The premise of this book is excellent - an American academic is named ambassador to Berlin in the early 1930s after Hitler's rise to chancellor. This...moreThe premise of this book is excellent - an American academic is named ambassador to Berlin in the early 1930s after Hitler's rise to chancellor. This places an absolutely green diplomat as the US representative in a city that is about to wreak havoc across Europe and attempt to wipe out an entire race of people. Needless to say, he's not great at his job.
Ambassador Dodd takes his wife and two adult children, Bill and Martha to Berlin with him - calling this the experience of a lifetime. In reality, he entered into the diplomatic corps hoping to have more free time to dedicate to his multi-volume work on the history of the American South. It begins to be impossible not to roll one's eyes at the repeated mention of Dodd's beloved "Old South" and his irresponsible folly in taking on an ambassadorship as a means to gain free time.
Much of the story centers on Martha, who eventually sees the light, but begins her journey simply infatuated with the lovely progress the Nazi party is making and all the well-mannered, interesting people she meets at parties. She becomes romantically entangled with a fair number of these gentlemen, including the head of the Gestapo, a Russian who isn't at all what he seems and practically everyone else who crosses her path. Oh Martha. Have some self-respect.
The premise is interesting but the telling is quite drawn out and I struggled to relate to these characters who were doing so little and behaving so foolishly when I know all the time what's coming and how incredibly world-changing it's going to be. For example, Ambassador Dodd dislikes the Nazis and registers his disagreement with their violence and their politics by not going to their dinner parties. You tell 'em, Dodd!
There are interesting details and glimpses into life in the Nazi ranks and as a German citizen at this time in history, but as a whole I found that the book dragged and the characters were beyond maddening. Still, Erik Larson is a good writer and I'll always be interested to learn about his latest subject.(less)
Nonfiction can be very dry on audio, but Devil in the White City is a great example of an engaging nonfiction audiobook. The storytelling manages to b...moreNonfiction can be very dry on audio, but Devil in the White City is a great example of an engaging nonfiction audiobook. The storytelling manages to be in-depth and detailed without losing the interest of the audience.
Also, I'm a scaredy-cat. Like crazy. But somehow, this is a detailed story about a serial killer that I found interesting instead of terrifying.
The backdrop of the Chicago World's Fair is fascinating in its own way, directing the reader's attention to the suspense of accomplishing the huge ordeal of building the White City in a limited time period.(less)
Now that I'm on book #3, I thought it was time I found out how to properly pronounce the names of people and places in this book. The narrator is abso...moreNow that I'm on book #3, I thought it was time I found out how to properly pronounce the names of people and places in this book. The narrator is absolutely musical, I love to hear her say "Mma" with a slight hum and "Rra" with a perfect roll. (less)
This was a great story - the author did a great job laying the foundation of facts, setting the stage for the murder on which the story hinges, and bu...moreThis was a great story - the author did a great job laying the foundation of facts, setting the stage for the murder on which the story hinges, and building up reader suspense.
Summerscale did a good job exploring various related tangents on the birth of detective fiction, the founding of the British police and the living habits of Victorian families.
I appreciated the details she included, like the origins of the term "clue;" those additions reminded me of the lovely epic footnotes of Simon Winchester.(less)
This story was interesting and educational, but I felt it dragged in places. It reminded me of Johnny Tremain, but with racial issues instead of appre...moreThis story was interesting and educational, but I felt it dragged in places. It reminded me of Johnny Tremain, but with racial issues instead of apprenticeship issues. I was intrigued in the story, but found the telling a little trying. (less)
Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett was a classic Victorian gentleman explorer. He was built to explore the Amazon - proving immune to malaria and the vari...moreColonel Percy Harrison Fawcett was a classic Victorian gentleman explorer. He was built to explore the Amazon - proving immune to malaria and the various other tropical fevers the plague Westerners there. He takes small parties carrying limited equipment, he makes friends with the Indians and he can live off the land. He never says die. He's awesome.
He's also, well, a little nuts. Not so much in the beginning, but after WWI, he starts to feel his age a little more, it's harder to get funding and a millionaire rival begins exploring roughly the same region of the jungle as Fawcett. He becomes more reliant on spiritualism and more obsessed with the idea of proving his theory of Z, an El Dorado-like city deep in the Amazon.
His expeditions, his disappearance and the multitude of failed investigations and missions to find him make for great storytelling. Author Grann does a fine job of combing through his history, connecting with his relatives and parceling out the interesting details throughout the book. I found Grann's own trip into the Amazon a little unsatisfying - it also attempts to tie up the mystery of Z a little too neatly.
Neat and tidy as it may be, I do like the explanation of Z and the archeological evidence and expertise behind it. It means Fawcett wasn't going entirely mad when he pored over old legends of El Dorado, but I think it does mean that he never, never would have been able to identify what was left as what he was looking for, either. (less)