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In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson - Excerpt

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson - Excerpt

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“Larson is a marvelous writer...superb at creating characters with a few short strokes.”—New York Times Book Review

Erik Larson has been widely acclaimed as a master of narrative non-fiction, and in his new book, the bestselling 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 readable 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.

To read more about Erik Larson or In the Garden of Beasts please visit Crown Publishing Group at www.crownpublishing.com.
“Larson is a marvelous writer...superb at creating characters with a few short strokes.”—New York Times Book Review

Erik Larson has been widely acclaimed as a master of narrative non-fiction, and in his new book, the bestselling 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 readable 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.

To read more about Erik Larson or In the Garden of Beasts please visit Crown Publishing Group at www.crownpublishing.com.

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Publish date: May 10, 2011
Added to Scribd: Apr 11, 2011
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved

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Copyright © 2011 by Erik LarsonAll rights reserved.Published in the United States by Crown Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., NewYork.www.crownpublishing.com
crown
and the Crown colophon are registered trademarks of RandomHouse, Inc.Endpapers © Pharus-Plan, BerlinPhoto credits appear on page 435.Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication DataLarson, Erik.In the garden of beasts : love, terror, and an American family inHitler’s Berlin / by Erik Larson.—1st ed.p. cm.Includes bibliographical references.1. Dodd, William Edward, 1869–1940. 2. Diplomats—UnitedStates—Biography. 3. Historians—United States—Biography.4. Germany—Social conditions—1933–1945. 5. Nationalsocialism—Germany. I. Title.E748.D6L37 2011943.086—dc222010045402ISBN 978-0-307-40884-6eISBN 978-0-307-88795-5
printed in the united states of america
Book design by Elina Nudelman Jacket design by Whitney Cookman Jacket photograph © The Art Archive/Marc Charmet
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1First Edition

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librarianbryan reviewed this
Rated 2/5
Light nonfiction about something that has been written to death about already. And the people in it wrote their own books any? Should I mention that? If I wanted a page turner I'd read Harry Crews. I guess that is a bad analogy. I guess I am all mixed up.
nmele_4 reviewed this
Rated 4/5
I didn't want to read this book, but by the time I was 20 pages in, I was hooked--Larson not only gives us a contemporary look at Nazi Germany in its first years, he also portrays the U.S. diplomatic service from the perspectives of both Washington, D.C., and the embassy and consulates in Germany. As a bonus, readers get intrigue, Soviet espionage, and such literary figures as Thornton Wilder and Carl Sandburg.
erickibler reviewed this
Rated 4/5
I consider this book merely an appetizer to precede learning about an unappetizing period of history. It left me wanting to read more, not about Nazi atrocities (which I've already read a lot about), but about the politics and power-shifts within the regime. About how the German people were made to swallow the Nazi party line.

It's the story of how William Dodd, an historian, goes to Berlin in 1933 as FDR's ambassador to Germany. Dodd brings with him his wife Mattie and two adult children, Bill Jr. and Martha. William and Martha are the primary POV characters here, presumably because they left behind the most writing about the period.

Dodd is a bit naive, and has a tinge of the casual antisemitism that was prevalent at the time, even among Americans, but at the same time he cares about their plight. He's also a square peg in a round hole, since most people in the foreign service, "the Pretty Good Club", are expected to be men of means and to throw their own money around quite a bit in entertaining foreign dignitaries. Dodd is not a member of this monied class, and the Depression period of austerity limits his salary and budget. Dodd comes off at first a little naive, but gradually you come to admire his Atticus Finch-like belief in American principles.

Martha is a sexually liberated young woman who, although married to a banker back home, plays the field of available men, which includes Rudolf Diels, the head of the Gestapo (not a bad guy, it turns out, but an earlier moderating influence in the party, who was later purged). At one point she was even "pimped out" as a potential date for Hitler himself. She falls hard for Boris Winogradov, a Soviet who turns out to be an agent of the NKVD (precursor to the KGB). Their romance provides much of the suspenseful impetus that keeps you turning the pages of this book. Martha's antisemitism, at least early in the story, is more blatant than that of her father, and she starts out sympathizing with Nazi ideals. Even though conscience hits her later, I had a hard time totally sympathizing with her, although I found her compelling.

Through the eyes of Dodd, Martha, and others, we see the rise of Hitler, who, as Chancellor, had not yet seized total power. It was only after a spree of murdering his rivals (the Night of Long Knives) that he succeeded in achieving sole power. Anywhere from 200 to 1000 people died that night. The Night of Long Knives provides an answer to the question I asked above: why did the German people go along with the program (and the pogrom)? They knew they could have been murdered if they'd spoken out against it. The first major massacre was directed primarily at non-Jews who opposed Hitler, or who were perceived to oppose him. Americans, imagine if we had a leader who demanded total allegiance. We'd be angry, sure. But then if a cadre of thugs arrived in every county in the country and dragged the ten most vocal opponents of the regime into the woods and shot them, what then? What if the leader than announced he was the supreme judge of the American people? What then? Folks, be on your guard. It can happen here.
lindap69 reviewed this
Rated 3/5
I liked the story but it was a bit dry and does not work on audio, may try to finish it in book form
akmargie reviewed this
Rated 3/5
So not as good as his other books. Part of that might have been the narrator who I found a bit too monotone and sardonic. Partly I also didn't find his subject as compelling as his other books. They were painted a bit too one-sided and not as interesting as the time period, 1933-1937, Hitler's rise to power. The complexity of that time both in Berlin and the world's response were far more engaging.
karinnekarinne reviewed this
Rated 5/5
If In the Garden of Beasts was good for nothing else, it showed me that my grasp on basic history is AWFUL. I knew my education was lacking in that area, but I had no idea how little I knew, even about something like World War II, which was a pretty major event, I SUPPOSE.

