It seems to me that there are two kinds of history writing. One kind informs about what happened. A good example of this kind of writing is William L. Shirer’s “History of the Third Reich.” It contains a factual exposition, in time line form, of the events comprising the period it covers. But, after we have some knowledge of the facts, we may want to go further and seek an explanation for the events, that is, why did they happen. It is this second type of history, the “why,” that is the most interesting, and it leads us down further pathways of thought, to ask “Could it have been different?”
“In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin,“ by Erik Larson, does not present any facts that were heretofore unknown to any reader like myself, who has read extensively about the 1930’s, but it does help to explain these events and hence is very valuable. To the casual reader wanting to read a good tale, thanks to the story-telling ability of Larson, “In the Garden of Beasts“ is as engrossing and compelling as any adventure story on today’s fiction book lists. It is a proverbial page turner.
The book impacted me in two ways. First, I lost more respect for President Roosevelt, who has been a hero to many of my generation. Actually, as scholarship of the last 60 years or so has provided more and more information and analysis of Roosevelt’s presidency, for me, he long ago fell from the “greatest American presidents” circle, to that of an important war president (it’s difficult for any non-war president to be considered great). In “In the Garden of Beasts,” Roosevelt’s failure to give our ambassador to Germany (1933-1938), William E. Dodd, who is the main character in this book, clear direction about American policy towards Germany, in spite of the amazing access that Dodd had to personal meetings with Roosevelt. Dodd, a history professor and no strategic thinker, was competent enough to follow Roosevelt’s
The rise of Hitler comes to eerie life in this book. We have all heard the story many times, this time it’s told from the point of view of the US ambassador to Berlin and his infuriating family. I found the story fascinating and profoundly sad. It makes you want to reach through history and shake some sense into the myopic world leaders who left that nice Mr. Hitler to his own devices. As a read, it’s not as compelling as the devil in the White City, but it’s pretty good none the less. Anyone interested in WW2 or the historical background to the holocaust will find it fascinating. Many readers will find it a sobering and vivid example of the adage ‘for evil to triumph all that is needed is that the good do nothing’
When at the beginning the author stated that this was not a story of heroes I was a little taken aback. How true that statement revealed itself to be as I delved deeper and deeper into this story of misplaced appeasement and self-willed blindness on the part of many of our countrymen who came face to face with horrors instigated by the Nazis. Usually a voracious reader I found myself needing to take breaks from this chilling account of misbehavior and enabling. I had a visceral reaction to Martha's self-serving ego that allowed her to proclaim with great aplomb the fact that her ancestors had owned slaves. This book (like Shirer’s "The rise and fall of the third reich" and "Bonhoeffer" by Metaxas and "The alchemy of air" by Hagar) gives a painfully clear insight into Hitler’s rise to power. Additionally, it eerily parallels events today with the same misplaced attitude of appeasement by our contemporary state department towards terrorist states in the middle east.
I worry that Mr. Larson peaked Devil in the White City. That had tension, intrigue, wonder and the struggle between good and evil. This book had none of that. It was not an enjoyable story. You knew the outcome from the first page. What you didn't know was that the protagonists would turn out to be unlikable and the reader would be a bore. In my mind, it boils down to this: Dodd was a coward in over his head in Berlin and was more in love with his farm back in Illinois and the book he couldn't finish than with his job that could have helped to extinguish Hitler before his march into history. Dodd's daughter, Martha, was more intent on sleeping her way through the third reich than on doing something meaningful with her life, especially with the unique position she was in. I won't ruin the book for others but to me, these aren't heroes. Hitler was the worst. But these weren't his foils. And for a book with such a sinister theme, perhaps the producers would have been better served selecting a reader less in love with proper German pronunciation than with the emotion behind the events to which he was paid to read.
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In 1933 FDR was having trouble finding anyone that wanted to be Ambassador to Germany as Hitler was coming to power. He settled on about his 10th choice, William Dodd, a history professor at the Universsity of Chicago. This is that true story. This would have been a difficult assignment even for someone with diplomatic experience. But hearing the story by piecing together the story from old letters, reports etc made it interesting. Plus hearing how the Nazi regime completely took over a country through terror and intimidation was fascinating. If you are a WWII buff, you'll enjoy this one.
Sometimes, books really are better read than listened to. I would have to say that applies to this novel. Due to all the names and historical references, I really wish I had had the book in front of me instead of listening to the audible version. And as much as I love Stephen Hoy's narrations, he's much better suited for tongue in cheek ironies (like Carl Hiassen's books). He just did not have the brevity that was called for with this read. The subject matter is interesting, but I think Audible missed a little with this one.
I didn't find this book to be as strong as Devil WC. While all aspects of Germany are interesting in this time period, I didn't feel like Eric painted the picture in color as well as he did in Devil WC. Stephen Hoyne is an excellent reader and I was never distracted from the content.
Sharply Opinionated Know-it-all. Curious beyond healthy. Gallows Humor. Election Coverage Junkie. Hollywood Insider.
Larson's In the Garden of Beasts is excellent. He unpacks one of the most fascinating and studied moments in history and reveals the hard truth of hindsight. It's 20/20.
Sitting comfortably in 2013, we can pat ourselves on the back and say we would have done everything in our power to stop Hitler's rise. Indignantly, we will stomp our feet and judge the men and women who sat "idly by" and did nothing as Hitler and his thugs seized control of Germany and pulled the world into chaos.
But then Larson puts us in the moment - Berlin - the epicenter of it all. And without benefit of a crystal ball, we are left with the uncomfortable question: Would we truly have seen the danger signs? If so, would we have had the courage to act?
Perhaps those close enough to actually make a difference, were so far inside the belly of the beast, they could not see the teeth.
An interesting listen of a American Diplomats family life in Germany and USA's isolation policies at the time.
Well told story about a frightening time to be in Germany. It brought the time and the people to life.