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)
This book well recounts the eye-opening experience of a rather naive American history professor who arrives in 1933 Berlin as the new US Ambassador. We see Mr. Dodd as a reflection of the best (and sometimes less than best) qualities of a middle American of that period: critical of the snobbish attitudes of his wealthier professional State Department subordinates in the Embassy; seeking to provide well-intentioned advice and a good example to the Nazi leaders so as to improve their behavior and relations with other countries; and expressing on occasion his own anti-Semitic views that were common in the US at that time. A gradual transformation in his attitude toward the Hitler government occurs, culminating in the shocking ???Night of Long Knives??? purge in July, 1934 when Hitler approved the arrest and murder of 100???s of suspect party members (including his long-time comrade Kurt Roehm, head of the SA) and political opponents, including a few army generals whose loyalty to Hitler was questioned. From that point it was fully clear to Ambassador Dodd that the Nazi government was a criminal regime that constituted a serious danger that could not be trusted nor dealt with under normal terms of civilized relations.
Unfortunately for everyone, the US, Britain and France???the key countries in a position to stop Hitler???were slow to recognize or confront the true depravity and dangers of the Nazi regime until it was too strong to stop short of a major war. The West was mired in the Great Depression and guided by public opinion that greatly feared another major war, both of which Hitler recognized and used to his advantage to move forward until he was too powerful to stop without such a war.
The book offers a sub-plot of the Ambassador???s daughter, Martha, who in her mid-20???s made a point of fully enjoying Berlin, with numerous friends and love affairs. She also changed her attitude toward the Nazi regime as she saw its true horrors over time.
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.
I love books!
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.
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.
Erik Larson's books always make me think and look for some of the historical references.The story is engaging, especially when looking back at it in historical context.Mr. Larson makes the characters engaging and gives them life.
There are a lot of different players so keeping track is a challenge.
If you like history you will like this book.The narration is well paced.
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