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In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin

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3.84  ·  Rating details ·  163,357 ratings  ·  14,778 reviews
The time is 1933, the place, Berlin, when William E. Dodd becomes America's first ambassador to Hitler's Germany in a year that proved to be a turning point in history.

A mild-mannered professor from Chicago, Dodd brings along his wife, son, and flamboyant daughter, Martha. At first Martha is entranced by the parties and pomp, and the handsome young men of the Third Reich w

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Hardcover, 448 pages
Published May 10th 2011 by Crown
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Bob "Mundane" is not a term I would use though I agree the beginning may not be as gripping as a good Tom Clancy novel. But from my perspective, the book …more"Mundane" is not a term I would use though I agree the beginning may not be as gripping as a good Tom Clancy novel. But from my perspective, the book does a masterful job in evoking the tension, intrigue, and romance of Berlin in the 1930's.

My marker of a good book is that when I finish reading it, I spend hours doing internet searches on the protagonists. I did this with Beasts, and discovered that in the last year the remains of Goering's widow were discovered at his estate and her identity confirmed through DNA evidence. You'll never get this satisfaction with a fictional novel!

As a a reader of historical non-fiction books -- I don't read novels (Tom Clancy or otherwise), and won't weigh in on apples to oranges comparisons. But I have read a dozen books on the history of Chicago and their worlds fairs, and can say that Devil in The White City is a first class work of history.

In summary, I find Larsen's books refreshing in comparison to the dry, overly footnoted fare we usually get from academic historians. Larsen's gift is his ability to maintain historical accuracy while injecting an emotional element that immerses one totally into the time and place.

I look forward to his next project!(less)
Equine I read this when I was fifteen or sixteen, and really enjoyed it. Depends more on the individual in question than anything else.

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Kemper
Jul 23, 2011 rated it liked it
Picture Principal Skinner from The Simpsons and Paris Hilton going to Nazi Germany, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what this book is like.

I was split on Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City because I found the half of the book about the 1893 Chicago’s World Fair incredibly interesting but thought the other half about serial killer H.H. Holmes to be just another true crime gore fest. Then in Thunderstruck he again gave us some nice pop history with the story of Marconi and the inventi
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Corina
May 30, 2011 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Erik Larsen fans and/or WWII buffs
Recommended to Corina by: Mom
I didn't think you could make the rise of Hitler boring, but...this was. Ever so much. 300 pages of "But unknown to Dodd, all the rich dudes in the US hated him and were saying things like blah blah blah" and "Martha was having yet another affair" and "Everyone in Berlin seemed happy but THE ATMOSPHERE WAS TENSE" that all led up to a rather anticlimactic Night of the Long Knives. I really just didn't care for anyone in the Dodd family - Dodd himself seemed stuffy and did not, over the course of ...more
Will Byrnes
Mar 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
In 1933, William Dodd, a Chicago academic is appointed the first American ambassador to Hitler’s Germany. He enters this cauldron accompanied by his family, most particularly by his very modern daughter, Martha. Larson shows us the quickly changing Germany of 1933 through their eyes.

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Erik Larson - image from University of Washington - photo by Mary Cairns

While this is hardly a man-on-the-strasse point of view, a look at the goings on through the experiences of a diplomat and his daughter does get
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Jeanette (Again)
Be prepared to stay up reading into the wee hours once you get your hands on this book. It held my interest better than any novel, and it filled in all the gaps in my understanding of how Hitler was able to gain so much power so quickly, with so little opposition. Erik Larson used the detailed diaries of William E. Dodd and his daughter Martha to reconstruct "a year in the life" for Americans in Berlin from 1933 to 1934.

William Dodd had no idea what he was saying yes to when President Roosevelt
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Lewis Weinstein
Ambassador Dodd, perhaps one of the most unusual ambassadors to a major country we have ever had, was initially reluctant to criticize the Hitler regime, mainly due to his nostalgic memories of the time he spent studying in Germany decades before. But it didn't take him too long to figure out just how horrible the Nazis already were in 1933 and 1934. Dodd's opponents in the State Department wouldn't listen. President Roosevelt listened, seemed to agree, but did nothing.

