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In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin Paperback – May 1, 2012
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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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF THE YEAR
WASHINGTON POST NOTABLE BOOK OF THE YEAR
NPR BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR
O, THE OPRAH MAGAZINE BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR
USA TODAY 10 BOOKS WE LOVED
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY BEST NONFICTION BOOK OF THE YEAR
KIRKUS REVIEWS BEST NONFICTION BOOK OF THE YEAR
NEW YORK TIMES, JANET MASLIN'S TOP 10 BOOKS OF THE YEAR
SEATTLE TIMES BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR
THE WEEK BEST NONFICTION BOOK OF THE YEAR
GLOBE AND MAIL VERY BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR
AMERICAN BOOKSELLERS ASSOCIATION INDIE BOOK OF THE YEAR
“By far his best and most enthralling work of novelistic history….Powerful, poignant…a transportingly true story.” —New York Times
“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 most important book of 2011.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“A dazzling amalgam of reportage….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.” —Chicago Sun-Times
“Fascinating...A master at writing true tales as riveting as fiction.” —People (3 1/2 stars)
“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.”
—New York Times Book Review
“Larson, a master of historical nonfiction, has written a fascinating book that, although carefully researched and documented, reads like a political thriller...highly recommended to anyone interested in the rise of the Third Reich and America’s role in that process.” —Jewish Book World
“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
“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
“Compelling...the kind of book that brings history alive.” —USA TODAY
“[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.” —Seattle Times
“A stunning work of history.” —Newsweek
“Tells a fascinating story brilliantly well.” —Financial Times
“A cautionary tale not to be missed.” —Washington 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 literature.”
—Christian Science Monitor
“Terrific storytelling.” —Los Angeles Times
“Vivid and immediate...a fascinating and gripping account.” —Washington Independent Review of Books
“Gripping...a story of stunning impact.” —New York Daily News
“Larson is superb at creating a you-are-there sense of time and place. In the Garden of Beasts is also a superb book...nothing less than masterful.” —Toronto Globe and Mail
“Harrowingly suspenseful.” —Vogue.com
“Larson has taken a brilliant idea and turned it into a gripping book.” —Women's Wear Daily
“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 books are tightly focused and meticulously researched, but they also are rich in anecdote and detail from the homey mundane to the tragic, the absurd and the downright funny. His prose has an austere, compassionate lyricism. His narratives have novelistic pull...his psychological perception and empathic imagination lend flesh to the documents, music to the ballrooms. He gives a throbbing pulse to the foolish and the wise, the malignant and the kind.” —The Oregonian
“A masterly work of salacious nonfiction that captures the decadent and deadly years of The Third Reich.” —Men's Journal
“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.” —Portsmouth Herald
“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
“Larson succeeds brilliantly…offers a fascinating window into the year when the world began its slow slide into war.” —Maclean's
“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 Tribune-Review
“[A] brilliant tour de force of nonfiction writing...Larson, as always, conjures magic with the details, and often injects a welcome dollop of dark humor...In the Garden of Beasts serves as both a serious, insightful look at history, and a stern warning against national complacency when you’re being run by a dictator who is both vicious and undeniably off his rocker.” —Dallas Morning News
“Like slipping slowly into a nightmare, with logic perverted and morality upended….It all makes for a powerful, unsettling immediacy.” —Vanity Fair
“A master of nonfiction storytelling...Larson once again gathers an astounding amount of historical detail to re-create scene after vivid scene...a stunning, provocative immersion...a call to citizens in all nations to investigate the motives of power brokers and government officials, to stand our ground when we see others' moral compasses going awry.” —Dallas/Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“No other author...has the ability to actually live up to that old adage of making history come alive. What Larson is doing is creating a world that no longer exists on the page...[He] not only succeeds but is able to turn what one would expect to be tedium into page-turning brilliance.” —Digital Americana
“Narrative nonfiction at its finest, this story drops into 1933 Berlin as William E. Dodd becomes the first U.S. ambassador to Hitler's Germany—a tale of intrigue, romance, and foreboding.” —Kansas City Star
“One of the most popular history books this year...offers something for both serious students of the 1930s and for lovers of charming stories.” —St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“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
“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)
“An excellent study, taking a tiny instant of modern history and giving it specific weight, depth and meaning.” —Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
“A brilliant and often infuriating account of the experiences and evolving attitudes of the Dodd family during Hitler’s critical first year in power. With the benefit of hindsight, of course, the Dodds seem almost criminally ignorant, but Larson treats them with a degree of compassion that elevates them to tragic status.” —Booklist (Starred Review)
“Larson writes history like a novelist...conveying quite wonderfully the electrically charged atmosphere of a whole society turning towards the stormy dark.” —The Telegraph
Praise for Erik Larson
“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.”
