The book is about William Dodd, who leaves his faculty position at the University of Chicago in 1933 to accept the position of U.S. Ambassador to Germany. The family, including Dodd’s impetuous twenty-something daughter Martha, a budding journalist, moves to Berlin. At first the Dodds think criticisms about the Nazi regime are overblown, but soon they become aware of what is taking place around them.
Much of the story is about Martha’s experiences (she later wrote a memoir) as she socializes in Berlin with both Nazis and communists. Even though Martha was a bit obtuse and not particularly likable, her point of view livened up the book considerably when the foreign policy became a little dry. The "American diplomat inside Germany” aspect of this story adds a great deal that is lacking in most other books from this period. There are several of Erik Larson’s trademark one-sentence gems that have absolutely nothing to do with the story, yet add so much to it.
The great passion of Dodd's life was to write a multi-volume book called the Rise and Fall of the Old South. It was hinted that Dodd considered that a kinder, gentler time. I would have been interested in hearing more about whether or not he grasped the parallels.