"In The Garden Of Beasts" I found to be less engaging than some of Larson's other works. I rate this at or a little below "Thunderstruck", and still h...more"In The Garden Of Beasts" I found to be less engaging than some of Larson's other works. I rate this at or a little below "Thunderstruck", and still hold "Devil In the White City" to be the best of his recent books.
One main reason I didn't care for this work is that I didn't get a real sense of change or development on the part of the subjects of the story. Martha, I suppose, does undergo a change as she turns from being somewhat pro-Nazi at the beginning of the book to anti-Nazi at the end. But her string of marriages and affairs, from capitalists to Nazis to communists, wasn't engaging. William Dodd was presented as being too intellectual to be a good ambassador, and comes across as ineffectual. Even though one might sympathize with his position, and even admire the disapproving stance he took towards the Nazis, in the context of the story it made him a weak character. Overall I found little reason to care about either William or Martha Dodd.
That weakness of William and Martha, as characters, might have been overlooked if the other half of the story was stronger. Not that the rise of Nazi Germany is uncompelling. Rather, we know from history that the time this book covers is such a small slice of a larger story. We know that World War II and the final solution are coming in the years ahead, so the entire presentation of the rise of the Nazi regime feels like an extended exercise in foreshadowing, with no pay-off.
I also found the book to be somewhat ill-paced towards the end. The natural climax of the book is the Night of the Long Knives, when Hitler and Goering purged the SA. But after that, when the author started discussing Dodd's eventual dismissal as ambassador, the pace of the book changed. It went from the dense action of the purge in one chapter to leaping several years in a single paragraph in the next chapter. It seemed very discontinuous. It felt like a stumble. I think if Larson had simply put a section break after the purge, leaving Dodd's growing frustration and ineffectiveness, his dismissal, and return to civilian life in the final section, the book would have had a more natural ending. As it stands, the ending felt weak.
Despite all that, I think Larson is a great writer. So while I can't heartily recommend this book, neither can I give it a full thumbs-down. In short, if you are already a fan of Larson's work, or if you are *really* interested in that era in history, give this a read. Otherwise, start with "Devil In The White City".(less)
An OK read. Larson is a masterful author, but I don't think his subject matter here is as intriguing as in some of his other books.
For most of the boo...moreAn OK read. Larson is a masterful author, but I don't think his subject matter here is as intriguing as in some of his other books.
For most of the book there is little or no connection between the two story lines (inventor Marconi and murderer Crippen) but the author successfully brings them together in the end. I found the Marconi storyline more interesting early on, with his initial discovery of radio telegraphy. (But then, I am an engineer.) As Marconi became more entangled in business issues, and struggled with trans-Atlantic transmission, his tale became less interesting. Conversely, Crippen's story was mundane early on, but became more intriguing once the murder mystery was in full swing. As a result, the middle portion of the book was the hardest, when neither storyline was at its peak.
Larson's Devil In The White City was better.(less)
An decent book that covers the story of what is arguably the greatest sports rivalry ever: Michigan versus Ohio State. If you are a fan of college foo...moreAn decent book that covers the story of what is arguably the greatest sports rivalry ever: Michigan versus Ohio State. If you are a fan of college football, or of either of those teams in particular, you should read this book.
Although the author is studiously neutral in tone and bias throughout the book, I did find there to be somewhat more Ohio State content than Michigan content. However, given that the rivalry is arguably more important to Ohio State than Michigan, perhaps there is merely more source material on the Ohio State side.
And while there is a lot of good content between the covers, I thought the text could have used some tighter editing. The flow of the book seemed confused, with perhaps too much jumping back-and-forth between eras.
I found the best part of the book to be Chapter 4: Two Men and a Rivalry. That chapter covers the Bo versus Woody years. Having grown up during those years, I find that to be the essence of the rivalry. If you read nothing else of this book, read that chapter.
The first half of the book was intriguing to me, as an engineer. It dealt with the pre-planning on the part of Great Britain prior to the Battle of Br...moreThe first half of the book was intriguing to me, as an engineer. It dealt with the pre-planning on the part of Great Britain prior to the Battle of Britain and the design and engineering of the generation of planes that would fight the battle, on both sides. About midway through the book shifted to more of a political/logistical tale and became far less interesting. In the end, the book was due back at the library before I had completed it, so I returned it and have not been inclined to check it out again to finish it.(less)
A very well written account of the author's travels by train across Asia and back. The book focuses on the author's reactions to the countries and cul...moreA very well written account of the author's travels by train across Asia and back. The book focuses on the author's reactions to the countries and cultures he passes through, particularly to the culture of "train life" or "the bazaar", as per the title.
Some reviewers have categorized the author's approach and style as (overly) negative, ala Bill Bryson. I found this book to be much more enjoyable than Bryson's works. To me, Bryson's negativity has always seemed to be just a hook on which he hangs his humor, his way of emphasising his "fish out of water" status while travelling. I found Theroux to wear something more of a reporter's hat. Yes, he might react negatively to certain aspects of the worlds he encounters, but always, I thought, in a respectful way. His negativity was never to make fun, but to seriously criticize. And he doesn't do that much of it. I certainly didn't find him to be "contemptuous," as other reviewers have suggested.
I don't think this book would serve as much of a guide for the modern traveller, as it was written over 30 years ago. But for this armchair traveller who longs for far away and exotic places, it fits the bill. (less)