hitler’s Germany. He enters this cauldron accompanied by his family, most particularly by his very modern daughter, Martha. Larson shows us the quickly changing Germany of 1933 through their eyes.

Erik Larson - image from University of Washington - photo by Mary Cairns

While this is hardly a man-on-the-strasse point of view, a look at the goings on through the experiences of a diplomat and his daughter does get a bit closer to the ground than a more removed historical overview. Larson chose to deliver a one year slice of the darkening life of Nazi Germany. There is plenty in that one year to fill many books.

I was of two minds about this book. On the one hand, I read it rather quickly, which usually indicates a high level of interest. On the other hand, it did not seem all that interesting to me. Certainly there are not a lot of new revelations remaining re the Third Reich. The ambassador seemed like a mostly decent guy who tried his best under what might, at best, be called trying circumstances. His experience highlighted the cliquish, anti-Semitic, quality of the rich-boy American foreign service. ( The Pretty Good Club) Not news. The upper echelons of the Nazi Party included an assortment of mental misfits, from the lunatic-in-chief to Goering, with an ego even larger than his lavishly costumed body, to in-fighting middle-school sociopaths with armies and zero sense of morality. Again, not news. News was some of the nuance involved in why Roosevelt was disinclined to openly criticize the Nazis for their treatment of the Jews. News was the connections the ambassador’s daughter made with questionable characters.

Ambassador Dodd’s daughter, Martha, appears to have had a very lively social life. Her interactions with some of the notables allow us a look at people who were unfamiliar. Indeed, it is the secondary characters that hold the most interest here. One such who emerges from the gunsmoke is Rudolf Diels, the first head of the Gestapo. His scar-ridden face might lead one to see him as a total black hat. Turns out there was more to him than that. Martha also has an affair with a Soviet KGB agent named, of course, Boris. How much of their affection was true and how much was manipulation? Franz von Papen was Hindenberg’s man, vice-chancellor under Hitler. He delivered (or was forced to give) a famous public call for Hitler to scale back some of his atrocities in the “Marburg Speech.” No. I had never heard of it either. But it was significant for the time, and gets some well-merited attention here. Larson offers a bit of a look at the political machinations of the US consul general George Messersmith, as well.

One of the most telling scenes in the book is one in which the ambassador is told that his primary task was to see that Germany paid the banks, uber alles. The relevance to the 21st Century is unmistakable. Larson’s depiction of The Night of Long Knives was riveting, particularly the mysteriousness of it all. Who was killed? How many? Why? Contrary to the post-Nazi claim that most of the population was against Hitler, the portrait Larson paints indicates widespread popular support for the Nazi leader.

It is chilling to see the frustrations of a population which had suffered economic deprivations for so long finding a savior in a madman. There is clearly a willingness in the USA for many people to throw their support to the loudest and meanest, regardless of what is revealed almost daily about the dishonesty of such leaders. It is not surprising that there were so many in Germany who felt that their national honor could best be revived through this bombastic bully. Pay attention to what the crazies say they want to do. Whether it is Paul Ryan promising to dismantle Medicare, or Ron Paul objecting to the Civil Rights Act. Mein Kampf is pretty specific. What did they think they were getting? In the article cited at the end of this page, Larson says,
"The immediate trigger for this book was reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, but I read that also at a time when I was feeling uneasy about how things were going in this country. It troubled me that we had these reports of torture of detainees, we had people jailed at Guantanamo Bay who couldn't even talk to their lawyers and couldn't see the evidence against them — sort of fundamental bedrock civil liberties things. ... Look, I don't care what your party is. I went to public school on Long Island, and it seemed every year we were being taught that you had a right to a fair trial and a right to confront your accuser. So it's this kind of vague feeling I had in the background which was, 'What was that like to experience a real extreme version of that?' ... So it made me wonder what allows a culture to slip its moorings."
But even though there were interesting elements within the book, even though I read through it all relatively quickly, I still did not feel, by the time I had finished, that it was all that much. One of the problems with being a damn good writer is that expectations are elevated. It is tough indeed to come up to The Devil in the White City, an astonishingly good book. In the Garden of Beasts does not approach that work. While it might be interesting to see how the flowers grow in this dark garden, there is just not enough meat here to satisfy the fly-traps.

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal, Twitter and FB pages

Other Erik Larson books I have read
----- 2000 - Isaac’s Storm - not reviewed
----- 2003 - The Devil in the White City
----- 2006 - Thunderstruck
----- 2015 - Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

Larson is interviewed in this outstanding NPR piece: William Dodd: The U.S. Ambassador In Hitler's Berlin - May 2, 2011
Profile Image for Jeanette (Ms. Feisty).
2,179 reviews1,947 followers
April 4, 2011
Be prepared to stay up reading into the wee hours once you get your hands on this book. It held my interest better than any novel, and it filled in all the gaps in my understanding of how Hitler was able to gain so much power so quickly, with so little opposition. Erik Larson used the detailed diaries of William E. Dodd and his daughter Martha to reconstruct "a year in the life" for Americans in Berlin from 1933 to 1934.

William Dodd had no idea what he was saying yes to when President Roosevelt offered him the position of ambassador to Germany in 1933. Dodd had fond memories of the Germany of 40 years before, when he'd attended college in Leipzig. Upon arrival in Berlin, he and his family discovered a Germany already in the grip of terror, a mere six months after Hitler had been appointed chancellor. Storm Troopers were attacking people in the streets. Communists and liberals were already being sent to concentration camps without due process.

As ambassador, Dodd found he was required to attend diplomatic functions and rub shoulders with the monsters of the new regime. As the horrors worsened, he found this increasingly repugnant, and tried doggedly to convince those in Washington that intervention was necessary. His entreaties fell mostly on deaf ears. Dodd's bosses were more concerned about getting Germany to pay off their huge debt to America, while maintaining an isolationist position with regard to foreign conflicts.

While Dodd struggled with his diplomatic duties, his young daughter Martha was treating her time in Berlin as a lark. She dated and consorted with highly placed Nazis, including some of the most abominable of Hitler's minions. At first, she enthusiastically endorsed the Nazi agenda and its effect on the "New Germany." By the winter of 1933-34, however, she too was living in terror. This didn't seem to put much of a damper on her dating life, though, and she gained a reputation as quite a round-heeled girl.

In late June of 1934 came "The Night of the Long Knives," in which Hitler orchestrated the rapid execution of hundreds of Storm Troopers and other "enemies," some seemingly at random. That August, President Hindenburg died. Hitler quickly took control and achieved absolute power. William Dodd remained in his position as ambassador for three more years, during which American leaders continued to refuse his requests for intervention in Nazi Germany.

This book has already earned a permanent place in my home library. I can't recommend it highly enough. Great care has been taken to provide all the little things that prevent confusion and make a book easier to read and understand. I would give it six stars if I could.

Profile Image for Lewis Weinstein.
Author 10 books511 followers
May 24, 2017
Ambassador Dodd, perhaps one of the most unusual ambassadors to a major country we have ever had, was initially reluctant to criticize the Hitler regime, mainly due to his nostalgic memories of the time he spent studying in Germany decades before. But it didn't take him too long to figure out just how horrible the Nazis already were in 1933 and 1934. Dodd's opponents in the State Department wouldn't listen. President Roosevelt listened, seemed to agree, but did nothing.

It seems clear from this personal view of the early Nazi years that pressure from abroad, especially from the U.S., might have resulted in an early exit for Hitler. No invasion of Poland and France. No World War II. No Holocaust. Why did Roosevelt fail to act?

One theme that recurs several times in Larson's book is concern over Germany's re-payment of its debt to U.S. interests. I need to do more research, but questions pop to mind. Who held that debt? Was it large banks and corporations who had business relationships in Germany? Did these business relationships take precedence over the atrocities Hitler was already carrying out against Jews in 1933?

Perhaps my next research read- German Big Business and the Rise of Hitler by Henry Turner - will provide some answers. Or IBM and the Holocaust by Edwin Black. My suspicion is that American profits had much to do with American political attitudes toward Hitler at a time when a different U.S. policy could have made an enormous difference. There were those in Germany who might have opposed Hitler if they knew they could count on U.S. help.

I hope to develop these themes in my novel-in-progress, tentatively titled CHOOSING HITLER. If anyone can suggest other books that have insights on the questions I am raising, please let me know.

ps. Martha Dodd was an absolute disgrace!
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews35 followers
October 5, 2021
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin, Erik Larson

Berlin, 1933. William E. Dodd is a mild-mannered academic from Chicago who becomes America's first ambassador to Hitler's Germany.

This book tells the true story of love, intrigue and emerging terror at the American embassy in Berlin during the tumultuous 12 months that witnessed Hitler's rise to power.

