Me, myself, and I.
After Devil in the White City, an amazing tour-de-force, I was expecting quite a bit from Erik Larson. And while he doesn't disappoint with In the Garden of Beasts, it also doesn't quite live up to the lofty standards set in his earlier story. Still, it is a story worth exploring, with its building tension and "oh my god...really?" moments. The lasting legacy of this book, for me, is that, despite the number of WWII books I've gone through recently, it inspired me to spend at least a little more time trying to understand how the world plunged back into a world war, so soon after The Great War.
In this book, we spend time with a family that has been thrust, almost unwittingly, into the downward spiral of a totalitarian regime. Through their interviews, memoirs, private diaries, and more, we get to see life in Berlin in the early 1930s as both an incredibly lively and exciting place, and as one teetering on the edge of chaos. The rise of the Third Reich is told here in very personal detail. Through social interactions, political intrigues, and romances between young lovers, we experience the birthing pains of dictatorship, and wonder at its impact on idealistic diplomats and young adults.
I'd go deeper, singling out individual characters for their naivety or blindness, but I think that part of the intrigue of the story is the way these real-life figures try to make sense of what they've walked into. Spend time in Berlin in 1933, and I think you'll find it quite amazing, and depressing.
This was a compelling book and should be read, especially as we go into an election with a candidate that has the same kind of personality as Hitler. I started off listening to it but did not like the reader so I went to reading on my kindle.
Well researched and to no surprise, written quite engagingly, this story provides a great deal of history you probably have not heard before in regards to pre-WWII Germany. But if you are expecting a similar build like in Erik Larson's 'The Devil in the White City' and 'Lusitania', you will find something much different here.
Be aware that it is a slower paced story, without a huge payoff. I would recommend if you are intrigued by early 20th Century history, government, and WWII.
excellent. An amazing piece of History. I thoroughly enjoyed it and learned a good deal about the experiences of the ambassador's family in Germany in the 1930s. Highly recommended.
I was worried this would be another status quo book on the history of Nazi Germany, but was pleasantly surprised to find a personal story that completely sucked me in. The great writing really humanizes all of the characters and makes the point that they were all human, highlighting their stupidity and arrogance in even mundane things.
This is a rarely, if ever, seen view into the life of people who were first hand witness to the rise of the Third Reich and their struggle to glean meaning from the events of the time. A great read for anyone that's a fan of history.
1933 through 1945 was such a fascinating time, and to see it through the eyes of firsthand witnesses was awesome. If you're a fan of history, World War II, or other similar topics, I would absolutely recommend this book!
The true story of the U.S. ambassador to Germany in the early 1930’s, William Dodd and his promiscuous daughter Martha who bedded various German officials, a Soviet spy and many others as the Dodds witness Hitler’s rise to power and the growing anti-Jewish fervor and repression growing in Germany at a pivotal point in the evolution of the Nazi state. An engrossing read and enjoyable narration. Readers of history are likely more familiar with the period of Nazi Germany after Hitler took control and started World War II, but this book puts all those events in context as we read about a time when Germans were just starting to fall into order behind Hitler's growing racism and power hungry ambitions. In my view the best (so far) of Erik Larson's histories.
Erik Larson has again written about a fascinating time in history of the story of the Roosevelt appointed Ambassador to Germany during the rise of Hitler. Larson describes in great detail the lives of the Dodd family as they watch Germany change on a daily basis. After having listened to the entire book I often return to listen again to certain parts of the book to again understand the very subtle ways a wonderful people under certain circumstances can be blinded by evil, along with many other countries. Ambassador Dobbs was, as Winston Churchill, sounding the alarm of the approaching storm of WWII but no one was listening. I've heard a description of this as "willful blindness". Thank you Mr Larson for another superbly researched and written book. Wow.
That is a question that has puzzled me most of my life, from reading "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" to more modern histories.
Briefly, the story is about the American Ambassador, appointed at the beginning of Hitler's reign, and his family, principally his 20s- year old daughter and their experiences in Germany. Interestingly, they were Jewish and the Ambassador was a historian of the American South and on the faculty at U of Chicago.
They went to Germany and soon were approached by journalists and others who told them of the horrors, but they did not see what was happening. At first, they saw the economic and educational gains and told these bearers of bad news that things could not be that bad. Over time, they came to see the other side of Germany. It must be remembered that they would see things that most people did not see and even they had a hard time at first in believing that the problems were as bad as they were. So, if they had a hard time, maybe it is too easy to call it racism? Maybe the problem is that people are not perceptive enough, or willing enough, to face the reality of evil when they see it.
They were also somewhat limited by money and philosophically not extravagant. For these reasons, they did not fit into the lifestyle of either the German or the American diplomatic community and were looked down-upon by both. The daughter had several affairs, most notably with a Soviet diplomat. Both the Ambassador and his daughter kept extensive diaries apparently and these documents, and those of others such as journalists, provided insights into many prominent persons, German and otherwise.
Over time, they came to see what was happening: not just to Jewish people, but also how Germany was arming itself. Even non-Jewish Americans would get attacked on the street if they did not "Heil Hitler". As the Ambassador became more concerned, he wrote letters back to Washington to try to sound the alert, but it was ignored. Some of this might have been due to social class issues as the fussy professor did not well fit the image of the state department royalty. His missives were ignored and sometimes diverted.
In thinking about it, some of them probably got to Roosevelt who seemed well aware of the dangers of Hitler. In other books on Roosevelt, Stalin, and the Eastern Front, Roosevelt was ahead of the American public in recognizing the dangers Germany posed and the letters from the Ambassador may well have allowed him to make the devil's deal with Stalin in WW2.
Probably mostly for political reasons, the Ambassador lost his post. He went back to the US and spent the brief time he had left in his life traveling the country and telling groups, often in the Jewish community, about the dangers of the Nazis and of Hitler.
Despite having read many books and even spoken to people who lived in Germany at the time, this book gave me read insight into the mindset of the German people at that time. It is hard for many people to realize that nothing like Hitler had come to the mind of modern society. People have a hard time believing how bad things are. It is becoming clear that, in every society, there are people who, when given power without oversight, will abuse that power. It happened in Germany, with the Mongols, the Armenians, the Inquisition, the Balkans, and in many other situations. When this type of person gets in power, and if they get the ability to kill or threaten others, they will use that power to control many others who cannot or will not confront them. Those who see the problem also have to face the unbelief of many others who will not face up to the reality of evil in their own societies (think about our prison system, for example).
How will human society confront the dangers of criminals in power? There are no answers in this book, but it shows how it can happen and how it will happen again, until we find the answers.