It seems clear from this p
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Lyn
Apr 19, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
On November 9-10, 1938 Nazi Germany, using SA storm troopers and sympathetic civilians, carried out the Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass, a series of systematic attacks targeting Jewish homes and businesses. Almost 100 people were killed and thousands were wounded and or arrested and sent to concentration camps. United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a harsh condemnation, stating that “he could scarcely believe such a thing could happen in a twentieth century civilization”. ...more
Beata
Aug 08, 2020 rated it liked it
A quite interesting non-fiction which presents Ambassador William E. Dodd's difficult diplomatic mission during the birth of the Nazi regime in 1933. Mr Dodd and his family witnessed some of the most horrific events and which the ambassador reported even though his memoranda were not taken as a warning. The book offers precisely what the title suggests, although there is much too much Martha's love life and the family was not an ordinary one. A good insight into the way foreigners perceived the ...more
Jason Koivu
Aug 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
Want to know what it would be like to try to talk Satan out of being such a dick? Consider reading In the Garden of Beasts!

Erudite but ineffectual historian, Dr. William E. Dodd was chosen to be Ambassador to Germany in the decade leading up to WWII, because President Roosevelt couldn't find anyone else willing to take on the job. In 1933 Dodd was tasked with handling relations with a rabid and deranged political phoenix named Adolf Hitler. Perhaps you've heard of him?

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Dodd has brought along his
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Anne
Aug 20, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: germany, bio-memoir, ww2
This book is over-hyped. That is probably because Erik Larson is a very good writer and has a good reputation. But his subjects, the Dodd family , are not worthy of his skills, so this review says more about them that the author.

This book has some interesting parts, like a bit of an inside view of events and people, both German and American officials and citizens. We see through their eyes how Hitler was able to take more and more power over Germany. Also, there are several appearances of the J
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Lou
May 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
This story covers the Dodd family and their lives amongst the beast machine of Hitler's Nazi Germany. Rosevelt asked Dodd to become the American ambassador to Hitler's Germany. At that time Germany was in debt to America and owed loads of money and they looked like they were not going to pay so the need for the ambassador arose. Dodd and his wife agreed to the position and so they left for Berlin, he also invited his two grown children Martha and Bill. The lovely Martha appears in the story quit ...more
Madeline
May 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
A few months ago, I finally figured out how to borrow audiobooks from the library and listen to them on my phone, which has been great for both my commute and my to-read list (lately I don't seem to have the time or inclination to sit down and read books for long periods of time, so this is helping me feel less useless). Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts was one of the first books I downloaded, and I listened to it in February of 2017.

Listening to a book detailing the slow rise of a fascist
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Barb
I loved Erik Larson's 'The Devil in the White City', I found the subject matter fascinating and the writing fabulous. 'In the Garden of Beasts' is the second book I've read by Larson and I'm sorry to say the two don't compare.

I've read a fair number of books about the Holocaust and I did find the political maneuvering described in 'Garden' interesting in a stomach turning, sickening kind of way. But the people in this story never came to life for me, with the exception of Martha Dodd who I didn'
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Maureen
May 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Eric Larsen has a talent for taking a big event, like the Galveston flood of 1900 (Isaac's Storm), the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 (The Devil in the White City) , or the implementation of the transatlantic cable (Thunderstruck) and combining it with a compelling individual's story. He uses the broader context of historical events and personalizes it, so that, in effect, the parts become greater than the sum of the whole.