The story of first American ambassador to Hitler’s Germany. William E. Dodd enters to that country accompanied by his family, most particularly by his very modern daughter, Martha.

One day, at the dawn of darkness, an American father and daughter suddenly found themselves in the heart of Hitler's Berlin. Instead of their cozy corner in Chicago.

A father and daughter, who spent their lives in Berlin on a voyage of discovery and metamorphosis passed by houses decorated with geranium vases every day, shopped at chain stores, and attended evening parties.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش روز چهارم ماه اکتبر سال 2014میلادی

عنوان: در باغ حیوانات؛ نویسنده اریک لارسن؛ ترجمه احمد عزیزی؛ تهران، هرمس، 1393؛ در یازده و 509ص؛ شابک9789643638764؛ چاپ دوم سال 1396؛ موضوع سرگذشتنامه از نویسندگان ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده 21م

بستر نگارش «اریک لارسن» سالهای مأموریت «ویلیام ای. داد»، سفیر «آمریکا» در «برلین»، در روزگار آغازین ریاست جمهوری «فرانکلین دی روزولت» است؛ آن زمان که «هیتلر» تازه پای به پشت میز قدرت گذاشته بود؛ «ویلیام ای. داد» استاد تاریخ در دانشگاه شیکاگو و از قشر میانه؛ دموکراتی جفرسونی، صریح و صادق، قانع و ساده‌ زیست، و البته وصله‌ ای ناجور بر پیکرۀ دیپلماسی سنتی وزارت خارجۀ آمریکا بود؛

لارسن در پیشنگاره ی خویش، داستان مستند خود را، کتابی «ناداستان یا همان نان-فیکشن» دانسته اند، و روزنامه ی بزرگوار «نیویورک تایمز» نیز در شماره ی روز دوازدهم از ماه ژوئن سال 2012میلادی خود، کتاب «در باغ حیوانات» ایشان را، پژوهشی موشکافانه از چشم ژرف بین «ویلیام داد» در فرایند بالارفتن «هیتلر» بر نردبان قدرت معرفی کرده، و نیز کتاب را روایتی آموزنده از زوایای تاریخی کمتر‌ شناخته‌ شدۀ آن دوران، و واجد همه ی سرخوشی‌ها و گیرایی‌های یک داستان پرماجرای سیاسی دانسته است؛ «اریک لارسن» تاریخ را به شیوه ی داستان سرایان روایت می‌کنند؛ ایشان ماجرایی آشنا را، از زوایایی تازه می‌نگرند، و آن را برای خوانشگر خویش باز می‌گویند؛ به گونه ای شگفت‌آور بازتاب فضای پر التهاب جامعه‌ ای یکسره غلتیده در ظلمت آن روزگاران است!؛

روزگاری، در سپیده‌ دمِ تاریکی، پدر و دختری «آمریکایی»، ناگهان خود را، به جای گوشه دنجشان در «شیکاگو»، در دل شهر «برلین هیتلر» یافتند؛ پدر و دختری که گذران زندگی‌شان در «برلین»، سفری به وادی اکتشاف و دگردیسی شد، هر روز از کنار خانه‌های مزین به گلدان‌های شمعدانی می‌گذشتند، از فروشگاه‌های زنجیره‌ ای خرید، و در مهمانی‌های عصرانه شرکت می‌کردند، و ریه‌ هاشان را از رایحه ی بهاری «تیر گارتن»، پارک مرکزی «برلین»، پر می‌کردند؛ این کتاب داستان نخستین سال، از زندگی چهار سال و نیم آن‌ها در آن شهر است، شهری در پرچم‌های عظیم سرخ، با صلیب شکسته ی سپید و سیاه غرق شده است؛ آن‌ها در همان کافه‌های روباز در پیاده‌روهای خیابانی می‌نشستند، که پیراهن سیاه های «اس.اس» مینشستند، و گاه نگاه‌شان به شخص هیتلر نیز می‌افتاد که مردی ریز نقش در مرسدسی بزرگ و روباز از دیگاهشان میگذشت؛ یک سال که گذشت، اما همه‌ چیز برای پدر و دختر دگرگون شد، و در یک دهه ی دیگر همگی جهان را نیز دگرگون کرد، و ذات پنهان «هیتلر» آشکار شد؛ بستر روایت «لارسن» سال‌های ماموریت «ویلیام ای.داد»، سفیر «آمریکا» در «برلین» است؛ «سفیر داد» و دخترش «مارتا»، شاهدان زنده ی صعود پله به پله ی «پیشوا»، تا رتبه ی خداوندگاری، بر ملت سرکوب شده ی «آلمان» زخم خورده شدند؛ «مارتا»، دختر باهوش، زیبا، و دست به قلم، و ماجراجوی سفیر، با همه بی‌بند و باری‌اش در مناسبات با دیگران، نقشی محوری در روایت «لارسن» دارد، و همچون نوری تابیده بر زوایای نادیده‌ مانده از ایام «نازی»، و بهانه ی نویسنده برای چینش ماهرانه موزاییک سیاسی آن دوران شده است

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 12/07/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,883 reviews16.6k followers
December 19, 2019
On November 9-10, 1938 Nazi Germany, using SA storm troopers and sympathetic civilians, carried out the Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass, a series of systematic attacks targeting Jewish homes and businesses. Almost 100 people were killed and thousands were wounded and or arrested and sent to concentration camps. United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a harsh condemnation, stating that “he could scarcely believe such a thing could happen in a twentieth century civilization”. This statement came almost six years after both he and Adolph Hitler had taken power, respectively, and almost six years after he had dispatched American professor William Dodd, a plain spoken Jeffersonian Democrat of Spartan means and simple tastes to serve as American Ambassador.

Differing mightily from the “Pretty Good Club” of independently wealthy, aristocratic leaning gentlemen diplomats usually deployed by the state department, Dodd had vowed to operate the Berlin embassy on a strict budget and would live within his means on his government salary of seventeen thousand dollars a year. As an example and illustration he eschewed the limousines and other trappings of his office and transported his homely old Chevrolet to Germany with him. Roosevelt hoped that Professor Dodd would be a shining beacon of American common sense and constitutionalism in the fanatical leaning Germany that was embracing a young Hitler. But truth be known, Dodd was not Roosevelt’s first choice for the appointment, or the second or the third; he was by all accounts a dark horse candidate for the job and a statesman not at all embraced by the elitist upper echelons of diplomatic society. And truth be known, Dodd himself would have much rather spent those years on his farm in Virginia quietly writing volumes of his Old South history.

So it was a misfit ambassador in an aristocratic, transitional government city, speaking with an odd accent who confronted the embryonic Third Reich on behalf of America. Dealing with awkward relationships in Berlin and an increasingly hostile state department in Washington, Dodd alone among so many government leaders saw what would become if nothing was done. And his enemies in Washington downplayed his warnings and played politics and intrigue rather than investigating his claims of Hitler’s real purpose.

It is in this setting of internal and external tension that author Erik Larson weaves his novelistic history of the years before World War II and Hitler’s rise to international conflict. More than that, Larson’s journalistic narrative describes Dodd’s family, his lusty and adventurous daughter and how this eclectic American family lived down the street from SA commander Rohm and within walking distance of Nazi elite. Fascinating, compelling and disturbingly relevant for our own times as issues of freedom of speech and expression continue to be discussed, scarcely realistic given that we now live in a twenty-first century global civilization.

Profile Image for Anne .
455 reviews376 followers
April 26, 2020
This book is over-hyped. That is probably because Erik Larson is a very good writer and has a good reputation. But his subjects, the Dodd family , are not worthy of his skills, so this review says more about them that the author.

This book has some interesting parts, like a bit of an inside view of events and people, both German and American officials and citizens. We see through their eyes how Hitler was able to take more and more power over Germany. Also, there are several appearances of the Jewish Bella Fromm, a popular society journalist of the day. She brought intelligence and wit into this book whenever she appeared on the page. We also meet Hans Fallada, one of the few German writers who did not flee Germany before or during WWII. "Meeting" Hans Fallada and Bella Fromm were the highlights of the book for me.

The other half of the book we are left with Martha Dodd's sexual exploits with Nazis, Russians, whomever comes along to give her a thrill. These parts are not only boring, but are out of step with the serious concerns of the rest of the book. Every time the story moves from Ambassador Dodd's work and events in Germany to Martha's sex life, Larson switched genres - from History to Romance; and I can't say that he writes the latter particularly well.

Then there is the fact that the Dodd's are anti-semitic. Martha writes in a letter to Thornton Wilder, "We (my family) sort of don't like Jews anyway." Her father, the American diplomat to Germany says, "we have had difficulty now and then in the U.S. with Jews who had gotten too much of a hold on certain departments of intellectual and business life." Their words speak for themselves.

