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In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin

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3.8  ·  Rating Details ·  113,937 Ratings  ·  11,918 Reviews
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 w

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Hardcover, 448 pages
Published May 10th 2011 by Crown
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Bob "Mundane" is not a term I would use though I agree the beginning may not be as gripping as a good Tom Clancy novel. But from my perspective, the book…more"Mundane" is not a term I would use though I agree the beginning may not be as gripping as a good Tom Clancy novel. But from my perspective, the book does a masterful job in evoking the tension, intrigue, and romance of Berlin in the 1930's.

My marker of a good book is that when I finish reading it, I spend hours doing internet searches on the protagonists. I did this with Beasts, and discovered that in the last year the remains of Goering's widow were discovered at his estate and her identity confirmed through DNA evidence. You'll never get this satisfaction with a fictional novel!

As a a reader of historical non-fiction books -- I don't read novels (Tom Clancy or otherwise), and won't weigh in on apples to oranges comparisons. But I have read a dozen books on the history of Chicago and their worlds fairs, and can say that Devil in The White City is a first class work of history.

In summary, I find Larsen's books refreshing in comparison to the dry, overly footnoted fare we usually get from academic historians. Larsen's gift is his ability to maintain historical accuracy while injecting an emotional element that immerses one totally into the time and place.

I look forward to his next project!(less)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Kemper
Jan 07, 2014 Kemper rated it liked it
Picture Principal Skinner from The Simpsons and Paris Hilton going to Nazi Germany, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what this book is like.

I was split on Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City because I found the half of the book about the 1893 Chicago’s World Fair incredibly interesting but thought the other half about serial killer H.H. Holmes to be just another true crime gore fest. Then in Thunderstruck he again gave us some nice pop history with the story of Marconi and the inventi
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Corina
Dec 29, 2013 Corina rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Erik Larsen fans and/or WWII buffs
Recommended to Corina by: Mom
I didn't think you could make the rise of Hitler boring, but...this was. Ever so much. 300 pages of "But unknown to Dodd, all the rich dudes in the US hated him and were saying things like blah blah blah" and "Martha was having yet another affair" and "Everyone in Berlin seemed happy but THE ATMOSPHERE WAS TENSE" that all led up to a rather anticlimactic Night of the Long Knives. I really just didn't care for anyone in the Dodd family - Dodd himself seemed stuffy and did not, over the course of ...more
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
Be prepared to stay up reading into the wee hours once you get your hands on this book. It held my interest better than any novel, and it filled in all the gaps in my understanding of how Hitler was able to gain so much power so quickly, with so little opposition. Erik Larson used the detailed diaries of William E. Dodd and his daughter Martha to reconstruct "a year in the life" for Americans in Berlin from 1933 to 1934.

William Dodd had no idea what he was saying yes to when President Roosevelt
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Will Byrnes
Jul 18, 2016 Will Byrnes rated it really liked it
In 1933, William Dodd, a Chicago academic is appointed the first American ambassador to Hitler’s Germany. He enters this cauldron accompanied by his family, most particularly by his very modern daughter, Martha. Larson shows us the quickly changing Germany of 1933 through their eyes.

While this is hardly a man-on-the-strasse point of view, a look at the goings on through the experiences of a diplomat and his daughter does get a bit closer to the ground than a more removed historical overview. La
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Jason Koivu
Jul 31, 2014 Jason Koivu rated it really liked it
Want to know what it would be like to try to talk Satan out of being such a dick? Consider reading In the Garden of Beasts!

