Douglas Perry'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
Jan 27, 12

bookshelves: nonfiction
Read from January 11 to 27, 2012

My failure rate with Erik Larson was 100%. Everyone I knew said they couldn't put "The Devil in the White City" down. I put it down. I also couldn't finish "Thunderstruck." Its characters just didn't engage me. Still, I decided to try Larson's latest, "In the Garden of Beasts" -- and this time we had a winner. I made it to the end.

The book chronicles the experiences of the Family Dodd during Papa William's tenure as ambassador to Germany during the early years of the Nazi regime. Larson particularly zeroes in on the ambassador's sexually promiscuous daughter, Martha, who bedded down with pretty much every Nazi and Soviet official she bumped into at diplomatic functions.

"In the Garden of Beasts" satisfyingly captures a civilized people's descent into madness, as told through the Dodd family's eyes -- appalled outsiders who happened to have an inside view of the Nazi stranglehold on power.

The one problem with the book (and it's not a small one): There's no plot. It's not a biography, so one expects some sort of narrative through line. Alas not. The Nazis do this, the Nazis do that, and we read about it through Martha's diaries and William's diplomatic cables. And then the book ends.

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