In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin
By Erik Larson
Crown Trade, 2011. 448 pgs. Nonfiction
A humble man, William E. Dodd was a historian when he got a phone call from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. FDR gave Dodd two hours to decide if he wanted to be the ambassador to Germany; the year was 1933 and five other men had already turned down the position. Dodd accepted the position and took his wife, adult son, and adult daughter Martha with him to Berlin and Hitler’s new Germany. By 1933 Hitler and his men were already persecuting the Jews and attacks on Americans had also occurred. Dodd was convinced for a time that the Nazis were not as bad as other diplomats warned him. His daughter Martha was also persuaded that the new Germany was glorious. But as their time in Germany passed, Dodd and Martha began to see the dark side of the Nazis.
This is a fascinating look at Germany and how Hitler and his men escalated their plan to overtake the government and eliminate the Jews. Larson centers his story around Dodd and Martha, detailing Dodd’s efforts to work with Hitler’s government and his eventual denunciation of them. Larson describes Martha’s numerous love affairs and how those affected her life and her father’s work, which struck me as very naïve on her part. I appreciated Larson’s little cliffhangers and the easy writing style of this intriguing history.