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In the garden of beasts : love, terror, and…
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In the garden of beasts : love, terror, and an American family in Hitler's… (edition 2011)

by Erik Larson

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
4,0502381,257 (3.83)211
Member:mcgzoo
Title:In the garden of beasts : love, terror, and an American family in Hitler's Berlin
Authors:Erik Larson
Info:New York : Broadway Paperbacks, [2012?], c2011.
Collections:Your library, Read but unowned, Favorites
Rating:*****
Tags:nazi germany, FDR, foreign service

Work details

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

  1. 70
    The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer (kraaivrouw)
  2. 30
    Through Embassy Eyes by Martha Dodd (marieke54)
  3. 20
    I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years, 1933-1941 by Victor Klemperer (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: The published version of Klemperer’s secret wartime diary are a vivid and personal account of day-to-day life in Nazi Germany. Writing with sophistication and insight, he records the stories of ordinary Germans and their hopes and fears during the dark days of the war. This provides interesting points of comparison with Dodd's experiences.… (more)
  4. 20
    Resisting Hitler. Mildred Harnack and the Red Orchestra by Shareen Blair Brysac (marieke54)
  5. 10
    Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: If you found In the Garden of Beasts moving and want to read fiction about the Third Reich, try Every Man Dies Alone, a haunting novel based on actual events surrounding a couple that attempted to undermine the Nazi regime.
  6. 11
    Red Orchestra. The Story of the Berlin Underground and the Circle of Friends Who Resisted Hitler by Anne Nelson (kraaivrouw)
  7. 02
    The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America--The Stalin Era by Allen Weinstein (spacecommuter)
    spacecommuter: Erik Larsen's In the Garden of Beasts draws on The Haunted Wood and the notebooks of Alexader Vassiliev as sources. The Haunted Wood mentions Martha Dodd, her romance with Boris Winogradov and her father extensively, and includes additional evidence of Martha's espionage that Larsen mostly omitted from his book.… (more)
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» See also 211 mentions

English (228)  French (3)  Dutch (1)  German (1)  Danish (1)  Spanish (1)  Norwegian (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (237)
Showing 1-5 of 228 (next | show all)
A well written biography of the US ambassador to Berlin during Hitler's rise to power. It provides a unique perspective that is well worth reading. ( )
  M_Clark | Apr 26, 2016 |
I picked this one up after hearing Eric Larson speak at a conference recently. He is an engaging speaker, and I'm pleased to report the book follows his precedent.

His main characters here are Ambassador Dodd and his daughter, Martha. He clearly shows how the family lived and who they associated with, with many familiar names from the history books. ( )
  ajsteadman | Apr 20, 2016 |
This is about William Dodd, an academic who became the American ambassador in Berlin from 1933 to 1938. At the time of his appointment by Roosevelt
Dodd was a professor at the University of Chicago. He moved his family and settled in for what he anticipated would be a pleasurable, low key assignment. He was not a typical, wealthy career diplomat and was surprised at the amounts of personal wealth which former ambassadors had spent. He launched a campaign of frugality which angered his bosses in the Pretty Good Club. This group in turn distrusted and betrayed him because of his coat cutting approach. It was during this time that Hitler and his cronies were ascending to the top of Germany's government and Dodd became a critic of US and European isolationism vs the regime. Dodd's daughter Martha is a central character because of her many friendships/trysts with famous writers, Nazis, Soviets and other glitterati. Without her story, this book would have been very dull.
The Night of the Long Knives in June 1934 is well told and very frightening. Dodd leaves Berlin in late 1938 and retires to his farm. His predictions of the rise of naziism, pogroms of Jews, the invasion of Poland, and the start of WW2 portray him as a thoughtful and insightful ambassador. ( )
  MaggieFlo | Apr 13, 2016 |
I enjoyed it but not as much as "Devil in the White City", which I would give four stars or "Isaac's Storm", which I would give five stars. Other readers have complained about Erik Larson concentrating on William Dodd's daughter Martha at the expense of Dodd's son Bill Jr. and wife Martha. My assumption is that the reason for this is that the latter two wrote less about the time period than William and his daughter. Larson frames his narrative around the rise and fall of the SA (Stormtroopers): empty promises to Dodd by Nazi leaders to rein in abuses by the SA, the schisms between the SA leader Ernst Rohm and Hermann Goring, etc. All in all an interesting perspective on the rize of Adolf Hitler and his inner circle of Goring and Joseph Goebels. However, I, as I assume many readers, were expecting more narrative of the beginnings of the holocaust. I venture that the lack of such content led to the disappointment of many readers. If you have at least casual interest in learning more about the diplomatic efforts and strains between the U.S. and Germany during the rise of Adolf Hitler you may find this book interesting. If not, not so much. ( )
  Kyle_Winward | Apr 8, 2016 |
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson chronicles a year in Berlin, from 1933-1934, during which time William Dodd was the U.S. Ambassador to Germany. Dodd, a University of Chicago professor, brought with him to Berlin his wife, son, and daughter, Martha. In the Garden of Beasts follows the experiences of William Dodd and his daughter Martha. As Larson writes in the prologue:

