2012: 33. In the Garden of Beasts

"Once, at the dawn of a very dark time, an American father and daughter found themselves suddenly transported from their snug home in Chicago to the heart of Hitler's Berlin."

In the Garden of the Beasts, Erik Larson

My experience with this book is literally the triumph of hope over experience.  This is the third book I've read by Larson, the author of Devil in the White City and Thunderstruck, and despite all the acclaim he's gotten, this is the first one I've really liked.  I think its because this one highlights what he's really good at - telling a compelling story that feels true and properly sourced - but didn't include the gimmick that made me doubt his earlier books, i.e., trying to link two historical events together that barely had much in common.  Instead, here he is telling one story, and its a doozy.  It's the story of the Dodd family - William E. Dodd was a sleepy college professor when he was tapped to be the Ambassador to Germany - in the 1930's.  So off he went, despite his lack of experience with diplomacy - or Nazi Germany (his big issue was trying to combat spending at the embassy - a good cause to be sure, but not America's top priority in Hitler's Berlin).  And he brought his family - his wife and adult son, who don't feature much in the book, and his fascinating adult daughter Martha, who basically slept with half of Berlin (including a Nazi and a Communist), started out finding the Nazi's alluring but managed by the end to be on the right side of history, as, despite his failings and genteel anti-Semitism, did her father.  

The writing is top knotch, the story is so, so interesting.  I thought I was done with WWII/Nazi books, but this one is so great - Larson really captures the paranoid* atmosphere of Berlin, the ignorance (often willful) of the Americans and others to what was going on, and makes the people - especially the Dodds (at least William and Martha) come to life.  I can't believe how good this was - and how much better this was than his other books.  Highly recommended.

Categories:  Non-fiction 

*though you aren't paranoid if they are really out to get you.

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017