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

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

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....
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Publisher's Summary

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

What the Critics Say

"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)

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  •  
    Buzz Scottsdale, AZ, United States 06-26-11
    Buzz Scottsdale, AZ, United States 06-26-11 Listener Since 2006
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    "Masterful and Exciting."

    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

    8 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tim TEMECULA, CA, United States 09-30-11
    Tim TEMECULA, CA, United States 09-30-11 Member Since 2003
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    "When the Good do Nothing"

    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’

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    sarah wildwood, MO, United States 09-19-11
    sarah wildwood, MO, United States 09-19-11
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    "Chilling and vital - fantastic but horrifying read"

    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.

    5 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    runningriter United States 05-20-11
    runningriter United States 05-20-11 Member Since 2010

    runningriter

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    "I wished for more"

    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.

    7 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Stevon Tempe, AZ, United States 10-16-11
    Stevon Tempe, AZ, United States 10-16-11 Member Since 2005

    I love books!

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    "an interesting story in an interesting time"

    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.

    4 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Laurie Florence, KY, United States 07-02-11
    Laurie Florence, KY, United States 07-02-11 Member Since 2005
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    "Get the book and read it"

    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.

    4 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Stephen Chicago, IL, United States 06-18-11
    Stephen Chicago, IL, United States 06-18-11 Member Since 2010

    zoch

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    "meh"

    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.

    4 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    laconfidential Beverly Hills, CA 01-23-13
    laconfidential Beverly Hills, CA 01-23-13 Member Since 2012

    Sharply Opinionated Know-it-all. Curious beyond healthy. Gallows Humor. Election Coverage Junkie. Hollywood Insider.

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    "Beasts of Burden: History Up Close is Myopic"

    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.


    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    marilyn Brownsville, Texas, United States 06-02-11
    marilyn Brownsville, Texas, United States 06-02-11
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    "A history lesson leading up to WW II in Europe"

    An interesting listen of a American Diplomats family life in Germany and USA's isolation policies at the time.

    5 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dr. WESTLAKE, OH, United States 07-19-14
    Dr. WESTLAKE, OH, United States 07-19-14 Member Since 2010
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Square Peg . . . ."
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Yes. It is fascinating history that reads like an engaging novel


    What other book might you compare In the Garden of Beasts to and why?

    Larson writes in a similar fashion as Ross King and Thomas Cahill, telling history with a focus on the psychological dimensions of the personalities involved. In this case William Dodd, FDR's first Ambassador to Berlin during the rise of Hitler and Fascism, and his fascinating daughter, Martha.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    Many scenes were crafted perfectly to show how far ahead of other State Department officials Dodd was in recognizing the true evil in Hitler, Goebbels and his Nazi followers. Perhaps the scene that fits the title the best is when Martha is introduced to Adolf Hitler in 1934 or so, with the intention, of being his female companion, or at least to place the American Ambassador in a compromising position though his daughter. Nothing came of the encounter, but Hitler's beastly pathology is clearly intimated and Martha's discomfort was evident.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    The sadness that an intellectual like Dodd, who was paradoxically so naive and brilliant, was treated with such disrespect by Sec. of State Hull, and the other diplomats in the Old Gentlemen's Club. Hitler's mistreatment of Americans, and his maniacal obsession and oppression of German Jews was know to our leaders, and little was done in those early years form 1933 to 1938.


    Any additional comments?

    An excellent telling of both a personal history and a very significant time in American and World history. Larson is both historian and novelist. All politics may be local, but Larson makes history personal -- well done!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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