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. That first year is a kind of prologue in which all the themes of the great epic of war and murder soon to come were laid down.

I have always wondered what it would have been like for an outsider to have witnessed firsthand the gathering dark of Hitler's rule....Hindsight tells us that during that fragile time the course of history could so easily have been changed. Why, then, did no one change it? Why did it take so long to recognize the real danger posed by Hitler and his regime? (pg xiii)

Dodd was unprepared for his role as Ambassador. For example, Dodd was under the assumption that an Ambassadorship would provide him with the free time he needed to finish writing his history of the old South; he soon learned that this assumption was false. Even before he left American investors were concerned that Germany was going to default on her loans while Jewish leaders were concerned about the anti-Semitism taking place. Additionally, most ambassadors were independently wealthy - this was most decidedly not the case with Dodd.

Once the family arrived in Germany, Martha, with a startling and disturbing lack of discernment and propriety, threw herself into late night parties and affairs, including a dalliance with the first chief of the Gestapo, Rudolph Diels. William Dodd ignored the warnings of George Messersmith, who worked at the Berlin embassy. While it became clear that American's were not necessarily safe in Germany, no recommendation for a travel warning was made. Even as the anti-Semitism escalated, Martha herself began to share some of the same sentiments. Dodd repeatedly chose to believe Hitler wanted peace. It really isn't until it was too late (The Night of the Long Knives) that Dodd and Martha really understood the direction the New Germany was taking.

As Larson notes:

....as their first year reached its end, and event occurred that proved to be one of the most significant in revealing the true character of Hitler and that laid the keystone for the decade to come. For both father and daughter it changed everything. (pg. xiv)

Larson does address reasons why the United States kept silent during this time, as Hitler rose to power. Many chances to speak up and try to change the course of history were not taken. Larson writes:

There are no heroes here, at least not of the Schindler's List variety, but there are glimmers of heroism and people who behaved with unexpected grace. Always there is nuance, albeit sometimes of a disturbing nature. That's the trouble with nonfiction. One has to put aside what we all know - now - to be true, and try instead to accompany my two innocents through the world as they experienced it.
These were complicated people moving through a complicated time, before the monsters declared their true nature. (pg. xiv)

A complication for me is that I found both William and Martha to be unsympathetic historical figures. They were, most certainly, flawed individuals. I found Martha's behavior especially disturbing. As a result of this, it was hard to relate to either of them. Much of this is based on their recorded actions and Martha's behavior. But, as Larson makes clear, I had to try a put aside what I know and concentrate on what they knew at the time.

Erik Larson is one of my favorite nonfiction authors. (Isaac's Storm is one of my favorite nonfiction books.) What I especially appreciate about Larson is his narrative style. You are reading a nonfiction book based on facts, which Larson makes clear:

This is a work of nonfiction. As always, any material between quotation marks comes from a letter, diary, memoir, or other historical document. (pg. xiv)

but it flows like a fictional account of an historical event.

Immediately after I finished In the Garden of Beasts, I wasn't sure how I felt about the book. I'm glad I waited to write my review. Even Larson acknowledged the darkness he felt while writing the book:

While I did not realize as I ventured into those dark days of Hitler's rule was how much the darkness would infiltrate my own soul. I generally pride myself on possessing a journalist's remove, the ability to mourn tragedy and at the same time appreciate it's narrative power, but living among the Nazis day in. day out proved for me a uniquely trying experience. (Sources and Acknowledgments, pg. 369)

I feel like some of that darkness seeped into the narrative too.
All in all, this is a very interesting book and a must read for students of history, especially WWII. Larson includes chapter notes, a bibliography, and an index.

