I had SUCH a sense of dread in my gut the whole time I was reading this book. Erik Larson traces Adolf Hitler's rise to power as seen through the eyes of William Dodd, the American ambassador to Germany from 1933 through 1937. Dodd was a sort of last-ditch selection for the post after a number of other people turned it down; he was hoping for a quiet diplomatic posting that would allow him to finish his long-planned book Old South, and instead found himself in the middle of the rise of the Third Reich, entertaining Nazi officials and meeting with Hitler himself on a number of occasions.
Knowing full well where the story will go makes for compelling reading. Dodd, nearly alone among American officials, recognized Hitler as the tyrant that he was, but his warnings about the chancellor, his ambitions, and just how bad things were in Germany fell largely on deaf ears back in Washington. A prim, studious, sort of puritanical college professor, he didn't fit into the State Department's "boys' club" and it seemed as though his superiors in Washington concerned themselves more with his refusal to live an ostentatious life, and less with what he was actually reporting from his post. If he'd been able to convince Roosevelt to take a less isolationist stance, how might history have changed?
The most interesting character in the book, to my mind, is Dodd's daughter Martha, who accompanied her parents to Berlin and threw herself into powerful social circles, having romances with (among others) the head of the Gestapo and a Soviet embassy worker who, in the end, was revealed to be a spy for the precursor of the KGB. Truthfully, I found it sort of amazing that she didn't get herself -- or her family -- into more trouble than she did.
As with all of Larson's books, this is exquisitely researched (I always want to go bury myself in an archive somewhere after reading something of his) and compellingly rendered. Definitely recommended.