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Sunday, November 22, 2015

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

            Erik Larson is the author of several bestselling non-fiction books that read like suspense novels. Here he presents the story of William E. Dodd who in 1933 was appointed as the American diplomat to Germany. Dodd was a middle-class history professor and author who was a supporter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He brought along his wife and two adult children to his post. Dodd was out of his element among the other diplomats who qualified by virtue of their political connections and upper-class status.
This was a transitional time for Germany; Adolf Hitler was amassing power over the German government but had not yet gained full control. Dodd found that the Germany that he remembered from his college years had changed. His daughter Martha and son Bill embraced an active social life; Martha had several affairs with German officials, communists, and others. While at first she was impressed by the “new” Germans in time she became disillusioned.
Dodd, who at the outset did not believe the rumors of violent incidents against the Jews, homosexuals, communists, and other minorities, eventually saw these events at close range. He spent his last few years as diplomat trying to publicize the growing crisis in Germany but was ignored. Would acknowledgement of this crisis changed world events? We will never know.
Martha’s diaries and correspondences, sharpened by her previous publishing career experience in the United States, and Dodd’s professional and personal correspondences provided most of the detail for this book. Larson’s meticulous attention to detail and character development make reading it an instructive experience.

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