Erudite but ineffectual historian, Dr. William E. Dodd was chosen to be Ambassador to Germany in the decade leading up to WWII, because President Roosevelt couldn't find anyone else willing to take on the job. In 1933 Dodd was tasked with handling relations with a rabid and deranged political phoenix named Adolf Hitler. Perhaps you've heard of him?

description

Dodd has brought along his
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Lou
Jul 19, 2012 Lou rated it really liked it
This story covers the Dodd family and their lives amongst the beast machine of Hitler's Nazi Germany. Rosevelt asked Dodd to become the American ambassador to Hitler's Germany. At that time Germany was in debt to America and owed loads of money and they looked like they were not going to pay so the need for the ambassador arose. Dodd and his wife agreed to the position and so they left for Berlin, he also invited his two grown children Martha and Bill. The lovely Martha appears in the story ...more
Lyn
Sep 13, 2016 Lyn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
On November 9-10, 1938 Nazi Germany, using SA storm troopers and sympathetic civilians, carried out the Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass, a series of systematic attacks targeting Jewish homes and businesses. Almost 100 people were killed and thousands were wounded and or arrested and sent to concentration camps. United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a harsh condemnation, stating that “he could scarcely believe such a thing could happen in a twentieth century civilization”. ...more
Barb
I loved Erik Larson's 'The Devil in the White City', I found the subject matter fascinating and the writing fabulous. 'In the Garden of Beasts' is the second book I've read by Larson and I'm sorry to say the two don't compare.

I've read a fair number of books about the Holocaust and I did find the political maneuvering described in 'Garden' interesting in a stomach turning, sickening kind of way. But the people in this story never came to life for me, with the exception of Martha Dodd who I didn'
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Anne
Dec 09, 2013 Anne rated it it was ok
Shelves: germany, bio-memoir, wwii
2 1/2 stars "It was okay." That's what two stars mean. IMO, this book is over-hyped. It has some interesting parts, like a bit of an inside view of events and people, both German and American officials and citizens. We see through their eyes how Hitler was able to take more and more power over Germany. There are parts that are interesting, like several appearances of the Jewish Bella Fromm, a popular society journalist of the day. She brought intelligence and wit into this book whenever she ...more
Maureen
Jan 02, 2014 Maureen rated it it was amazing
Eric Larsen has a talent for taking a big event, like the Galveston flood of 1900 (Isaac's Storm), the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 (The Devil in the White City) , or the implementation of the transatlantic cable (Thunderstruck) and combining it with a compelling individual's story. He uses the broader context of historical events and personalizes it, so that, in effect, the parts become greater than the sum of the whole.

In his latest book, In the Garden of Beasts, Larson takes on the rise to po
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Kristine
Aug 14, 2011 Kristine rated it really liked it
UPDATE: OhMyHannah! I finally finished this flipping book. I really appreciated the information and content. As a 30 year old I can look back at the story of the Nazis and say, "What the?!! How could a whole international community even ALLOW this dynasty to begin?" This book will answer that question. The story is of William Dodd, a mild-mannered college professor who is appointed ambassador to Germany after basically everyone else refuses the job. He brings his wife, his college age son, and ...more
Lyn (Readinghearts)
May 11, 2011 Lyn (Readinghearts) rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: lynne, Donna, Shirley, Niecole
Recommended to Lyn (Readinghearts) by: ARC
This is the newest book by the author who wrote The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America. If you are a history aficionado like me, especially if you are intrigued by Germany during the time of the Third Reich, then this is the book for you. Through the eyes of the American ambassador to Berlin and his adult daughter, Mr. Larson shows in stunning fashion how the world was determined to ignore the warning signs, and thus the true intent of Hitler and ...more
Laila
Dec 09, 2013 Laila rated it it was ok
Quite possibly the most boring book written on one of the most riveting times in recent history. I struggled to get through this. Larson raises many good questions, namely WHY was the international community so ready to ignore the ominous rise of Hitler? I still don't know, even though it was explicitly asked several times in the book. Not that there is a definitive answer, but I would have liked to hear his take on it after doing so much research on the subject. I also found it strange that he ...more
Lewis Weinstein
Ambassador Dodd, perhaps one of the most unusual ambassadors to a major country we have ever had, was initially reluctant to criticize the Hitler regime, mainly due to his nostalgic memories of the time he spent studying in Germany decades before. But it didn't take him too long to figure out just how horrible the Nazis already were in 1933 and 1934. Dodd's opponents in the State Department wouldn't listen. President Roosevelt listened, seemed to agree, but did nothing.

