Erik Larson has been widely acclaimed as a master of narrative non-fiction, and in his new book, the best-selling 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.
A mild-mannered professor from Chicago, Dodd brings along his wife, son, and flamboyant daughter, Martha. At first, Martha is entranced by the parties and pomp, and the handsome young men of the Third Reich with their infectious enthusiasm for restoring Germany to a position of world prominence. Enamored of the “New Germany”, she has one affair after another, including with the suprisingly honorable first chief of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels. But as evidence of Jewish persecution mounts, confirmed by chilling first-person testimony, her father telegraphs his concerns to a largely indifferent State Department back home. Dodd watches with alarm as Jews are attacked, the press is censored, and drafts of frightening new laws begin to circulate.
As that first year unfolds and the shadows deepen, the Dodds experience days full of excitement, intrigue, romance - and ultimately, horror, when a climactic spasm of violence and murder reveals Hitler’s true character and ruthless ambition.
Suffused with the tense atmosphere of the period, and with unforgettable portraits of the bizarre Göring and the expectedly charming - yet wholly sinister - Goebbels, In the Garden of Beasts lends a stunning, eyewitness perspective on events as they unfold in real time, revealing an era of surprising nuance and complexity. The result is a dazzling, addictively listenable work that speaks volumes about why the world did not recognize the grave threat posed by Hitler until Berlin, and Europe, were awash in blood and terror.
©2011 Stephen Hoye (P)2011 Random House Audio
"In this mesmerizing portrait of the Nazi capital, Larson plumbs a far more diabolical urban cauldron than in his bestselling The Devil in the White City... a vivid, atmospheric panorama of the Third Reich and its leaders, including murderous Nazi factional infighting, through the accretion of small crimes and petty thuggery." (Publishers Weekly)
"By far his best and most enthralling work of novelistic history….Powerful, poignant…a transportingly true story." (The New York Times)
"[L]ike slipping slowly into a nightmare, with logic perverted and morality upended….It all makes for a powerful, unsettling immediacy." (Bruce Handy, Vanity Fair)
As with many others, I assume, I purchased this based upon his previous work, Devil in the White City. Unfortunately, this did not live up to expectations. I'd simply say that the topic was not as worthy of the effort. I appreciated hearing of the challenges of Ambassador Dodd and his daughter, but there was very little intrigue or plot development. A challenging post during a challenging time, but I was left a little blah by the book.
mostly nonfiction listener
Erik Larson is back in fine form. If you loved his 2004 The Devil in the White City, but were disappointed in Thunderstruck (2007) - (or maybe you loved it as well - either way), you will be excited to invest some of your summer with In the Garden of Beasts. Summer is actually the perfect time for a Larson book. We want to escape into fiction, but want to keep feeding our brains with nonfiction. Larson's nonfiction reads like fiction - perfect.
The story of how the Nazis consolidated power in 1930s Berlin, as seen through the eyes of a mismatched and far too academic ambassador and his irresponsible, flighty and gorgeous 20-something daughter, is as engrossing as it is depressing. So many missed opportunities for the U.S. Department of State to stand up to Hitler and his psychotic and pathological circle of thugs. So little understanding in the 1930s of where Hitler and the Nazis were taking the world.
In telling the story of the Nazis from the viewpoint of the U.S. ambassador (a 60-something U. of Chicago history professor who ended up with the post largely because nobody else wanted the job), Larson seems to have uncovered every letter, diplomatic cable, and official report produced by the U.S. Embassy in Berlin in the 1930s.
Throughout Garden of Beasts, Larson seeks to provide a ground-level answer to the question, "how did the world allow this happen?". Exhausted by the Depression, single-mindedly focussed on getting Germany to pay off the loans owed to American creditors, institutionally anti-Semitic, and unprepared to see evil with clear eyes, the U.S. diplomatic core and Department of State miscalculated and mis-estimated what the Nazis were about at every stage. As Ambassador Dodd and his daughter began to see the truth about the
Nazis over the 4 years spent in Berlin (starting in 1933), the American diplomatic elite (the wealthy men whom Larson refers to as the "pretty good club"), persisted in believing in appeasement and benign engagement. Donald Rumsfeld's mismanagement of the Iraq invasion and war seems like small potatoes next to the failures of our 1930's diplomats and senior government officials.