Larson uses this book to tell the stories of Ambassador William Dodd, a sort of odd-duck professor-turned-diplomat who managed to land a post in Germany in 1933, and his adult daughter, Martha, who accompanied him. Ambassador Dodd's wife and adult son were there, too, but they're on the sidelines for most of In the Garden of Beasts, presumably because they didn't leave detailed accounts of their time in Germany behind the way William and Martha did.

More than the story of a family, though, it's the story of Hitler's rise to power. I highlighted SO MANY passages, just because I was learning so much, and it was all fascinating (although a lot of it was horrifying). Many of the key players in Nazi Germany are fleshed out in this book, where they were just names on a page for me before. It's interesting, but horrible, watching everything fall into place, knowing how it ends.

That said, I think students of World War II might find In the Garden of Beasts boring, unless they manage to connect with the ambassador or his flighty daughter. I loved it. The story of Ambassador Dodd hooked me and made the actual history bits easier to understand as a timeline. I also really enjoy Larson's non-fic style, so this book had that going for it, too.

I do wish the end hadn't felt so rushed: the first year of Dodd's ambassadorship goes by at a snail's pace -- not in a bad way, just a detailed way -- and then everything kind of picks up speed until the end of the book. I guess there's only so much space in one book, though; I am glad the story didn't just drop off after Dodd returned home.


Not really related: I can find photos of almost everyone involved in the Dodds' story (and I think it's the mark of a good non-fic that I'm still googling semi-relevant stuff afterward) but I cannot find any photos of Boris Vinogradov, not even if I google "Winogradov" instead. Oh, Boris.


(four-and-a-half stars)
aelizabethj reviewed this
Rated 3/5
This was super dry, and nothing really happens. Martha Dodd comes across as if we had sent Paris Hilton to Nazi Berlin, and she's trying to sleep her way through to the top, and Dodd as an ambassador sees a lot of evil things happening, but doesn't ever really do anything about it. I thought that this was going to be much more entertaining and interesting than it really was - it picks up a bit near the end, but that is because we are on a collision course to the start of WWII. Erik Larson, you had such an interesting premise here, and clearly did your research, but this dud of a book couldn't hold my interest.
barb_h_1 reviewed this
Rated 4/5
Audiobook. Very well written and mostly interesting. Some parts were kind of boring though.
jenj5 reviewed this
Rated 4/5
COTC January 2012 Book Club selection.

Listened to the Books on Tape audio edition narrated by Stephen Hoye.

Finally finished this and just in time for book club! Truth is, I would never have picked up this book on my own; it is far outside my normal reading. I think Larson does a fantastic job of making history approachable with great cliffhangers at the ends of chapters and fascinating characterization (this despite the fact that he's dealing with real people). Hoye's narration is excellent, particularly given the number of accents required. Unfortunately, this still just isn't my cup of tea. I never know how to rate something like this - I'd give it 5 stars for achievement, but 2 or 3 for personal enjoyment so I'm splitting the difference at 4. I just kept wondering how much more I had left to listen to so I could move on to my next audio book.
anneearney reviewed this
Rated 3/5
This book covers Hitler's rise to power as seen through the eyes of an unlikely American ambassador, Dodd, to Germany and his daughter, Martha. I haven't read much about this time period, but the question of how something like this could happen has always been on my mind. So this book answered, to some extent, that question, and I'm the afraid the answer is "all too easily." Dodd was not well-liked among the other American ambassadors, being an historian instead of a member of the wealthy elite, and although I found myself wanting him to act more decisively against Hitler, in the end he was the quickest and most outspoken. The fact that he was continually chided for failing to encourage the Germans to pay a war bond debt, in the face of the horrors that were being perpetrated, is laughable and telling. But I found the story of his daughter, Martha, equally troubling. She had many romantic relationships in Germany, including with men from the Nazi party and with a Russian spy. Outside opinions of her actions weren't positive, and Larson himself seemed to be on the fence about whether her behavior was acceptable. He doesn't come out and say so, but I suspect he disapproves. The way he describes her, I didn't particularly like Martha, but I like even less the narrowly defined roles that were acceptable for women at that time, and our inability to redefine those roles even in retrospect. While I doubt Martha was acting out a feminist agenda, she was not keeping to the limited roles men supported for women at the time. I suppose that in the same way Dodd and Martha held on to their positive opinions about the Nazi party for too long, if the book were recast as a look at the judgment of American women by men, the same problem would exist.

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