Mary Anne'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
Dec 29, 11

bookshelves: kindled, non-fiction, book-club
Read from December 05 to 28, 2011

As someone who is not particularly interested in WWII or the greater topic of American history, I did really enjoy this book. My book club is reading it as a result of many members highly recommending one of this author's other works, Devil In The White City. I like the vantage point of this book, in that it follows the lives and actions of the American ambassador and his daughter in Berlin. (The title of the book, by the way, is quite accurate, though I'm not sure about the subtitle.) The text is based on a good deal of research, including but not limited to correspondence from, to, and about the Dodd family.

What I really liked about the book was the perspective. How does a society turn into WWII Germany? How could it have happened, and what the heck was going on here when all the badness happened? I feel as though the book sufficiently deals with this issue. Sure, it's not action-packed, but it's that sort of political atmosphere that proceeds a war. I was particularly surprised at the reaction of the United States and many representatives on their position regarding "the Jewish Problem" that was not entirely isolated in Germany. Indeed, most of the unrest and terror came about for people who weren't necessarily Jewish but did not agree with Nazism. It's striking to read this book given today's world situation.

A major culminating point of the book is the actions on June 30th, 1934. Up until this point, the author is forever setting up foreshadowing hints that, in the end, are horrendously unsatisfying. The emphasis on the date is very clear and appropriate. But after that point, we're rushed through 1937 and then to the deaths of each of the Dodds.

In a way, I like that the emphasis is so heavily placed on the Dodds. I can't imagine other texts focus on such seemingly insignificant characters in such a huge historical moment. But to be honest, (perhaps it's the fiction reader in me), I don't really give a fig about Dodd himself, and I care even less about his daughter, Martha.

I also struggle to say whether or not the book is too long. It took me forever only because of my methods, but I don't think the book is all that long. However, I didn't like how the book ended. We spent over half the book in the years 1933-1934, and there's a rush and then it ends. I wish the author had either a.) ended it with Dodd's return in 1937, or b.) some other ending.

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22.0% "Good read so far. I'm invested."
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