Author: Erik Larson
Genre: Historical Nonfiction
# pages: 464
Date published: 2011
5-star rating: 5 stars
Would you recommend it: Yes
I chose In the Garden of Beasts because I loved Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City. Although I normally shy away from non-fiction, Larson’s writing captures my attention by making history come alive, using the style of fiction to tell a historical story.
The book begins with William Dodd’s move to Germany with his family to fulfill his post as the first American Ambassador during Hitler’s rise to power in Germany in 1933. His original mission is to ensure that Germany pays back its debts to the United States. As time progresses and Hitler gains more power and support, Dodd strives to maintain the diplomatic relations between the two countries. Everyone hopes that the Nazi government will grow more moderate and that the persecution of the Jews will stop, but for Dodd and his family, it remains unclear what will happen.
This book provides a unique perspective of Nazi Germany from an American family, relying mainly of William Dodd and his daughter, Martha, who have more freedom than most foreigners do at this perilous time. The direct quotes from their diaries give the reader a rare look into the calm before the storm of World War II. Both father and daughter meet the notorious future dictator, the father giving a political view of Hitler while his daughter provides a different perspective, as a woman propositioned to be the future tyrant’s girlfriend. Over the course of the book, Martha has relationships with many men, including the head of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels, and Soviet attaché and secret agent Boris Vinogradov. In the beginning, she supports the Nazis, but as the number of attacks against Jews and other foreigners mounts, her opinion shifts. At twenty-four years old at their arrival in Germany, Martha is not much older than most BC students, which makes her a relatable source in spite of her unique situation.
The short chapters and quick progression from one event to the other kept the action moving, even though most of In the Garden of Beasts takes place before the major events of World War II. Personally, I have always been interested in the events in Germany during this era, and in particular how one man came to hold such power and instill fear in the hearts of his country’s citizens. This book offers insight into this build-up, in a way that keeps the reader flipping pages. I would definitely recommend In the Garden of Beasts to anyone who has any interest in World War II or Nazi Germany.
Review by Liz Handler, A&S '15