"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)