There are so many other books about Hitler's rise to power which are so much better than this one, but if you want to read this book anyway, just keep your expectations low.
Profile Image for Beata.
756 reviews1,158 followers
August 9, 2020
A quite interesting non-fiction which presents Ambassador William E. Dodd's difficult diplomatic mission during the birth of the Nazi regime in 1933. Mr Dodd and his family witnessed some of the most horrific events and which the ambassador reported even though his memoranda were not taken as a warning. The book offers precisely what the title suggests, although there is much too much Martha's love life and the family was not an ordinary one. A good insight into the way foreigners perceived the Nazis at that time.
Profile Image for Jason Koivu.
Author 7 books1,256 followers
July 31, 2014
Want to know what it would be like to try to talk Satan out of being such a dick? Consider reading In the Garden of Beasts!

Erudite but ineffectual historian, Dr. William E. Dodd was chosen to be Ambassador to Germany in the decade leading up to WWII, because President Roosevelt couldn't find anyone else willing to take on the job. In 1933 Dodd was tasked with handling relations with a rabid and deranged political phoenix named Adolf Hitler. Perhaps you've heard of him?


Dodd has brought along his family. This was going to be a nice little holiday, wherein he could finish a book he'd been working on and his family could enjoy the Germany he remembered from his school days. But that was a long time ago and German had changed. Dodd and his family's idea of Germans must necessarily change as well.

Martha! Martha! Martha!

This is just as much a story of political intrigue as it is an innocence lost/coming of age tale.

Martha Dodd, the ambassador's fetching daughter is a socialite of the first order. Men seem to throw themselves at her (even her own father, in a way). Much of the book follows her numerous trysts with many a notable figure of the day, writer Carl Sandberg for one and even Hitler himself entertained the idea of making a match.

Larson and other biographers can thank her and her father's proclivity for writing letters and journals as the reason for the wealth of insight into the lives of these somewhat innocuous people. I say "somewhat" in reference to the Dodd's ambassadorial ineptitude, while giving a nod to Martha's post WWII involvement in the cold war spy game. Now I feel I must make reparations for my use of "ineptitude," for I doubt very much that any ambassador sent over to deal with Hitler's steamroller regime at the time could've done anything to change the course of seemingly inevitable history.

Erik Larson is making a name for himself in the modern era's take on dramatic non-fiction. This subject being so recent, he doesn't have to rely so heavily on supposed conversations or probable scenarios to reconstruct hypothetical scenes. Not only does he have firsthand accounts from the Dodds themselves, but there are also preserved documents, news stories, even eyewitness accounts. What Larson does with this wealth of information is not outstandingly spectacular, but it is an admirable piece of work and an interesting viewpoint from which to approach the coming of World War II.
Profile Image for Zaphirenia.
283 reviews197 followers
August 10, 2018
"Ήταν περίπλοκοι άνθρωποι που έζησαν σε μια περίπλοκη εποχή, προτού τα τέρατα δείξουν το αληθινό τους πρόσωπο".

Ένα απίστευτα καλογραμμένο και συγκλονιστικό χρονικό της δημιουργίας του τερατουργήματος του τρίτου Ράιχ από το 1933, όταν ο Αδόλφος Χίτλερ ανέλαβε για πρώτη φορά τα καθήκοντα του καγκελαρίου της Γερμανίας έως την έναρξη του δεύτερου παγκοσμίου πολέμου με την είσοδο των γερμανικών στρατευμάτων στην Πολωνία. Αυτό από μόνο του είναι πολύ ενδιαφέρον, μια και συνήθως διαβάζουμε για τα γεγονότα του πολέμου (και για την Ελλάδα πιο συγκεκριμένα της Κατοχής), αλλά όχι για αυτά που προηγήθηκαν της εδραίωσης του καθεστώτος. Κι όμως, εκεί μπήκαν οι βάσεις, εκεί σφυρηλατήθηκε όλο το οικοδόμημα του ναζιστικού κόμματος, μέσω του "συντονισμού" και της προπαγάνδας που δημιούργησε μια νέα κουλτούρα στη γλώσσα, στα ήθη (ο χιτλερικός χαιρετισμός είναι το χαρακτηριστικότερο αλλα όχι το μόνο παράδειγμα) και στην κοινωνία ως σύνολο, που διαπέρασε και διάβρωσε το πνεύμα του λαού του Γκαίτε.

Ο Έρικ Λάρσον ακολουθεί την πορεία του Γουίλιαμ Ντοντ, πρέσβη των ΗΠΑ στο Βερολίνο από το καλοκαίρι του 1933 και της οικογένειάς του, κυρίως της κόρης του, που άφησε τα απομνημονεύματα της στο βιβλίο της "Through Embassy Eyes". Ο Ντοντ, καθηγητής ιστορίας στο Πανεπιστήμιο του Σικάγο και ένθερμος υποστηρικτής των αξιών του προέδρου Τζέφερσον, διορίζεται από τον Ρούσβελτ πρέσβης στην κομβικής σημασίας πρεσβεία στη Γερμανία, αφού έχουν εξαντληθεί όλες οι πιθανές εναλλακτικές υποψηφίων, και από την πρώτη στιγμή γίνεται θέμα συζήτησης λόγω της επιμονής του να ζει από το μισθό του και να αποφεύγει τις έντονες επιδείξεις πλούτου που συνοδεύουν συνήθως το αξίωμα του.

Η κατάσταση στη Γερμανία της εποχής είναι περίπλοκη. Είναι εύκολο εκ των υστέρων και εκ του αποτελέσματος να κρίνουμε το καθεστώς του Χίτλερ, όμως, όπως φαίνεται μέσα από αυτό το εξαιρετικό έργο, τα πράγματα δεν ήταν το ίδιο απλά στη Γερμανία του 1933. Ακόμη περισσότερο, δεν ήταν εύκολο να αποκωδικοποιηθουν σωστά τα μηνύματα του καθεστώτος στην άλλη πλευρά του Ατλαντικού. Οι ξένοι και ιδιαίτερα οι Αμερικανοί πολίτες που έρχονται στο Βερολίνο βλέπουν μια πόλη να σφύζει από ζωή, τέχνη, την ανεργία να πέφτει, μια πόλη υγιή και ακμάζουσα. Η Γερμανία που βγήκε από τον Μεγάλο Πόλεμο στέκεται σιγά σιγά στα πόδια της με την καθοδήγηση του νέου της ηγέτη. Οι ξυλοδαρμοί των Εβραίων, οι εκτοπισμοί, οι διώξεις θεωρούνται μεμονωμένα περιστατικά. Οι διαβεβαιώσεις του Χίτλερ ότι επιθυμεί ειρήνη λαμβάνονται υπόψη από τη διεθνή κοινότητα. Και μέχρι την 30ή Ιουνίου του 1934, τη νύχτα των μεγάλων εκκαθαρισεων εντός του κόμματος, κανείς δεν πίστευε ότι θα ακολουθήσουν όσα ακολούθησαν.
Profile Image for Lou.
879 reviews865 followers
July 19, 2012
This story covers the Dodd family and their lives amongst the beast machine of Hitler's Nazi Germany. Rosevelt asked Dodd to become the American ambassador to Hitler's Germany. At that time Germany was in debt to America and owed loads of money and they looked like they were not going to pay so the need for the ambassador arose. Dodd and his wife agreed to the position and so they left for Berlin, he also invited his two grown children Martha and Bill. The lovely Martha appears in the story quite a bit as in the backdrop Hitlers rises to power and his evil spreads we follow her and her relationship with a communist Russian. Martha when she arrived in Berlin found she liked Germany and the people and commented them as being better than the Parisian, obviously this was before Hitler showed his face and colors of evil and his propaganda was widespread. Germany wanted this image wanted Americans to warm to them but as the garden was perceived to be nice the beasts were slowly going about their Arian work, as the stormtroopers developed unknown to the visitors eye a rage and a pot was brewing of turmoil and fascism. The rest is history the persecutions of Jews and all non Arian is well documented the author is trying to give us a pigeon hole on how it was for this family amongst the turmoil and documents the ambassadors interactions with Hitler's Germany. The ambassador was called eventually to Hitlers office and warned in person by Hitler that he was unhappy with Americas media view of him. The story became at times too fact based but is not an easy subject to write about he has successfully not made it solely just about the evil but also about the human struggles.

