Customer Review

Reviewed in the United States on January 23, 2020
The only thing Professor of History, William Dodd really wanted to do was complete his magnum opus entitled, "The Rise and Fall of the Old South." But fate intervened when Dodd was chosen by President Franklin Roosevelt to be Ambassador to Germany in the spring of 1933.
Accompanied by his wild, beautiful and literary aspiring daughter, Martha, son Bill Jr. and wife, Mattie, the Dodds sail to Germany with high hopes yet wear rose colored glasses. For the elder Dodd, who had been a student years back at the University of Leipzig, those days recalled for him the old Germany, the Weimar Republic when free thinking people could express their ideas, and celebrate many cultures.
On the surface, Berlin 1933 looks and feels the same to Dodd. Yet small tremors begin to appear: Hitler's rise to Chancellor, the creation of the SA Stormtroopers, hints of blame and dismay against the Jewish population. In fact, early in his tenure, Ambassador Dodd was in agreement with the regimes newfound ideologies.
And slowly things begin to unravel. Dodd is viewed by many as a pedantic historian who lectures about the lessons from history. But his words fall on deaf ears. His pedantic style and quiet staid approach is at first taken as small minded and then downright ineffective.
It's clear throughout the book that Dodd is ill-fit for the position. Only at the end of the book is it evident that Dodd became a prophet of doom---a Cassandra like figure who tried to warn "isolationists" that Hitler would indeed bring the world into war---again.
Martha, Dodd's daughter features predominantly in the book. After having a brief affair with the head of the Gestapo, Rudolph Diels, she embarks on a long-term affair with Russian embassy correspondent, Boris Winogradov, someone she truly falls in love with. Martha, the consummate opportunist becomes involved with artistic and literary members of Berlin's avante-garde. She herself is an aspiring writer and will later on write a memoir and novel of her experiences.
Like a mosaic, Erik Larsen takes the reader through a day by day and at times hour by hour sojourn into the Berlin of 1933-34. The writing,"novelistic history" really transports the reader to a Berlin undergoing small but deadly changes. These small pieces add up to a terrifying portrayal of a country who will become beholden to a newly created dictator named Adolf Hitler.
Here also is the colorful cast of characters including Hermann Goring, Goebbles, Himmler and the rise of the SS. One of the inciting incidents leading to the rise of the Nazis is the June 30, 1934 mass killing of hundreds of dissenters and the infamous Ernst Rohm, head of the dreaded SA. The inner feuds between the SA Brown shirts and the Gestapo SS cause Hitler to renounce the SA as he chooses the SS, led now by Himmler.
This is a riveting, well-written and well- researched novel. Highly recommended.
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