I had already read the book before I listened to the audio version. I found the audio version much more frightening. It places you in the scenes from that time and place. Sometimes it was too realistic.
Yes, I couldn't stop listening to this book.
The events that were taking place in 1930's Germany are so frighteningly like what is happening today. The stark realities portrayed in this book make me frightened for our world toady.
How life went on during the Nazi reign, how some were oblivious to any horror.
No it was a good listen
I loved The Devil in the White City, I craved something more, this was OK
Nurse by day, gangster knitter & book listener by night. Married w 2 girls, 3 dogs & many woodland creatures. Love Twain & meditation.
The audio version should be done by someone who actually read the book first and was concerned morewith emotionally connecting with the heart of this intense story than his priority for diction and enunciation. Its obvious we can deduce he wasnt the least interested in what the material was but how fabulously awesome he can clearly speak.
Plus- the protagonist is southern and the reader is determined to be without any distingishable accent.
History of hitler
Big bird would have done better.
The book is great. The performance ruins it. I recommend paper.
Can i get my $$ back???
A lot of friends recommended this book. For me, a mixed bag: narrator was over dramatic even for a book of such dramatic events. Despite evidence of class bias, anti-Semitism, politics and business interests, it still it not clear exactly why the US was so reluctant, blind or naive to Hitler's Nazi advance. Ambassador Dodd, a true student of history, could not come to terms with the facts before him until late in his tenure. In the end, a frustrating book and one that certainly marks the US and its allies as fools or, at worse, complicit in the advance of Nazis. What is stunning is how much murder and horror was afoot as early as 1934, many years before the US was directly involved in the fight. Dodd's daughter slept her way through the men of the early Reich and it is her story that is really..a story.
This audiobook was quite enjoyable, but due to the cast of characters I might have preferred to read a print version. It's quite long and sometimes I would forget who a character was and lose some of the plot. When reading a book it's so easy to skim earlier chapters to refresh ones memory. That's my only reason for making it 4 stars instead of 5.
After listening to this audiobook, one name I cannot forget is Putzi Hanfstaengl. The narrator is quite good - very pleasant voice and keeps you engaged by his manner of reading but after a while the name Putzi Hanfstaengl - just the distinctive way he pronounced it - made me laugh. It was a little annoying but actually I think the distinctive pronunciation of this and other names helped to alleviate the issue referenced above.
Stephen Hoye brings a lot of emotion to reading - especially when referring to letters or to conversations between characters such as Martha and Boris.
Loved this book, fascinating view of the times. I am not a history buff, but this did inspire me to read more books on the time period.
An in depth first person look at the rise of Hitler and an interesting perspective of the people and attitudes before WW2. Understand that this is a collection of narratives and dispatches that cobble together a story. It is not a masterwork of historical fiction like Devil in the White City.
Interesting view on history
Anyone who has coffee at breakfast. Hoye seems to have just woken up from a nap every time he reads. I hit 2x speed and enjoyed the book a great deal more from that point forward.
Prepare for detail!
Hoye!!! I was first annoyed by him during his read of 'The Killer Angels'. Great book and I thanked my maker when it was over because of his narration (2x speed once again deployed). Some people really really like him but Yeesh! Wake up man! I get the feeling that he reads the book the night before and then speaks really slowly so he can get through his day without flubbing a line. From now on I'll keep my eye out for this valerian laced murmurer and get on with my life.
The first thing I did after the listen was google Martha Dodd, the Ambassador's flighty, flirty daughter. Her social and sexual exploits bring flesh and blood to what could have been another dry, academic account of the rise of Nazism in Germany. Larson skillfully tells the story through letters, documents, diaries written by the protagonists and other real people who lived the events. In this era of instant communication, it's difficult to understand the naivete exhibited by the politicians and leaders when confronted on paper with the evidence of evil occurring in Berlin in the early thirties.
One thought, this story would not have been available if the Dodds had had email...wonder how many other great stories are lost to digital communication?
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