Very Highly Recommended; http://shetreadssoftly.blogspot.com/

Quotes:

For Messersmith it was yet another indicator of the reality of life under Hitler. He understood that all this violence represented more than a passing spasm of atrocity. Something fundamental had changed in Germany.
He understood it, but he was convinced that few others in America did. He was growing increasingly disturbed by the difficulty of persuading the world of the true magnitude of Hitler's threat. pg. 4

Dodd was anything but the typical candidate for a diplomatic post. He wasn't rich. He wasn't politically influential. He wasn't one of Roosevelt's friends. But he did speak German and he was said to know the country well. One potential problem was his past allegiance to Woodrow Wilson, whose belief in engaging other nations on the world stage was anathema to the growing camp of Americans who insisted that the United States avoid entangling itself in the affairs of foreign nations. pg. 18-19

In the course of a wide-ranging conversation, Dodd learned for the first time how far he'd been from being Roosevelt's first choice. The news was humbling. pg. 38

Messersmith's view of Martha's behavior hardened over time. In an unpublished memoir he wrote that "she behaved so badly in so many ways, especially in view of the position held by her father."
The Dodd's butler, Fritz, framed his own criticism succinctly: "That was not a house, but a house of ill repute." pg. 115

For Martha, however, Thomsen's display had a lingering effect of surprising power, for it eroded - albeit slightly - her enthusiasm for the new Germany, in the way a single ugly phrase can tilt a marriage toward decline. pg. 147

It was a strange moment. Here was Dodd, the humble Jeffersonian schooled to view statesmen as rational creatures, seated before the leader of one of Europe's great nations as that leader grew nearly hysterical with fury and threatened to destroy a portion of his own population. It was extraordinary, utterly alien to his experience. pg. 236 ( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | Mar 21, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 228 (next | show all)
William E. Dodd was an academic historian, living a quiet life in Chicago, when Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed him United States ambassador to Germany. It was 1933, Hitler had recently been appointed chancellor, the world was about to change.

Had Dodd gone to Berlin by himself, his reports of events, his diary entries, his quarrels with the State Department, his conversations with Roosevelt would be source material for specialists. But the general reader is in luck on two counts: First, Dodd took his family to Berlin, including his young, beautiful and sexually adventurous daughter, Martha; second, the book that recounts this story, “In the Garden of Beasts,” is by Erik Larson, the author of “The Devil in the White City.” 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: innocents abroad, the gathering storm. . . .
added by PLReader | editNY Times, DOROTHY GALLAGHER (Jun 10, 2011)
 

» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Erik Larsonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cookman, WhtineyCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nudelman, ElinaDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
In the middle of the journey of our life, I came to myself in a dark wood where the straight way was lost. - Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy: Canto I (Carlyle-Wickstead Translation, 1932)
Dedication
To the girls, and the
next twenty-five

(and in memory of Molly, a good dog)
First words
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.
Quotations
"Hardly anyone thought that the threats against the Jews were meant seriously," wrote Carl Zuckmayer, a Jewish writer.
Even the language used by Hitler and party officials was weirdly inverted. The term "fanatical" became a positive trait. Suddenly it connoted what philologist Victor Klemperer, a Jewish resident of Berlin, described as a "happy mix of courage and fervent devotion."
"There has been nothing in social history more implacable, more heartless and more devastating than the present policy in Germany against the Jews..."
An odd kind of fanciful thinking seemed to have bedazzled Germany, to the highest levels of government. Earlier in the year, for example, Goring had claimed with utter sobriety that three hundred German Americans had been murdered in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia at the start of the past world war. Messersmith, in a dispatch, observed that even smart, well-traveled Germans will "sit and calmly tell you the most extraordinary fairy tales."
After experiencing life in Nazi Germany, Thomas Wolfe wrote, "Here was an entire nation ... infested with the contagion of an ever-present fear. It was a kind of creeping paralysis which twisted and blighted all human relations."
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Book description
William E. Dodd becomes the American ambassador to Germany, where he witnesses first-hand the atrocities of Hitler's regime and watches his daughter fall in love with a Nazi officer.
Haiku summary
They come overmatched Think easy job, not so Leave disheartened (foof2you)

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The bestselling author of "Devil in the White City" turns his hand to a remarkable story set during Hitler's rise to power. 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.… (more)

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