In his latest book, In the Garden of Beasts, Larson takes on the rise to po
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Kristine
Mar 31, 2011 rated it really liked it
UPDATE: OhMyHannah! I finally finished this flipping book. I really appreciated the information and content. As a 30 year old I can look back at the story of the Nazis and say, "What the?!! How could a whole international community even ALLOW this dynasty to begin?" This book will answer that question. The story is of William Dodd, a mild-mannered college professor who is appointed ambassador to Germany after basically everyone else refuses the job. He brings his wife, his college age son, and h ...more
Laila
Aug 06, 2012 rated it it was ok
Quite possibly the most boring book written on one of the most riveting times in recent history. I struggled to get through this. Larson raises many good questions, namely WHY was the international community so ready to ignore the ominous rise of Hitler? I still don't know, even though it was explicitly asked several times in the book. Not that there is a definitive answer, but I would have liked to hear his take on it after doing so much research on the subject. I also found it strange that he ...more
Lyn (Readinghearts)
Mar 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: lynne, Donna, Shirley, Niecole
Recommended to Lyn (Readinghearts) by: ARC
This is the newest book by the author who wrote The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America. If you are a history aficionado like me, especially if you are intrigued by Germany during the time of the Third Reich, then this is the book for you. Through the eyes of the American ambassador to Berlin and his adult daughter, Mr. Larson shows in stunning fashion how the world was determined to ignore the warning signs, and thus the true intent of Hitler and ...more
Ashley Marie
The amount of cautionary stories with the backdrop of Nazi Germany or WWII in general is astronomical. We all know we don't want something like this to happen again. And yet, to read something like this and realize that all the warning signs were clearly present and just as clearly ignored is what infuriates me. People saw what was happening and brushed it off, assuming that somehow things would stop before they went too far. Did they have too much faith in the system? And what exactly is the sy ...more
Mike (the Paladin)
Interesting book with a lot of value. There's a real warning here as well as a look at the rise of Hitler and the Nazis through multiple eyes. I think there are some applicable lessons in this volume that apply to situations that are current.

William Dodd was in many ways a sort of square peg in a round hole when he became America's ambassador to Germany in 1933. He seems (according to Mr. Larson) to have become ambassador because it was a post very few wanted. He had hoped to get an appointment
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Emily
Jul 05, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2011
I guess I could call this a group biography of William Dodd, a mild-mannered Midwestern professor who became US Ambassador to Germany in 1933, and his daughter Martha Dodd, a female playboy who quickly became infatuated with the glamour of Berlin nightlife. It makes for a readable story as well as a discussion of international attitudes (and blindspots) towards the Nazis as they consolidated power. Martha's memoir seems to have been particularly revealing in regard to her initial fascination wit ...more
Joe
Dec 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
It’s 1933. William E. Dodd – a name that most likely doesn’t ring an historical bell - was 64 years old, a transplanted southerner and the History Department Head at the University of Chicago. Dodd was feeling his age and also a little sorry for himself, having not realized his life’s ambitions, particularly the completion of a history of the antebellum South he’s dreamed of writing. His phone rings and it’s the new President, Franklin Roosevelt, requesting that he take the job of Ambassador to ...more
Amy
Jun 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
An insider's view of Hitler's rise, In the Garden of Beasts details William E. Dodd's time as the United States Ambassador to Germany from 1933-1937.

Not being an avid non-fiction reader (although I'm getting better about that), it is sometimes hard for me get through a book choc full of dates, geography and personal titles without either being royally confused or painfully bored. I need actual "stories" to flesh out what I'm reading and enable me to have some pictures in my head so I can keep u
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Gabi Harris
Sep 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Although not Jewish, I grew up among Holocaust survivors and displaced Jews. They could never answer the question: "How could such civilized people commit such atrocities?" and not just in Germany. This book comes a little closer to answering the question. I feel as if the incremental evil perpetrated by the Nazis desensitized people and caused them to ignore it. The infatuation with the Nazis was due to their carefully controlled message and the power of that message (early Martha Dodd). Also, ...more
Helen
Oct 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A completely riveting book, dealing mostly with one pivotal year, 1933, during the last few ticks of the clock before Hitler seized total power in Germany. Larson parses every faction of the Nazi Party; every evil personality, every evil viewpoint, every indefensible position, in clear, breathlessly thrilling prose.