When i was searching the web for a photo of Dodd I came across interesting info.
” Evidence of continued efforts by powerful U.S. fascists to regain control of the White House is illustrated by a 1936 statement by William Dodd, the U.S. Ambassador to Germany. In a letter to Roosevelt, he stated:
“A clique of U.S. industrialists is hell-bent to bring a fascist state to supplant our democratic government and is working closely with the fascist regime in Germany and Italy. I have had plenty of opportunity in my post in Berlin to witness how close some of our American ruling families are to the Nazi regime…. A prominent executive of one of the largest corporations, told me point blank that he would be ready to take definite action to bring fascism into America if President Roosevelt continued his progressive policies. Certain American industrialists had a great deal to do with bringing fascist regimes into being in both Germany and Italy. They extended aid to help Fascism occupy the seat of power, and they are helping to keep it there. Propagandists for fascist groups try to dismiss the fascist scare. We should be aware of the symptoms. When industrialists ignore laws designed for social and economic progress they will seek recourse to a fascist state when the institutions of our government compel them to comply with the provisions.”

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Martha Dodd

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Visit webpage for Video interview with the author.
There is also to be a movie.
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Profile Image for Madeline.
781 reviews47.2k followers
May 10, 2017
A few months ago, I finally figured out how to borrow audiobooks from the library and listen to them on my phone, which has been great for both my commute and my to-read list (lately I don't seem to have the time or inclination to sit down and read books for long periods of time, so this is helping me feel less useless). Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts was one of the first books I downloaded, and I listened to it in February of 2017.

Listening to a book detailing the slow rise of a fascist dictarship in 1930's Germany while living in the early days of the Trump presidency was...an experience. I wish I'd had a physical copy of the book with me so I could mark quotations, because every few pages I came across a line that gave me actual chills, it was so resonant and familiar. One line that struck me the most: Larson explains that even though Hitler and his associates dialed back their extremist rhetoric in the weeks immediately following Hitler's election as chancellor, by then the majority of the country had already been swept up in a wave of hatred and violence, and there was no stopping it.

So, yeah. It's an illuminating book, to say the least, but listening to it was the opposite of relaxing. "Panic sweat-inducing" is how I'd phrase it.

Like he did with Devil in the White City, Larson explores a broad topic by narrowing his focus on a handful of influencial people. However, while Devil could never quite make a convincing connection between murdered HH Holmes and the Chicago World's Fair, In the Garden of Beasts is much more cohesive and focused.

Our guides into the early days of Nazi Germany are the Dodd family, who moved to Berlin in 1933 when William Dodd, a professor from Chicago, was appointed as the American ambassador to Germany. He brought along his wife and their two adult children, Bill and Martha, and the family found themselves in the middle of a new and frightening government.

Dodd and his daughter Martha get most of Larson's attention in this book (so much attention, in fact, that Dodd's son Bill is almost never mentioned at all, and I have no idea how he kept himself occupied when the family was living in Berlin). Dodd, obviously, is our eye into the politics of the time, and I liked that Larson never let Dodd, or the United States, off the hook when discussing America's complacency in the face of Nazi Germany. Anti-Semitism was just as rampant in the United States as it was in Germany, and Martha Dodd even admitted in her memoirs that the German government's treatment of Jews didn't bother her or her family very much at the time, because "we didn't really like Jews."

For much of book, William Dodd doesn't do very much, and mostly just acts as a witness to current events without influencing them. Gradually, he becomes aware that something very, very bad is happening in Germany, and his efforts to warn the US government about Hitler are as tragic as they are futile.

Martha Dodd kept herself pretty busy in Berlin while her father was stationed there, and the book chronicles her friendships and relationships with various key players in the SS. She also had a serious boyfriend who was a Russian Soviet, and apparently he was assigned to recruit her as a spy for the Soviets. Sadly, nothing ever comes of this. Martha, as Larson presents her, is a complicated person who didn't really notice or care what was going on around her, and continued happily skipping around Berlin with her Nazi boyfriends. I suppose the goal here was to make the readers see that these were all human beings, and not evil cartoon monsters - Larson does his best to make us understand that most of the people working for Hitler's regime were normal people with good intentions, who genuinely thought that they were doing the right thing. Maybe if I had read this book a few years ago, I would have been more sympathetic to this viewpoint.

But that's not the world we're living in right now, is it? So in conclusion, thank you, Erik Larson, for trying to make me understand that the people responsible for Hitler's rise to power were ordinary people who got swept up into something they didn't realize was wrong until it was too late. I get it, I do. But also, fuck the Nazis.
Profile Image for Barb.
1,193 reviews128 followers
May 10, 2011
I loved Erik Larson's 'The Devil in the White City', I found the subject matter fascinating and the writing fabulous. 'In the Garden of Beasts' is the second book I've read by Larson and I'm sorry to say the two don't compare.

I've read a fair number of books about the Holocaust and I did find the political maneuvering described in 'Garden' interesting in a stomach turning, sickening kind of way. But the people in this story never came to life for me, with the exception of Martha Dodd who I didn't care for.

I read an advance reader's copy so perhaps the final product will have some additional editing but what I read wasn't of the same caliber as 'The Devil in the White City', the pacing was relatively slow and there were places where the story was choppy.

I could have given this story up at anytime not really caring what happened to these people. I didn't feel the horror and the fear that Larson described, overall the story just didn't engage me and I often wondered why Larson chose this family as his subject matter.
Profile Image for Joe.
337 reviews80 followers
September 20, 2023

It’s 1933. William E. Dodd – a name that most likely doesn’t ring an historical bell - was 64 years old, a transplanted southerner and the History Department Head at the University of Chicago. Dodd was feeling his age and also a little sorry for himself, having not realized his life’s ambitions, particularly the completion of a history of the antebellum South he’s dreamed of writing. His phone rings and it’s the new President, Franklin Roosevelt, requesting that he take the job of Ambassador to Germany – a country in transition with Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party assuming power.

Even then and without the aid of historical hindsight, this appointment was not a “plum” assignment. Dodd was not Roosevelt’s first choice, nor even his second, but Dodd accepted. Duty had called and besides he believed he could finish his Southern history while overseas. So he and his family packed up – with their Chevy - boarded an ocean liner and made their way to Berlin – their lives never to be the same again.

Larson, using letters and diaries, particularly of Dodd’s and his daughter Martha, chronicles the first year of Hitler’s Germany through their eyes. Dodd was a fuddy-duddy – nicknamed “Ambassador Dudd” by his fellow State Department “peers” – frugal, unpretentious and liked nothing more than to finish his day with a glass of warm milk, stewed peaches and a good book. Dodd’s 24 year-old daughter Martha viewed the trip as an international romantic adventure. In the process of getting a divorce at the time, she collected lovers in Germany like butterflies – her list of paramours both extensive and at times shocking.

As we follow the Dodds, the new Ambassador, at times, comes across as incredibly naïve and provincial; his daughter Martha as downright vacuous. Regardless, while meeting the Nazi “elite” – from Hitler on down – and witnessing the ever increasing Nazi perniciousness, - the Reichstag fire trial, the ever increasing Nazi anti-Semitism and “The Night of the Long Knives” - both father and daughter, (and mother and son – the reader just doesn’t hear as much from them), soon realize that Nazi Germany was an evil force that would soon need to reckoned with. (For instance Dodd spent his post-Ambassador career speaking around the U.S., warning the country about the inevitable conflict, until it inevitably occurred.) Because of their “Americana normalcy”, the opening of the Dodds’ eyes foreshadowed what was to sweep across this country in just a few years time.

I found In The Garden of Beasts to be Larson’s best effort yet. His books are labeled as novelistic history and although that is a mouthful, the description is apt. Using the Dodds and their observations, perspectives and mounting concerns as a guide to the early days of Nazi Germany is a twist of literary genius. Included in this story are also plenty of engaging sub-plots. For instance the insipid, juvenile antics of the self-named “Pretty Good Club”, a group of wealthy, narrow minded, immature men employed by the State Department; who with their back-biting, condescension and gossip made Dodds’ job unnecessarily more difficult. On the other side of the Atlantic, the sheer buffoonery of Hermann Goering, Hitler’s right-hand (fat) man, captured here, is also worth noting.

Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Lyn (Readinghearts).
323 reviews15 followers
May 11, 2011
This is the newest book by the author who wrote The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America. If you are a history aficionado like me, especially if you are intrigued by Germany during the time of the Third Reich, then this is the book for you. Through the eyes of the American ambassador to Berlin and his adult daughter, Mr. Larson shows in stunning fashion how the world was determined to ignore the warning signs, and thus the true intent of Hitler and the Nazi regime in Germany, until it was too late.