It seems clear from this p
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Helen
Dec 09, 2015 Helen rated it it was amazing
A completely riveting book, dealing mostly with one pivotal year, 1933, during the last few ticks of the clock before Hitler seized total power in Germany. Larson parses every faction of the Nazi Party; every evil personality, every evil viewpoint, every indefensible position, in clear, breathlessly thrilling prose.

Roosevelt selects a new Ambassador to Germany, William E. Dodd. As he later finds out, he's not the President's first choice, or his second, or his third. No one wants the job, recogn
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Emily
Jan 06, 2014 Emily rated it liked it
Shelves: 2011
I guess I could call this a group biography of William Dodd, a mild-mannered Midwestern professor who became US Ambassador to Germany in 1933, and his daughter Martha Dodd, a female playboy who quickly became infatuated with the glamour of Berlin nightlife. It makes for a readable story as well as a discussion of international attitudes (and blindspots) towards the Nazis as they consolidated power. Martha's memoir seems to have been particularly revealing in regard to her initial fascination ...more
Mike (the Paladin)
Interesting book with a lot of value. There's a real warning here as well as a look at the rise of Hitler and the Nazis through multiple eyes. I think there are some applicable lessons in this volume that apply to situations that are current.

William Dodd was in many ways a sort of square peg in a round hole when he became America's ambassador to Germany in 1933. He seems (according to Mr. Larson) to have become ambassador because it was a post very few wanted. He had hoped to get an appointment
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Gabi Harris
Jul 26, 2012 Gabi Harris rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Although not Jewish, I grew up among Holocaust survivors and displaced Jews. They could never answer the question: "How could such civilized people commit such atrocities?" and not just in Germany. This book comes a little closer to answering the question. I feel as if the incremental evil perpetrated by the Nazis desensitized people and caused them to ignore it. The infatuation with the Nazis was due to their carefully controlled message and the power of that message (early Martha Dodd). Also, ...more
Cheryl
Jun 18, 2014 Cheryl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Nonfiction readers and lovers of historical reads
There is so much to be said about the careful structuring of this book. The information here was taken from so many memoirs, diaries, and hard research (mostly from the Library of Congress). I couldn't help reading a few pages and envisioning piles of notes, writing cards, and opened books. Yet somehow Larson placed this all within a narrative structure that is easy to follow. He found a story within the details and laid it bare. I've read nonfiction that tends to be too academic or ...more
Jill
Mar 27, 2011 Jill rated it it was amazing
Shelves: best-of-2011
Before you even think of reading Erik Larson’s latest masterwork, clear your calendar, call in sick, send the kids to grandma’s, and place all your evening plans on hold. You will not want to come up for air until you’ve reached the last pages. It’s that good.

In his preface, Larson writes, “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. They remained there for four and a
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Amy
Jun 29, 2016 Amy rated it really liked it
An insider's view of Hitler's rise, In the Garden of Beasts details William E. Dodd's time as the United States Ambassador to Germany from 1933-1937.

Not being an avid non-fiction reader (although I'm getting better about that), it is sometimes hard for me get through a book choc full of dates, geography and personal titles without either being royally confused or painfully bored. I need actual "stories" to flesh out what I'm reading and enable me to have some pictures in my head so I can keep u
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Brandon
Jul 09, 2011 Brandon rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2011
I've said this before, while its important that we learn about this material in school, we're being fed information at a time when we just don't care. I was in class in high school when we were introduced to some of the harsher subject matter of the second World War.. but I just didn't care. As sad as that is, I was more concerned about getting home on Friday afternoon, switching on my Nintendo 64 and enjoying some Goldeneye or whatever the hell I was playing at the time.

World War II had ended
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Melissa (ladybug)
This was an interesting book, but it lacked something more. The book was more about Dodd's daughter Martha and her various love affairs than the political arena of Germany during the early years of Hitler. I had really wanted more about the history during this period then about how Martha couldn't keep her hands (so to speak) to herself. I also found some frighting parts that sort of remind me of how America is going today. Situations where we give up our Constitutional freedoms for something ...more
Sketchbook
Sep 16, 2013 Sketchbook rated it liked it
A scary reminder that US foreign policy is consistently wrong. Let's start with Hitler, as does this book. Then, we know, kum Stalin, Vietnam, Iraq... next up?