Roosevelt selects a new Ambassador to Germany, William E. Dodd. As he later finds out, he's not the President's first choice, or his second, or his third. No one wants the job, recogn
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Rick Riordan
Nov 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
a fascinating story about the American ambassador to Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Hindsight is twenty-twenty, but this book does a good job recapturing a time when everyone was desperate to believe that the Nazis actually wanted peace. The book shows how the ambassador's idealistic young daughter initially bought into Hitler's charisma, but soon realized the truth. A chilling and riveting story, In the Garden of Beasts shows how an entire nation of otherwise reasonable people can be seduced by an ...more
Melanie
Nov 27, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: susans-book
This was a very interesting read for me that read almost like fiction. I learned new things about Hitler and Germany. The book takes place just as Hitler is gaining power. The author uses excerpts from people's diaries which gave me a real feel for the time as opposed to just reciting facts. A significant part of the book is about Dodd's daughter Martha. She had many "friends", Nazi's Russians, artists, journalists, etc. To quote a GR friend "she was a trip"! Recommended!
Jill
Mar 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: best-of-2011
Before you even think of reading Erik Larson’s latest masterwork, clear your calendar, call in sick, send the kids to grandma’s, and place all your evening plans on hold. You will not want to come up for air until you’ve reached the last pages. It’s that good.

In his preface, Larson writes, “Once, at the dawn of a very dark time, an American father and daughter found themselves suddenly transported from their snug home in Chicago to the heart of Hitler’s Berlin. They remained there for four and a
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Cheryl
Aug 05, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Nonfiction readers and lovers of historical reads
There is so much to be said about the careful structuring of this book. The information here was taken from so many memoirs, diaries, and hard research (mostly from the Library of Congress). I couldn't help reading a few pages and envisioning piles of notes, writing cards, and opened books. Yet somehow Larson placed this all within a narrative structure that is easy to follow. He found a story within the details and laid it bare. I've read nonfiction that tends to be too academic or matter-of-fa ...more
Bam cooks the books ;-)
*3.5 stars.

William E. Dodd was not President Roosevelt's first choice for his ambassador to Germany in 1933 and many in Washington thought the mild-mannered college history professor was ill-suited for the job. He wasn't rich and flamboyant; he wasn't a member of the "pretty good club" of Harvard-educated career diplomats; and he had no talent for playing political games. He was however a "pleasing, interesting person with a fine sense of humor and simple modesty." He felt his job was to be a r
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Diane S ☔
Mar 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nfr-2020
Thoughts soon.
aPriL does feral sometimes
The research for ‘In the Garden of Beasts’ is very good. It gives a good feel for the Germany of Hitler's rise and consolidation of power from 1934 to 1937. Eric Larson, the author of this book, found interesting details about the diplomatic profession as a career job for the wealthy elite who displayed blinding prejudices, such as one about how it was impossible (not) for the stupid and mentally ill to win government office and take over the running of a country.

It's fascinating how the U.S. g
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Erik Larson’s latest work of narrative nonfiction is DEAD WAKE: THE LAST CROSSING OF THE LUSITANIA, which became an immediate New York Times bestseller. His saga of the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY, was a finalist for the National Book Award, and won an Edgar Award for fact-crime writing, and lingered on various NYT best-seller lists for the better part of a decade. Hu ...more

Articles featuring this book

The author of The Devil in the White City takes on history's worst villains with In the Garden of Beasts, his new nonfiction opus about the Nazi...
25 likes · 23 comments
“No system which implies control by privilege seekers has ever ended in any other way than collapse.” 22 likes
“The smell of peace is abroad, the air is cold, the skies are brittle, and the leaves have finally fallen. I wear a pony coat with skin like watered silk and muff of lamb. My fingers lie in depths of warmth. I have a jacket of silver sequins and heavy bracelets of rich corals. I wear about my neck a triple thread-like chain of lapis lazulis and pearls. On my face is softness and content like a veil of golden moonlight. And I have never in all my lives been so lonely.” 14 likes
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