Patrick'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
Sep 19, 11

This book was disappointing after two other Larson efforts that I loved, The Devil in the White City and Isaac's Storm. Larson takes up an interesting subject that I didn't know much about: the Nazi regime before WWII. The descriptions of the early Nazi party leaders and their machinations are quite interesting. Also, the systematic denigration of Jews that the Nazi party was able to enact was horrifying. I obviously know the final outcome of these policies, but reading about their insidious beginnings and how they were not opposed by Germans or the world community was interesting. The Nazis began by slowly taking away small rights and freedoms, that by themselves could be construed as not too damning, however by the end of this process Jews ceased to be viewed as humans in Germany. Learning about American reaction to this policy was also eye opening. While Jewish groups in America were up in arms, the government would not condemn any of these laws, or the Nazi government in general, until it was much too late. This was due to a heavy isolationist bent after WW I and a pretty embarrassing anit-semitic sentiment in the upper echelons of the government.
All that being said the main characters of the story, American Ambassador to Germany Dodd and his family, were not very exciting. Ambassador Dodd buys into appeasing Germany for a while and even when he begins to warn America about what is actually happening, his superiors tell him to do nothing, which he does with aplomb. The other Dodd that Larson makes a main character is the Ambassador's 20 something daughter, but the only thing interesting about her is her impressive list of lovers that contains many Nazi party officials and a Soviet dignitary. These characters brought very little to the table. In the other two books mentioned above Larson took an important historical event and married it to an equally interesting (if terrifying in Devil in the White City) character and created wonderful narratives. In this work, Larson's characters don't live up to the history.

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