Even the main characters in the book, Ambassador Dodd and his daughter Martha, were mesmerized by Hitler and the leading characters of the Third Reich in the beginning. Eventually their dealings with the leaders of the Nazi Party, SA, SS, and Gestapo convinced even them that Hitler was a danger to the world. Unfortunately no one back home was listening. The US isolationist policy after WWI, the amount of money owed to Wall Street investors by Germany, and the fact that Ambassador Dodd was viewed as an outsider by the good old boys of the US State Department, conspired to allow the US to largely ignore anything that Dodd had to say about Hitler.

I learned so much about Hitler and the forces that allowed him to get entrenched by reading this book. There was so much information, I had to read it much slower than I usually read. I would read a chapter and have to mull it over before I could go on. This is my first book by Larson, but I am totally excited to read the other 3 now.

This book certainly told a powerful tale. I am giving this one 5 stars, not because I loved the story, but because it made an impact on me and I will continue to think of it for quite a while.
Profile Image for Maureen.
726 reviews89 followers
October 31, 2012
Eric Larsen has a talent for taking a big event, like the Galveston flood of 1900 (Isaac's Storm), the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 (The Devil in the White City) , or the implementation of the transatlantic cable (Thunderstruck) and combining it with a compelling individual's story. He uses the broader context of historical events and personalizes it, so that, in effect, the parts become greater than the sum of the whole.

In his latest book, In the Garden of Beasts, Larson takes on the rise to power of Adolph Hitler and the Nazis in Germany, as seen through the prism of William E Dodd, U.S. Ambassador to Germany from July of 1933 to December of 1937, and his family. Through their experiences, the reader can see their incredible naivete, and unwillingness to believe that such vile events could be unfolding.

Dodd took a job that no one else wanted. FDR had been trying for months to find a new ambassador to Germany. Finally, when Dodd's name was suggested, FDR offered him the job. In many ways, Dodd was an odd choice as ambassador: although he had studied in Leipzig as a student and was at least literate in German, Dodd had no old family money, no political connections, and loathed double-dealing and pretense of any sort. He was a plain-spoken fellow who had worked his way up from humble beginnings as a farm boy to assuming a professorship at the University of Chicago.

Dodd was unhappy in academia. He did not have time to work on his magnum opus, a multi-volume work, entitled The Old South. For a long time, Dodd had felt that he was destined to be more than a college professor, and so he quietly circulated his name in the State Department, seeking a modest diplomatic posting. He thought that with a quiet posting somewhere, he would have time to write, and also more time to spend with his family.

Family was everything to him, so Dodd also saw an ambassadorship as a way to reunite his wayward clan. His wife Martha, also known as Mattie, was loving and supportive, as were his grown children, Martha and William Jr., also known as Bill. Bill and Martha had drifted away from home, and Dodd saw the prospect of life in a foreign country as a way to lure them back into the fold. At the time of his appointment, Martha was working as a reporter at the Chicago Tribune and Bill was a history teacher and "a scholar in training." Martha was in the process of extricating herself from (what she thought was) a secret marriage, while Bill showed little initiative to aspire to much of anything.

Seeing himself as a Jeffersonian Democrat, Dodd sought a sort of downhome equality that clashed with the ambassadorial profile of the age. Dodd thought that embassies should be modestly run and that delegations representing the United States should make an effort to understand the culture and history of their host countries. This stood in stark opposition to the majority of ambassadors, who were incredibly wealthy and saw the diplomatic corps as, "a pretty good club," where they had the opportunity to throw lavish parties, come to work at ten in the morning, and consort with the elite of the ruling classes.

Dodd swore that he would live on his ambassadorial salary of $17,500. He meant to be a voice of moderation, both in the embassy setting and in his dealings with the government of Hitler and Hindenburg. To that end, he went to the lengths of even transporting the old family Chevrolet to Germany for use as his official transportation, eschewing the Daimlers and Benzs that were de rigeur in ambassadorial circles.

Once the family arrived in Berlin, they had to find housing. After some weeks of searching, they took a lease on an imposing house at Tiergartenstrasse 27a. The house was the home of a Jewish private banker and his family, who continued to occupy the attic. Meanwhile, the Dodds had the run of the bottom three floors of the lushly appointed home, which included a ballroom, a library, and a sufficient number of other rooms to see to the needs of an ambassador's family.

Dodd liked the house because the rent was reasonable, and it was within walking distance of the American Embassy. It was also located across from the Tiergarten, a park with significant acreage, a zoo, and what were said to be some of the loveliest gardens in Europe. Tiergarten translated into English as "The Garden of Beasts." Dodd spent many hours walking there, often in conference with British Ambassador and other officials. He could not know that by the end of the war, the Tiergarten would be reduced to rubble; its handsome trees carted off for firewood, and whatever foliage survived the bombings, either eaten or burnt.

Unbeknownst to Dodd at the time of his arrival, his new home was also within "brick throwing distance" from the headquarters of the SS, and barely removed from the facility codenamed "Aktion (Action) T4," for its address, Tiergartenstrasse 4. In the SS building, people were being imprisoned, tortured and killed. Two blocks away in T4, the Nazis began murdering mentally and physically impaired people, as well as beginning research on methods of mass killing that would end with the introduction of Zyklon-B gas into the concentration camps. T4 was also the place where Fritz Stangl (and many others) learned the skills and mindset that he would put into use as commandant at Treblinka.

Dodd's direct dealings with the Nazis were relatively few and far between. He met with Hitler to formally present his papers, and on a few other occasions. One reason for this was probably that Dodd did not kowtow to the Nazi party line While he was no friend of the Jewish people in the beginning, Dodd came to believe that grievous acts were being perpetrated against the Jews. In the early days of his residency, Dodd suggested to the State Department that fewer Jews be employed in the embassy in Berlin. By the end of his tenure, though, he refused to attend the annual rallies in Nuremberg, kept his face-to-face meetings with the Reich to an absolute minimum, and refused to have Nazis visit in his home. This made him highly unpopular with Hitler and his cronies.

At least for a while, though, another of Dodd's family members was another story entirely. While Mattie and Bill Jr. tended not to make too much of an impression on the scene in Berlin, Dodd's daughter Martha enthusiastically threw herself into the social milieu. She took lovers of every ilk, as long as they were handsome, rich and/or high status. Among her most enduring relationships in Germany were with a Russian NKVD agent Boris Winogradov, Gestapo chief Rudolph Diels, third French secretary Armand Bernard, and Prince Louis Ferdinand, son of Germany's crown prince. For most of her tenure in Germany, Martha saw the Nazis as charming, even after witnessing the malicious persecution by the Storm Troopers of a woman on the streets of Nuremberg, Anna Rath, whose only crime was being affianced to a Jew. As time went on, Diels opened her eyes to much of what was going on: including the fact that the telephones in her family's home were bugged. Although Martha saw herself as a woman of adventure - to the extent of once being set up by Putzi Hanfstaengl to be vetted by Adolph Hitler as a potential girlfriend - eventually even she to decry the actions of the Third Reich.

On the Night of the Long Knives, Martha was out of town on a daytrip with her Russian boyfriend Winogradov. On their approach to Berlin from the countryside, they saw little traffic except for official vehicles. Because Boris's car bore diplomatic license plates, they were allowed to pass into the city. Just down from the Dodd residence, they saw that the SS headquarters had been cordoned off and surrounded with armed men. Only after that night did she allow herself to completely turn against the Nazis. While Martha may have been beautiful and alluring, one cannot help but think her incredibly naive and more than a little stupidly headstrong, even if she had been lovers with Carl Sandburg, and Thornton Wilder was among her most frequent correspondents.

It is impossible to give more a small taste, an amuse bouche, to such a stupendous story as this. For people who read this book, do not neglect to read the footnotes. There, Larson includes vignettes which were too illuminating to ignore, yet did not fit into the corpus of the book itself. Readers of the footnotes will find a small treasure at the end. The last page contains a quote from Christopher Isherwood in Down There on a Visit:
I walked across the snowy plain of the Tiergarten - a smashed statue here, a newly planted sapling there; the Brandenburger Tor, with its red flag flapping against the blue winter sky; and on the horizon, the great ribs of a gutted railway station, like the skeleton of a whale. In the morning light it was all as raw and frank as the voice of history which tells you not to fool yourself; this can happen to any city, to anyone, to you.

"...to you." Lest we forget.
Profile Image for Max.
347 reviews337 followers
February 3, 2022
Larson centers his book around William Dodd who served as U. S. Ambassador to Germany from 1933 to 1937. We also get a very detailed account of Martha Dodd, the ambassador’s daughter, and her active social life which included affairs with a Gestapo chief, a longtime Hitler friend, a Russian NVKD agent, a French diplomat and many, many more. Other themes emerge. We witness the rise of Hitler, his consolidation of power, his ruthless elimination of any opposition, and his persecution of Jews. We get insight into the diplomatic scene and its social trappings in early thirties Germany. We see how the tight clique of Ivy Leaguers in the State Department kept outsiders like Dodd at a distance and undermined him. The prevailing anti-Semitism at that time in America pervaded the State Department. And we get a peek into FDR’s thoughts about the Nazis through his conversations and correspondence with Dodd. Larson packs a lot into this book.

