Erin'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
Jul 10, 2011

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Read from July 10 to 17, 2011

How can the dawn of World War II be boring?!

While I liked Ambassador Dodd (he had a nerdy, "Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch" air about him) and found seeing the start of the Nazi threat through his eyes informing, the writing drove me nuts. For those of us who can only view history from this side, it is sometimes hard to imagine how and why the world stood by and ignored the Nazi threat. Seeing things through the eyes of someone living through it provides some explanation to our questions. However, it is worth saying that while initial naivety can be understood, it is impossible to grasp why the world continued to ignore the threat as the evidence piled up, up to and including the Night of the Long Knives. The reader can relate to Ambassador Dodd's frustration. His daughter Martha, on the other hand, is someone I found most unlikable. I suppose she was supposed to be some free-spirited American coming of age in Europe, I just thought she was a stupid (rather than naive) tart. But I suppose her fondness for doing every available (and some unavailable) guy in Germany does help us get to know some interesting characters...

Sadly, while the story and people are interesting, the writing is not. The two things that bothered me the most were a) Larson's inability to distinguish between what details were necessary and which were not; and 2) his fondness for repetition, both of details and stylistic choices. How many times do we have to read that the tension in the air mirrored the hot, humid weather?!

And while the title refers to "an American family," the book rarely mentions Bill, Jr. and ??? can't even remember Mrs. Dodd's name!

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