Ambassador Dodd tried to sound alarms in 1933; no one listened or cared. His daughter Martha became a Russian spy (1937), but you won't learn this in Erik Larson's selective view of the world. Why not? Graham Greene warned about American naivete in his 1955 novel, "The Quiet American."

Maybe the motto "In God We Trust" needs a rewrite.



Mike
Oct 21, 2016 Mike rated it really liked it
Giving this one 4 Stars for the ominous picture painted of Germany in 1933-34 as Hitler and the Nazis take and consolidate power. There are many excellent reviews and I won't try to add much. Here are two good ones:
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

What stood out for me:

--The book covers only July, 1933 - late 1934 in any depth, although Ambassador Dodd served until the end of 1937. I think I would have liked more on the later years.

--The parallel st
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Ashley
May 26, 2011 Ashley rated it really liked it
I wasn't expecting to enjoy this book as much as I did. I'd had some conceptual problems with Larson's previous book The Devil in the White City . I felt he'd found three really interesting stories that happened to occur during the same time and in the same place, but which were otherwise unrelated, and had smooshed them together. Smooshing things together was never an issue with In the Garden of Beasts, which is one of those rare historical books that have the tension and atmosphere of a novel ...more
Kiri
Dec 25, 2014 Kiri rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Slightly stumped as to what to say in a review of this that hasn't already been typed. I could go on about how well written it is, how it engages the reader, draws you in, ramble on about the research that was obviously done to pen this. But it's already been remarked upon, I simply don't see the point in reiterating what you've most likely read already.

If your thinking about reading this - do so. The likelihood of your being disappointed in it is quite minimal. I can say that every year I sele
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Elaine
May 15, 2016 Elaine rated it liked it
Shelves: 2012
This is not a serious or original work of history, per se, rather a somewhat novelistic re-telling of the events leading up to the Night of the Long Knives, seen through the lens of the story of the perhaps courageous but radically unprepared U.S. Ambassador to Germany, a Mr. Dodd, and his promiscuous oblivious daughter, Martha, who slept with Nazis, Soviets, Carl Sandburg and Thomas Wolfe, among others.

The portentuous overtones make you think the book is going somewhere - which is not to say t
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Jason
Jul 10, 2015 Jason rated it liked it
Being that this was my second time reading this, it hasn't lost any of its ability to chill me as was I believe probably the author's original intent!

William Dodd was one of the most unusual diplomatic/ambassadorial choices in American History. Having no prior experience in matters of state (he was previously a professor at the University of Chicago) he singlehandedly attempted to defuse (by dint of protocol and standard reasoning)the emerging Nazi threat which permeated the city of Berlin and w
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DROPPING OUT
Jun 02, 2012 DROPPING OUT rated it it was amazing
Larson, in my opinion, hit a home-run with this book. Reconstructing a historical context is never easy, and the kicker is that unless one were there, how could one know how accurate and correct it is. Moreover, one person's perception might now be another's. That said, I repeat, I feel Larson hit a home run.

Talk about being a fly on the wall! An honorable academic, albeit frugal, accepts an ambassadorship that apparently none of the otherwise qualified candidates was willing to accept. Dodd was
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Erik Larson, author of the international bestseller Isaac's Storm, was nominated for a National Book Award for The Devil in the White City, which also won an Edgar Award for fact-crime writing. His latest book, In the Garden of Beasts: Love Terror and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin, has been acquired for publication in 20 countries and optioned by Tom Hanks for a feature film. Erik is a for ...more
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“No system which implies control by privilege seekers has ever ended in any other way than collapse.” 15 likes
“The smell of peace is abroad, the air is cold, the skies are brittle, and the leaves have finally fallen. I wear a pony coat with skin like watered silk and muff of lamb. My fingers lie in depths of warmth. I have a jacket of silver sequins and heavy bracelets of rich corals. I wear about my neck a triple thread-like chain of lapis lazulis and pearls. On my face is softness and content like a veil of golden moonlight. And I have never in all my lives been so lonely.” 12 likes
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