Larson, as usual, creates a compelling narrative, this time with the personal story of the Dodd family as they navigate the politics, intrigue and ruthlessness of 1930s Germany. Ambassador Dodd was an academic with no experience in foreign policy. He was selected only after more qualified men had turned down the job. He had a strong moral compass and a didactic manner even lecturing Hitler. He had no illusions about Hitler but at first held out hope Hitler would fail. Eventually he saw Hitler would succeed in turning Germany into an armed totalitarian state threatening all of Europe. Despite Dodd’s own latent anti-Semitism, he was appalled by the Nazi’s treatment of Jews. Back at the State Department the primary concern with Germany was to get it to repay its debt to American banks. They looked upon Dodd as a neophyte who failed to build good relations with the German ministries to ensure the debt would be repaid. Fortunately, Dodd had a good relationship with FDR who backed him in his concerns about the Nazis and in challenging German officials. Unfortunately, Dodd felt he was a failure because of his inability to change Germany’s direction.

Martha Dodd was an adventurous pretty 24-year-old when she moved with her father to Berlin in 1933. Never shy she had had intimate relationships with a number of men. Married but separated with a divorce pending, she hit the Berlin social scene full force. She became enamored with the Germans and sought out dashing men. Among others, she had sexual relationships with WWI flying ace Ernst Udet, Hitler aide Hans Hanfstaengl and a more serious relationship with then Gestapo chief Rudolph Diels. Diels was caught up in the cutthroat infighting in the early Nazi regime and lost his post being perceived as not ruthless enough. Diels’s boss, Goring, handed the Gestapo over to Himmler who appointed Heydrich as chief. Diels fell out of favor with Martha too. Becoming disenchanted with the Germans she had a relationship with a prominent French diplomat before moving on to a very serious relationship with Soviet attaché and NVKD agent Boris Vinogradov. Vinogradov was caught up in the 1938 Stalin purge and executed, but Martha went on to become a Soviet agent. Her story makes an interesting counterpoint to that of her straightlaced father as Larson intersperses the two stories throughout the book.

What struck me most about Larson’s presentation were the parallels in the thinking of people then to people today. Many people thought Trump couldn’t get elected. While he failed to hold on to power, he came too close for comfort and he’s not through. People then thought Hitler was too crazy to succeed, that he would never be able to take control of Germany. In the U.S. control of policy by dominant business interests then prevailed just as it does today. Shoring up the big banks by getting Germany to repay its debt took precedence over geopolitical and moral considerations. Isolationism prevailed in America in the 1930s and is increasingly popular today. People looked at 1930s Germany through their preconceived views. William and Martha Dodd witnessed the truth firsthand every day in Germany and it took them a year to finally accept it. After the Night of the Long Knives William understood he could not change Germany’s direction and Martha shed her idealistic notions about the Nazis. But at the State Department nothing changed. FDR amazingly, from the limited information in the book, seems to have had Hitler pegged all along. But the quintessential politician, he kept his views close.

Larson’s history reads like a novel making it a fast read for nonfiction. I notice that GR reviewers have mixed opinions about the book, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Profile Image for Ashley Marie .
1,300 reviews394 followers
April 10, 2021
The amount of cautionary stories with the backdrop of Nazi Germany or WWII in general is astronomical. We all know we don't want something like this to happen again. And yet, to read something like this and realize that all the warning signs were clearly present and just as clearly ignored is what infuriates me. People saw what was happening and brushed it off, assuming that somehow things would stop before they went too far. Did they have too much faith in the system? And what exactly is the system? The police? The courts? Government as a whole? The amount of willful ignorance is what continues to chill me.
Profile Image for Tim.
147 reviews72 followers
November 20, 2022
As Ambassador William E. Dodd and his family arrive in Nazi Germany in 1933, there is so much tension that it really set me on edge. Dodd and his family gradually realize what is happening as the terror and danger grow. In the case of his 24 year old daughter Martha, who was painfully slow to come to this realization, it’s also the story of how people can tell themselves comforting stories to avoid confronting disturbing truths.

It reminded me of a horror movie. That feeling of slowly mounting terror, along with moments where you want to yell “Don’t be such an idiot! Don’t you realize what is happening?”. After such a movie, you might be tempted to write it off as stupid and unrealistic, since no one in real life would act that dumb. But sometimes people are that dumb.

Martha was initially entranced by Nazism, impressed by the ceremony and displays of nationalism. So even when she heard stories of Jews being beaten or taken away by Stormtroopers, she believed the Nazi line that these situations were overblown. Besides, she told herself, she didn’t particularly like Jews anyways. Then the stories moved from 3rd hand to 2nd hand, as people she knew would tell her about horrific things they’ve seen. And then, in the most haunting passage of the book, Martha herself sees a woman being dragged through town, her head shaved and coated with white powder, with a sign on her reading “I have offered myself to a Jew”, while the crowd points and laughs. While shaken by this, Martha still continued to make excuses for the Nazis.

Martha isn’t a completely unsympathetic character. She had a willingness to speak her mind and defy social conventions on what respectable behavior for a woman should be like. One of the scenes early in the book that set the darkly foreboding mood was when as she was being driven to their home after arriving in Germany, she kept asking the driver all sorts of uncomfortable questions about Germany, until she was told to be quiet and just “be seen and not be heard”.

A good portion of the book is devoted to Martha's unconventional love life. She had all sorts of crazy romances and affairs. Some of the men were high profile, like writers, Nazi officials, and a Soviet diplomat. I did find it interesting, but there were times it made the tension of the book lose steam. The central thing about the book that makes it so compelling is “what would it be like for an American to be dropped into Nazi Germany”, and sometimes the juicy romance stories were a distraction. But it was interesting to hear about her discussions with her Nazi boyfriends, and the Soviet diplomat boyfriend, as it helped tell the story of her gradual realization of what was happening in Nazi Germany.

As for the Ambassador himself, he was less obtuse than Martha, but early on he was reluctant to speak frankly and sometimes made excuses for the Nazis. He shared Martha’s casual anti-semitism that was common at the time. But, relative to others who would have been in his place, he did have a clear eye for what was happening and did have the courage to confront Nazi leaders. He gradually became an extremely vocal critic of the Nazi regime. When Dodd left his position, he did speaking tours where he loudly and clearly spoke about what was happening in Germany.

Meanwhile, his replacement as Ambassador became an apologist for the Nazis, trying to emphasize the “positive aspects of Germany”. As Larson puts it, he “carried on a one man campaign of appeasement”. This was in 1938, so it's at the point where you can't even pretend to claim ignorance about what is happening. So even though early in the book I was frustrated by Dodd’s unwillingness to act more forcefully, overall, he did act with courage and was ahead of his time.

The book reminded me of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William Shirer – who was also an American living in Nazi Germany at the same time. Shirer’s book is amazing, but Larson’s book is also valuable as it gives a more personalized perspective. While reading it, you can’t help but wonder what it would be like if you were dropped into Nazi Germany, and how you would act.
384 reviews7 followers
August 7, 2012
Quite possibly the most boring book written on one of the most riveting times in recent history. I struggled to get through this. Larson raises many good questions, namely WHY was the international community so ready to ignore the ominous rise of Hitler? I still don't know, even though it was explicitly asked several times in the book. Not that there is a definitive answer, but I would have liked to hear his take on it after doing so much research on the subject. I also found it strange that he would choose to spend some 200 pages on the first year the Dodds were in Berlin and a scant 30 pages or so on the last 3 years they were there. Larson has this way of writing in super small details that I have a hard time believing came from journal entries or letters. It's like he was there, but he wasn't, and it feels forced.
Profile Image for Kristine.
670 reviews115 followers
August 12, 2011
UPDATE: OhMyHannah! I finally finished this flipping book. I really appreciated the information and content. As a 30 year old I can look back at the story of the Nazis and say, "What the?!! How could a whole international community even ALLOW this dynasty to begin?" This book will answer that question. The story is of William Dodd, a mild-mannered college professor who is appointed ambassador to Germany after basically everyone else refuses the job. He brings his wife, his college age son, and his promiscuous married daughter. We see the journey as they show up a little pro-Nazi and how slowly they descend into the literal center of terror. I had no idea at the time the US was isolationist and a bit anti-semitic. Anyhow - I now understand how the whole world just kind of let Hitler happen, until it was too late.
Information and content: 5 stars
Compelling-ness: 3 stars

Amid he chaos of my life (packing, cleaning, and listing a home - renting said home, moving, accepting a job offer, moving again across the country, etc.) this was not a quick read. Possibly in a more stable reading environment I would have been able to knock it out - but just over three months is the best I could do. Sorry Mr. Larson!


