Synopsis (from the product description): 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.
Overall Impression: Hmm. Somehow I totally skipped over reviewing this one. Which is strange, since I thought it was truly excellent. I appreciate reading different points of view of Hitler’s Germany and WWII. Because so many accounts of that horrible time are so difficult to read (anything having to do with the Holocaust can make me literally sick to my stomach), I have come to be very thankful for stories that help me learn more about that incomprehensible time period, without making me sob in Starbucks.
I thought Larson’s book was absolutely fascinating. It was a completely different point of view of the time than I have ever read before, and it helped me understand why Americans were hesitant to get involved in the affairs of Europe. I understood more thoroughly the group of men involved in making foreign policy decisions, and their good and not-at-all-good reasons for the choices they made.
Though he came across as sort of a relic, Dodd was an incredibly interesting, layered man. But even more captivating was his daughter, Martha. This girl loved her men. ALL of them. The things author Thomas Wolfe says about her as a lover probably should not be repeated here. People tried to even set her up with Hitler. Her connections with one man had the KGB trying to turn her into a spy. And the whole time, she just wanted to be liked, loved, and popular — which made for some very interesting scenarios during this turbulent time.
The whole book was wonderfully suspenseful and expertly crafted. I read the Devil in the White City a few years ago, and in both that book and in Beasts, Larson shows that he is both a skillful researcher and writer. There was so much to learn in this book, so many points of view I had never considered, and so much humanity behind the people Larson was writing about. It’s truth, but it reads like fast-moving fiction. Highly recommended.
Positives: Absolutely fascinating. Really, I can’t recommend it enough for even casual history buffs.
Negatives: The ending was really abrupt. I felt like the pacing was excellent during the whole book (just one more chapter!) and then it got oddly hurried at the end.
Other books I’ve read by Erik Larson: Devil in the White City (no review)
Other blogger opinions:
Sassymonkey Reads: “Fabulous really, and I must bump his other books up my TBR list.”
Rhapsody in Books: “ Having read a zillion books on the Holocaust, I appreciated that this one provided a fresh approach, one that not only began its coverage of Hitler’s Germany from very early on, but one that focused on Americans and the reaction of Americans on the scene.”
Fyrefly Books: “Once again, Larson proves himself to be a writer with an eye for the untold stories of history, and the skill to bring those untold facets of the past to vivid life.”