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In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin Hardcover – May 10, 2011


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, May 2011: In the Garden of Beasts is a vivid portrait of Berlin during the first years of Hitler’s reign, brought to life through the stories of two people: William E. Dodd, who in 1933 became America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s regime, and his scandalously carefree daughter, Martha. Ambassador Dodd, an unassuming and scholarly man, is an odd fit among the extravagance of the Nazi elite. His frugality annoys his fellow Americans in the State Department and Dodd’s growing misgivings about Hitler’s ambitions fall on deaf ears among his peers, who are content to “give Hitler everything he wants.” Martha, on the other hand, is mesmerized by the glamorous parties and the high-minded conversation of Berlin’s salon society—and flings herself headlong into numerous affairs with the city’s elite, most notably the head of the Gestapo and a Soviet spy. Both become players in the exhilarating (and terrifying) story of Hitler’s obsession for absolute power, which culminates in the events of one murderous night, later known as “the Night of Long Knives.” The rise of Nazi Germany is a well-chronicled time in history, which makes In the Garden of Beasts all the more remarkable. Erik Larson has crafted a gripping, deeply-intimate narrative with a climax that reads like the best political thriller, where we are stunned with each turn of the page, even though we already know the outcome. --Shane Hansanuwat

Review

"By far his best and most enthralling work of novelistic history….Powerful, poignant…a transportingly true story."--The New York Times

"Tells a fascinating story brilliantly well."--Financial Times

"Highly compelling...Larson brings Berlin roaring to life in all its glamour and horror...a welcome new chapter in the vast canon of World War II."--Christian Science Monitor 

"Terrific."--Los Angeles Times

“A stunning work of history.”--Newsweek

“Larson has meticulously researched the Dodds’ intimate witness to Hitler’s ascendancy and created an edifying narrative of this historical byway that has all the pleasures of a political thriller….a fresh picture of these terrrible events.”--The New York Times Book Review
 
"Larson has taken a brilliant idea and turned it into a gripping book."--Women's Wear Daily

"Harrowingly suspenseful." Vogue.com

"A gripping, deeply-intimate narrative with a climax that reads like the best political thriller, where we are stunned with each turn of the page."--Louisville Courier Journal

"Electrifying reading...fascinating." Minneapolis Star-Tribune
 
“Larson’s latest chronicle of history has as much excitement as a thriller novel, and it’s all the more thrilling because it’s all true.”--Asbury Park Press

"A superb book...nothing less than masterful."--Toronto Globe and Mail  

“Even though we know how it will end — the book's climax, the Night of the Long Knives, being just the beginning, this is a page-turner, full of flesh and blood people and monsters too, whose charms are particularly disturbing.”--Portland Herald

"Larson succeeds brilliantly…offers a fascinating window into the year when the world began its slow slide into war."--Maclean's Magazine

"Erik Larson tackles this outstanding period of history as fully and compellingly as he portrayed the events in his bestseller, THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY. With each page, more horrors are revealed, making it impossible to put down. IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS reads like the true thriller it is."--BookReporter.com

"Larson's strengths as a storyteller have never been stronger than they are here, and this story is far more important than either "The Devil in the White City" or "Thunderstruck." How the United States dithered as Hitler rose to power is a cautionary tale that bears repeating, and Larson has told it masterfully."--Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Reads like an elegant thriller…utterly compelling… marvelous stuff. An excellent and entertaining book that deserves to be a bestseller, and probably will be.”—The Washington Post
 
“Larson's scholarship is impressive, but it's his pacing and knack for suspense that elevates the book from the matter-of-fact to the sublime.”--Pittsburgh Review

“A master at writing true tales as riveting as fiction.”--People (3 1/2 stars)

"Larson has done it again, expertly weaving together a fresh new narrative from ominous days of the 20th century."--Associated Press

""Mesmerizing...cinematic, improbable yet true."--Philadelphia Inquirer

"[L]ike slipping slowly into a nightmare, with logic perverted and morality upended….It all makes for a powerful, unsettling immediacy."--Bruce Handy, Vanity Fair

“Dazzling….Reads like a suspense novel, replete with colorful characters, both familiar and those previously relegated to the shadows.  Like Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories or Victor Klemperer’s Diaries, IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS is an on-the-ground documentary of a society going mad in slow motion."--The Chicago Sun-Times

“[G]ripping, a nightmare narrative of a terrible time.  It raises again the question never fully answered about the Nazi era—what evil humans are capable of, and what means are necessary to cage the beast.”--The Seattle Times

"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...a vivid, atmospheric panorama of the Third Reich and its leaders, including murderous Nazi factional infighting, through the accretion of small crimes and petty thuggery."--Publishers Weekly(Starred Review)

Praise for Erik Larson
  
THUNDERSTRUCK
“A ripping yarn of murder and invention.”—Los Angeles Times

“Larson’s gift for rendering an historical era with vibrant tactility and filling it with surprising personalities makes Thunderstruck an irresistible tale.”—The Washington Post Book World

“Gripping….An edge-of-the-seat read.”—People
 
DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY
“[Larson] relentlessly fuses history and entertainment to give this nonfiction book the dramatic effect of a novel….a dynamic, enveloping book.”
The New York Times

“A hugely engrossing chronicle of events public and private. Exceedingly well-documented, exhaustive without being excessive, and utterly fascinating.”
Chicago Tribune
 
“An irresistible page-turner that reads like the most compelling, sleep-defying fiction.”—Time Out New York

 ISAAC’S STORM 
“A gripping account…fascinating to its core, and all the more compelling for being true.”—New York Times Book Review

“Superb...Larson has made the Great Hurricane live again.”—The Wall Street Journal

“Gripping….The Jaws of hurricane yarns.”—Newsday
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1st edition (May 10, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307408841
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307408846
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.6 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2,196 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #33,336 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Erik Larson is a writer, journalist and novelist. Nominated for a Pulitzer prize for investigative journalism on The Wall Street Journal, he has taught non-fiction writing at San Francisco State and Johns Hopkins.