So I read Larson's The Devil in the White City for bookclub last year and the serial murderer part terrified me. His new release is also nonfic, about the US ambassador to Germany during the rise of the Third Reich and explains why we didn't jump in and stop Hitler sooner.

This is a firstreads win and I'm so pumped I won it. I love GoodReads!
Profile Image for Mike (the Paladin).
3,144 reviews1,849 followers
June 15, 2020
Interesting book with a lot of value. There's a real warning here as well as a look at the rise of Hitler and the Nazis through multiple eyes. I think there are some applicable lessons in this volume that apply to situations that are current.

William Dodd was in many ways a sort of square peg in a round hole when he became America's ambassador to Germany in 1933. He seems (according to Mr. Larson) to have become ambassador because it was a post very few wanted. He had hoped to get an appointment to a small posting where he would have the time to work on "his book". Dodd had for years been working on a 4 volume history of the "Old South". His duties as a professor had kept him too busy to actually work on it.

This posting would leave the frugal history professor little time to write.

The book tells the story of Dodd and his wife as they watch the growth of the Nazi party. The somewhat slow disillusionment and then dismay and shock at the events around them.

The book is also very much about Dodd's daughter Martha. The writer is more sympathetic toward Martha than I am able to be. I've read of her elsewhere and have a sort of "bad first impression" that I bring to the book.

Martha was an attractive flirtatious woman who though "technically" married saw no reason to let that cramp her romantic and/or love life. She was especially slow to see the horrors of Nazism mainly I suppose because she was attempting to "sleep her way" through the entire officer corps of the German army.

Of course when she "fell in love" with an officer from the Soviet Embassy she became more aware of the evils of Nazism. Along with this however she was introduced to the wonders of communism. Now helping the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany wasn't a bad thing.

Continuing to be a Soviet agent against the United States after the war however was...at least in my opinion maybe a step too far.

The man she fell in love with (I mean "with whom she fell in love") was actually an agent for the NKVD a forerunner of the KGB and Martha was recruited. Later in life it was also uncovered that she also recruited her husband...yes that's her husband. I'm not speaking of her lover who she never saw again after leaving Berlin, no. Martha suggested to her "handlers" that her husband should be recruited, and he was. The two of them fled the country and eventually died in Prague.

Martha left letters to friends denying some of this, but records uncovered after the fall of the Soviet Union bear it out. Thankfully Martha doesn't seem to have been a very effective spy.

The book leads us up through 1937 when Dodd left Berlin (with an epilog about later events) and is primarily about the events leading up to World War II and the Dodd family. Not the most enjoyable book I've ever read, but interesting with much value from several perspectives.
Profile Image for foteini_dl.
454 reviews126 followers
February 7, 2017
Εξαιρετικά ενδιαφέρον βιβλίο που καταπιάνεται με τα πρώτα χρόνια της εξουσίας του Χίτλερ (ο οποίος ας θυμηθούμε ότι ανέβηκε κοινοβουλευτικά στην εξουσία και όχι με πραξικόπημα) και της ανόδου του φασισμού στη χώρα του Γκαίτε και του Μπετόβεν, όπως τονίζεται και προς το τέλος. Εκείνα τα χρόνια που όλα φαίνονταν φυσιολογικά και ήρεμα, αρκεί να μην έβλεπες τι συνέβαινε «από πίσω».
Ο συγγραφέας προσπαθεί να απαντήσει σε δύο ερωτήματα, που έχουν «βασανίσει» κόσμο (ειδικούς και μη) εδώ και πολλά χρόνια. Πρώτον, πώς γίνεται ένας ολόκληρος λαός να «παρασύρθηκε» από τον Χίτλερ και στο όνομά του να σκότωσε άλλους ανθρώπους, είτε αυτοί ήταν Εβραίοι είτε κομμουνιστές είτε ομοφυλόφιλοι είτε γενικά άνθρωποι με διαφορετική άποψη; Δεύτερον, γιατί οι άλλες χώρες που έβλεπαν τη Γερμανία να «ξεφεύγει» και να καταπατά οτιδήποτε δημοκρατικό (καλά, μεγάλη κουβέντα η δημοκρατία και αν πραγματικά είχαμε ποτέ), δεν αντέδρασαν ποτέ, και με τη σιωπή τους έγιναν μάλλον συνένοχοι μιας κτηνωδίας; Στο τελευταίο ερώτημα, για την Αμερική τα πράγματα είναι απλά: δεν αντέδρασε ποτέ, όχι γιατί δεν ήθελε ν’ αναμειχθεί σε ευρωπαϊκά ζητήματα («επίσημη δικαιολογία» ήταν αυτή, αλλά αναιρείται και μέσα στο βιβλίο που διαφαίνεται ότι δεν υπήρχε περίπτωση να μην εμπλέκονταν οι ΗΠΑ, αν και αργά), αλλά γιατί το μόνο που την ενδιέφερε ήταν να εισπράττει τόκους από γερμανικά δάνεια.
Θα έλεγα πως αυτό το βιβλίο ΠΡΕΠΕΙ να διαβαστεί για μια πιο σφαιρική άποψη σχετικά με τα πρώτα χρόνια της ανόδου του φασισμού, αυτά που φαινομενικά δεν προμήνυαν τη φρίκη που θα ακολουθούσε. Στα συν του βιβλίου, η πολύ καλή μεταφραστική δουλειά που φαίνεται να έχει γίνει.
Για να κρατήσω τον πυρήνα από κάτι που είχε πει ο Μπρεχτ και στο οποίο έχω καταλήξει έπειτα απ’ ό,τι κι αν έχω διαβάσει σχετικά με αυτή την περίοδο και μιλώντας με Γερμανούς, το μεγαλύτερο κακό ο Χίτλερ το έκανε πρωτίστως στην ίδια τη Γερμανία.

Profile Image for Rick Riordan.
Author 258 books409k followers
November 8, 2013
a fascinating story about the American ambassador to Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Hindsight is twenty-twenty, but this book does a good job recapturing a time when everyone was desperate to believe that the Nazis actually wanted peace. The book shows how the ambassador's idealistic young daughter initially bought into Hitler's charisma, but soon realized the truth. A chilling and riveting story, In the Garden of Beasts shows how an entire nation of otherwise reasonable people can be seduced by an evil movement, and kept paralyzed by fear.
Profile Image for Taury.
556 reviews127 followers
April 7, 2022
Erik Larson did it again! A NF book that reads like Fiction. This one just didn’t keep me entertained. Though I did recognize names that I have read about in other WW2 books. I did find it interesting how Hitler rose to power. It still puzzles me how so many followed him and supported him.
Profile Image for Helen.
Author 12 books225 followers
December 10, 2015
A completely riveting book, dealing mostly with one pivotal year, 1933, during the last few ticks of the clock before Hitler seized total power in Germany. Larson parses every faction of the Nazi Party; every evil personality, every evil viewpoint, every indefensible position, in clear, breathlessly thrilling prose.

Roosevelt selects a new Ambassador to Germany, William E. Dodd. As he later finds out, he's not the President's first choice, or his second, or his third. No one wants the job, recognizing that it's a political hot potato. Dodd, a University of Chicago history professor, gets the nod because he happens to know someone in Roosevelt's intimate circle, his main qualification being that he spent some time in Germany when he was a student.

By the time he arrives in Berlin, the story turns into something out of John Le Carre. Dodd sees his job as representing, by example, the simple fundamental decency of the American way. The other men in the Foreign Office are all from the same social class, rich, catty and snobby, and behind his back, do their best to undermine his authority. Still, they understand something Dodd fails to see; the Nazis respect shows of power and might, not dignified diplomacy.

At the heart of the story is Martha Dodd, the ambassador's daughter, a beautiful and free-spirited young woman. She falls in love with the clean streets, the cheerful, hardworking citizenry, and the pretty Aryan boys, happily befriending and bedding high-placed Nazis, until she comes to realize that beneath the facade of bold banners and shiny uniforms is a political system steeped in conspiracy and terror.

