Review: In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Four stars because this book went a long way towards answering my "How was it possible?" question about Hitler's rise to power. Larson really sticks to his source material in this book, so much so that it's not the story of Ambassador Dodd's family as it is the story of Dodd and his daughter. They left diaries, journals and letters about their stay in Berlin in the early 30's, while the wife and son apparently left very little paper trail. Certainly they witnessed as much, maybe more, of the personal and public side of the Nazi party, but in this story they're ghosts of the family, mentioned only when they move through the very documentative Dodd and Martha. But that's a small quibble, along with the weirdly casual chapter titles that don't always match the chapter contents.
Larson balances a critical "who knew what when" with personable account of people who didn't have the benefit of hindsight. Dodd and his daughter, like most guests in a new and exciting situation, wanted to like their hosts. They wanted to believe that people in general will do the right thing, that people in general are good. When their personal experiences, time after time, proved that wasn't the case, one claims to have joined the opposition and the other left the constraints of public office to speak to a wider audience. Whether their end actions had any effect isn't the point of the book, but what they saw (and did, especially in the case of Martha) provides a quick, easy to read view of life in Berlin when Hitler was laying his foundation for what was to come.
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