“An irresistible page-turner that reads like the most compelling, sleep-defying fiction.” —Time Out New York
“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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Top Customer Reviews
Martha Dodd dated a series of dangerous boyfriends in Berlin, including a Soviet spy and the chief of the Gestapo secret police. In what may be the most ill-advised matchmaking attempt in world history, a mutual friend even tried to set her up with Adolf Hitler himself, although it never progressed beyond one brief meeting between the German leader and the American ambassador's daughter.
Foreign Service Officers may find the description of the 1930s-era Foreign Service to be of interest. Half-jokingly described as the "Pretty Good Club," the Foreign Service was then comprised mostly of wealthy men who were able to spend well beyond their government salaries while overseas. Anti-Semitic attitudes were both common and socially acceptable in the State Department of that era, which helps explain why America failed so miserably to accept Jewish refugees from Germany during the 1930s.
Wisconsin residents and University of Wisconsin alumni may be interested in a supporting character in the book, Milwaukee native and UW-Madison alumna Mildred Fish Harnack. She had moved to Germany and was a friend of the Dodd family in Berlin. Although she was an American citizen, she stayed in Germany after the war began, organized a anti-Nazi resistance group, and was executed by the guillotine on Hitler's orders in 1943. The University of Wisconsin Law School has an annual human rights lecture series named in her honor.
Boy was I mistaken.
I'm glad though, because this book was much more enriching than I had expected.
In the Garden of Beasts is very much a documentary account of a very narrow set of circumstances. This book tells the story of William E. Dodd and his family during his tenure as American ambassador to Berlin, Germany, during the years leading up to WWII: more specifically, from 1933 until ... well, I won't be a spoiler ... but before the war actually began.
This isn't the telling of a story per se, but a compilation and retelling of events based on historical documents: official correspondence, personal correspondence, diaries, and so on. The book is full of quotations, and everything in quotes was cited from firsthand sources.
This might sound boring, and it would have been boring if it weren't for the fact that this family was inserted directly into the heart of one of history's most unbelievable periods. Dodd and his family interacted officially and socially with many of the key figures of Nazi Germany in Germany's capitol city. The glimpse that this afforded them is almost too much to believe. The accounts paint a picture of Hitler's inner circle as juvenile bunglers. It's unbelievable that they were able to attain so much power.
From what I can tell, this account doesn't sugar-coat any of the details. For example, as much as Ambassador Dodd actively worked to maintain peace and warn the Roosevelt government of Hitler's escalating aggression, his treatment of the "Jewish Problem" is dumbfounding. Dodd himself was extremely antisemitic and had very little sympathy for Germany's Jews. In fact, his family rented the home of a Jewish family who cloistered themselves in the attic levels of the home during this time. So while Dodd held official functions in the residence levels of the home--hosting the likes of Himmler and Goering--the Jewish family who owned the home quietly lived in exile in the upper floor.
The two main figures of this book are Ambassador Dodd and his daughter Martha, both of whom left enough of a paper trail that their stories could be reassembled. Martha was a fascinating character who socially mingled throughout Berlin's salon society and was personally involved (and often romantically involved) with a variety of characters, including men such as a French official, a Gestapo leader, and a Russian operative (and many many more). The salacious stories of her relations were often more interesting and enlightening than her father's.
I'm glad I read this book. Although this story only covers a few short years, the level of detail is incredible. I have studied Germany and the German language for decades, but so far this is the clearest account that I've read of the details of Hitler's assent to complete rule of Germany and of the German people's complicity and of the world's complicity in Germany's treatment of the Jews. Let us hope that history never repeats itself.