The greatness of this book lies in the way it examines the events of that year with fresh and innocent eyes. There was a moment where disaster could have been averted, history altered, if only the right people had been paying attention to the right signals.
Profile Image for Emily.
687 reviews632 followers
July 6, 2011
I guess I could call this a group biography of William Dodd, a mild-mannered Midwestern professor who became US Ambassador to Germany in 1933, and his daughter Martha Dodd, a female playboy who quickly became infatuated with the glamour of Berlin nightlife. It makes for a readable story as well as a discussion of international attitudes (and blindspots) towards the Nazis as they consolidated power. Martha's memoir seems to have been particularly revealing in regard to her initial fascination with the Nazis and subsequent disillusionment. Strangely, though, the book mainly covers the years 1933 and 1934; it makes quick work of the following couple of years even though Dodd served until 1937.

I do think this work was limited by the author's inability to read German. "The Garden of Beasts" is a very silly translation of "Tiergarten." I wonder what else has been misconstrued. For example, he suggests that the surname "Hanfstaengl" is unpronounceable and bizarre, where I think it's not pretty but perfectly normal. He quotes someone describing himself as an "Evangelical Christian"--but I suspect the document said "evangelisch," which is just the German word for Protestant with none of the connotations that "Evangelical" has in the US. I haven't gone to any particular effort to fact-check Larson's German, but I couldn't write a review of this book without pointing out that there were these moments that seemed off, and he seems to have worked almost entirely from English-language sources.

If you're intrigued by the way this book addresses the question of what people could have been thinking in the early years of the Nazi regime, pick up the excellent novel The Invisible Bridge which explores the theme of the looming Nazi threat with artistry, depth, and power.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
464 reviews606 followers
July 15, 2013
There is so much to be said about the careful structuring of this book. The information here was taken from so many memoirs, diaries, and hard research (mostly from the Library of Congress). I couldn't help reading a few pages and envisioning piles of notes, writing cards, and opened books. Yet somehow Larson placed this all within a narrative structure that is easy to follow. He found a story within the details and laid it bare. I've read nonfiction that tends to be too academic or matter-of-fact, if I may. This one, not so. If you're mostly a fiction reader, this book still has the appeal of a novel.

In 1933, an American scholar, University of Chicago professor, Jeffersonian democrat, farmer, a man who had traveled to Germany in his younger years and spoke fluent German, a history lover and renowned historian, landed in Germany with his family: wife, son, and daughter. He was the new American ambassador who had no idea what he was getting into, "he had entered the dark forest of a fairy tale where all the rules of right and wrong were upended."

Like the novel, All That I Am, this nonfiction book takes you through the beginning stages of Hitler's chilling reign, but does so through the lenses of this American family, briefly mentioning the resistance that Funder highlights in that historical novel.

Much of the book centers around the American Ambassador, William Dodd and his daughter, Martha, with his wife and son mentioned in passing--partly because Martha was a writer who kept detailed journals, and Dodd also wrote about his experiences through a journal and letters. Also because Martha led an interesting dating life, supposedly falling for most men she came into contact with, at times even dating controversial German and Soviet heads.

At times this was a difficult read, both horrifying and mortifying. Not just because of the ignoramuses who disliked Jews across nations, or the conservative Germans who felt that Jews were taking over and they wanted their country back, or the capitalists who felt that America needed to have a good relationship with Germany because Germany still owed tons of money (preposterous, I know, the thought that creditors would try to befriend people who owe them money). More alarming was the gap between the U.S. state department and its foreign diplomats, especially considering current events. Dodd tried to pull out, stop attending events hosted by German brutes in order to send a lesson from America. But later he would be overruled by diplomats who could care less about the happenings and more about their status and money.

Throughout the book, one question loomed:

Why were the State department and President Roosevelt so hesitant to express in frank terms how they really felt about HItler at a time when such expressions clearly could have had a powerful effect on his prestige in the world? (p.231)

More telling was the famous Hitler purge, also known as "The night of the Long knives." Thank goodness that public officials like General Hugh Johnson could proclaim, "the idea that adult, responsible men can be taken from their homes, stood up against a wall, backs to the rifles and shot to death is beyond expression." At this time, though Dodd and his family had previously greeted such news with disbelief, he now became outspoken. For this, he was ousted and shipped back to America (though the president didn't really want to see him go, but he was outnumbered). Roosevelt finally ordered a public condemnation after Kristallnacht, the event that convulsed Germany.

Before jumping to conclusions though, keep in mind that the issue was much more complex, as is outlined in this book. Keep in mind that America faced the depression. Also note how Hitler was a scheming, manipulating scoundrel who like any common warlord, appeared diplomatic and trustworthy; very adept at hiding the atrocities he and his crew were involved with. Coupled with American and European nationals who were removed from the rest of Germany, living as tourists in diplomatic communities, you see how America and Europe were easily fooled. Never mind those who at times did see some things, (like Martha when she viewed the Anna Rath persecution on the streets) and decided to treat them like isolated events. Note that Hitler wasn't some bully working alone to frighten everyone, instead, he had powerful conservative backing, people who wanted him in charge because of his ruthlessness.

After reading this, you think, kudos to the media (the New York Times and AP placed some of the initial demands on foreign diplomats). Thank goodness for writers and activists. This is useful information for lovers of history (i.e. the information about German's President Hindenburg, who held things together until his death).

Hitler recognized that President Hindenburg possessed the constitutional authority to unseat him and commanded the loyalty of the regular army, and that both these factors made Hindenburg the only truly potent force in Germany over which he had no control (p.287)

It is a book you have to read carefully. There are lots of names that are hard to follow--like the ones of Martha's lovers who were sometimes key figures, the foreign nationals and people Dodd met and befriended, and state department heads. I didn't care for Martha or her assumed naiveté throughout the book, but I didn't care for the way in which she was portrayed either. Though following her was entertaining at times, I don't think Larson kept to his journalistic remove when mentioning her. The ending I didn't care for much either. This wasn't a plot of major crescendos, instead it was a detailed listing of horrible events. The ending was a bit depressing and lacking because you're still waiting for a moment, so to speak. Lots of white space though, which was a good thing. I started the book thinking it would be a 5-star rating for me, but it dwindled somewhere in the middle with some of the lackluster details included. A worthy read though, for sure.

Profile Image for Jill.
1,189 reviews1,690 followers
March 28, 2011
Before you even think of reading Erik Larson’s latest masterwork, clear your calendar, call in sick, send the kids to grandma’s, and place all your evening plans on hold. You will not want to come up for air until you’ve reached the last pages. It’s that good.

In his preface, Larson writes, “Once, at the dawn of a very dark time, an American father and daughter found themselves suddenly transported from their snug home in Chicago to the heart of Hitler’s Berlin. They remained there for four and a half years, but it is their first year that is the subject of the story to follow, for it coincided with Hitler’s ascent from chancellor to absolute tyrant, when everything hung in the balance and nothing was certain.”

The father was William E. Dodd, the mild-mannered and almost laughingly frugal history professor who became an unlikely choice as FDR’s pick for America’s first ambassador to Nazi Germany. The daughter was his bon vivant 24-year-old daughter, Martha, a beautiful and irrepressible woman of great physical appetites, who went along for the adventure of a lifetime. Their story is nothing short of extraordinary.

To quote Mark Twain: “Truth is stranger than fiction, because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn’t.” Certainly, this is a story in which truth trumps fiction. Martha – a compatriot of literary legends Carl Sandburg and Thornton Wilder – quickly takes her place in German society. Larson writes, “As the daughter of the American ambassador she possessed instant cachet and in short order found herself sought after by men of all ranks, ages and nationalities.” One such pursuer was Rudolf Diels, the young chief of the Gestapo, a scarred, confident and charismatic man with penetrating eyes.

The other – one of the great loves of her life – was Boris, a senior agent for the NKVD, the precursor of the Soviet Union’s KGB. Although he is nominally married, he falls passionately for Martha and indeed, the two consider marrying.

In the meanwhile, her ambassador father is experiencing the crushing disillusionment of recognizing that the Germany of his college years has been taken over by a group of mad men. As a lone voice in the wilderness, he tries to voice concerns to a largely indifferent State Department back home, encourage Roosevelt to censor the growing evil, and fight the backstabbing of the wealthy “Pretty Good Club” of affluent ambassadors who race from one glittery party to another. And astoundingly, he tries –without success – to refocus the State Department’s priorities; their “main concern about Germany remained its huge debt to America’s creditors.”

Through the eyes of history, we – the readers – know the eventual outcome of the story, and it’s viscerally painful to see all the junctures where Hitler’s nefarious plans could have been stopped – but weren’t. Like his magnificent Devil in the White City, this book is tautly told, with lots of foreshadowing, building suspense at every corner.

Ending about the time of “The Night of the Long Knives” – Hitler’s purge and the first act in the great tragedy of appeasement – this is an unforgettable look at life inside Germany in 1933 and 1934, through the eyes of a naïve but well-meaning American father and daughter. It is a tour de force about “complicated people moving through a complicated time, before the monsters declared their true nature."
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