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

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson
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's review
Jun 14, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: history
Read from June 14 to 18, 2011

A friend and I were reading this book at the same time. Our text messages kind of flew fast and furious for a while. On many points we agree:

The book is modestly written, inferior to his other books, and undeserving of so much praise. I thought I was alone thinking this not very interesting given the subject matter. The story of the U.S. ambassador William Dodd appointed to Germany in 1933 should be perversely fascinating even though the man himself was apparently dull as dirt.

What my friend and I agree on vehemently is that the author missed his mark completely. Dodd’s daughter Martha is much, much, much more interesting. Her interaction with the top echelon of the Nazi party was more intricate and involved than the ambassador himself. It’s HER story! She was having sex all over Germany and Russia with a bunch of week know players.

Other characters, like Dodd’s wife, and son, are hardly mentioned at all. After a while you forget they exist.

I know life usually doesn’t have a spectacular ending like a symphony, or movie or novel—but for Christ sake, if you are going to spend an inordinate amount of time researching and writing, at least make sure the story has a climax. Yah, yah, I know, Hitler invades Poland. But in this account the story is virtually over before that happens. Dodd retires to his farm in Virginia (or wherever the hell it was) and never finishes the history of the Old South he’d been writing for five decades.

‘Isaac’s Storm’ had a whopper of an ending. Remember? This also had a kicker: global war. But we are left without the conclusion we know is there.

The research is extensive and fascinating. And there is a certain gnawing in your stomach because you know what’s coming. You know the concentration camps are what the Nazi’s say they are. You know why Hitler is avoiding all international political commitments. You know why the SS are taping all the phones. You know the United States government also knows these things. Give us something we don’t know. Like a reason to write this book.

A book well written doesn’t mean it’s excellent by nature of getting the words in the right place.

I wanted this to grab and shake me all over. Mostly, it bored me.

(Don't hate me Erik--I liked your other books.)
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