Customer Reviews

This was a very well researched and written book.
WERNER ENGELMANN
I HIGHLY recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in history or who just wants to read a meaty book!
Karinka
Once I started reading this book, I found it hard to put down.
Jill Schwaderer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1,502 of 1,554 people found the following review helpful By Chris Swanson TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 24, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
It has been observed that for evil to win all that needs happen is for good men to do nothing. That was what the United States government did, at least officially, for much of the lead-up to World War II. Too often chances to speak out and try to stop the madness that was engulfing Germany were ignored. Too frequently the atrocities were overlooked. Too many times our response to the crisis over there was nothing, nothing, nothing...

But there were exceptions. George Messersmith, who worked at the Berlin embassy, was one of those who tried, often in vain, to bring about some change in the US policies, though he was often ignored as having too vivid of an imagination. So, too, were various Jewish groups in the USA, though they were often ignored for being Jewish. And, eventually, so did William Dodd, the United States ambassador to Germany, though he was ignored because, frankly, too many people didn't want to believe any of what was happening in Berlin.

Before reading this book I had a slightly better than average knowledge of the history of World War II and what led up to it. But even for me there were things to learn. I'd never heard of Dodd or Messersmith. Never heard of Rudolph Diels, or Ernst Hanfstaengl. I knew, at least a bit, about the Night of Long Knives and some what lead up to it, including Ernst Rohm's penchant for pretty young men, but I didn't really grasp much of what was going on that led up to it.

Now, thanks to Erik Larson's latest work, I know these people and I have a much, much improved understanding of what was going on in Germany from 1933 to 1938. Larson gives you a great "on the ground" view of what was really happening, what people thought was happening, what everyone said was happening and why the differences between these things matter.
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371 of 388 people found the following review helpful By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 30, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Erik Larson is not a novelist but his books on historical subjects are as beautifully written as if a novelist had written them. He has written about Chicago and the 1893 World's Fair, a terrible hurricane in Galveston, Texas, and a doctor/murderer in London. In all his books, he juxtaposes two events or characters and flits between the two. In this book, "In the Garden of Beasts", he presents the Dodd family of four in 1933 and the growing menace of Hitler and the Nazi party. It's brilliant writing at its best.

William Dodd was a professor at the University of Chicago and a product of a southern upbringing. He was mild-mannered and subtle, but fairly ambitious, career-wise. As a self-described "Jeffersonian Democrat", Dodd had come to the attention of newly-inaugurated Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 when Roosevelt and his State Department were looking for a new US ambassador to Germany. Adolf Hitler had come to power in Germany at about the same time as Roosevelt in the United States. Both faced Depression-wracked countries and both set about helping to heal the economic woes. Hitler's plans were much more ambitious at that point; getting out of the Versailles Treaty restrictions and cleansing Germany of her Jewish population were also on the agenda. Roosevelt's appointment of William Dodd as the United States Ambassador to Germany brought many questions from old diplomatic "hands" at the State Department as well as among Roosevelt's aides. Was Dodd "tough" enough to deal with Hitler? And, what WAS "tough enough" in dealing with Hitler and the growing German menace? And, what WAS the "growing German menace"? Lots of questions in 1933 wouldn't be answered until later; later, after "The Night of Long Knives", "Krystalnach", and the whole bloody butchery of WW2.
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401 of 422 people found the following review helpful By Steven A. Peterson TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is the fourth book written by Erik Larson that I have read. In my view, this quartet is a pretty powerful body of work: The Devil in the White City, Thunderstruck, and Isaac's Storm)--and now In the Garden of Beasts. As with Larson's other works, there are several layers to this work. Larson begins by noting that (Page xiv): "This is a work of nonfiction."

At one level, this is a portrayal of a family. Key characters are William Dodd, an academic desperate to write a book on the South who finds himself oddly enough tapped to become the American Ambassador to Germany in the very early years of Hitler's rule of the country. There is also considerable detail given to Dodd's daughter, Martha. She was coming off a failed marriage and she (and her brother and William's wife) accompanied Dodd in his service in Germany.

At another level, the book is about the gathering horror of the Third Reich. Sometimes, Germany seems like a modern, civilized country. At other times, though, the darkness of Nazism manifests itself. One small vignette: H. V. Kaltenborn's advocacy of Germany--and his family's terror at a Hitler demonstration where they were frightened by thugs for not carrying out the German salute with the arm. Other small incidents that portend what is to come pop up over the course of the work, providing a dark backdrop to the surface story.

We see Dodd's interaction with key leaders such as Goebbels and Goring. We read of him trying to protect American interests while becoming concerned about what was happening in Germany. And seeing how his superiors did not want to hear negative reports from him. His daughter?
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