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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it was ok
bookshelves: bio-memoir, germany, wwii

This book is really over-hyped. It 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 Jewish Bella Fromm, a popular society journalist of the day. She brought intelligence and wit into this book whenever she appeared on the page. We also meet Hans Fallada, one of the few German writers who did not flee Germany before or during WWII. "Meeting" Hans Fallada and Bella Fromm were the highlights of the book for me.

The other half of the book we are left with Martha Dodd's sexual exploits with Nazis, Russians, whomever comes along to give her a thrill. These parts are not only boring, but are out of step with the serious concerns of the rest of the book. Every time the story moves from Ambassador Dodd's work and events in Germany to Martha's sex life, Larson switched genres - from History to Romance; and I can't say that he writes the latter particularly well.

Then there is the fact that the Dodd's are anti-semitic. Martha writes in a letter to Thornton Wilder, "We (my family) sort of don't like Jews anyway." Her father, the American diplomat to Germany says, "we have had difficulty now and then in the U.S. with Jews who had gotten too much of a hold on certain departments of intellectual and business life." Their words speak for themselves.

There are so many other books about Hitler's rise to power which are so much better than this one, but if you want to read this book anyway, just keep your expectations low.
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Reading Progress

August 20, 2011 – Shelved
August 20, 2011 – Shelved as: bio-memoir
August 20, 2011 – Shelved as: germany
August 20, 2011 – Shelved as: wwii
November 28, 2011 – Started Reading
November 29, 2011 –
November 29, 2011 –
December 1, 2011 –
December 2, 2011 –
December 2, 2011 –
25.0% "For anyone who knows WW11 history, so far there is nothing new here. At times I want to throw this book across this room, but it's my kindle, so I restrain myself. These fits are brought on mostly by Dodd's antisemitic daughter who writes to Thornton Wilder about the attacks on Jews: "We sort of don't like Jews anyway.""
December 2, 2011 –
30.0% "Martha is a nazi sympathizer and thrill seeker. We read about her countless lovers - nazis and even a Russian, who is obviously a spy. She brags to him that both her mother's and father's families were slave owners. Larson is obviously setting the stage for her fall or at least a change of mind re; nazis: We readers know what's coming. Still, reading about her is boring and repetitive."
December 2, 2011 –
32.0% "The following is at least interesting and edifying: Dodd urges the press not to report attacks on Jews and Americans by the SS. As he says, "the embassy has endeavored successfully on several occasions to prevent unimportant events from being reported..." And "we have had difficulty now and then in the U.S. with Jews who had gotten too much of a hold on certain departments of intellectual and business life.""
December 2, 2011 –
40.0% "Finally the story is getting more interesting with the focus on Dodd, his detractors and supporters and historical events in Germany. Though the story does veer off into Romance Novel land whenever Martha is the subject."
December 3, 2011 –
December 4, 2011 –
60.0% "People are being to catch on that the nazis aren't such nice guys and that Hitler is preparing for war. Martha has an interesting visit with Hans Fallada (Rudolf Ditzen). He stayed in Germany throughout the war and we learn about what this cost him. Bella Fromm, a noted Jewish society reporter in Germany of the '30s appears throughout this book offering clearheaded and even humorous insights about the Nazi party."
December 5, 2011 –
December 5, 2011 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-38 of 38 (38 new)

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Wendy I've got the audiobook of this on hold at the library, but I'm #36 on 14 copies, so it's gonna be a while. It sounds good though. Looking forward to hearing what you think of it!

Anne I have this from the library on kindle. I had to wait about 4-6 weeks. can't remember. I'm finally getting to it; have wanted to read it for a long time.

message 3: by Rebecca (new) - added it

Rebecca McBride Enjoy the suspense. It reads almost like a novel but of course isn't one, which makes it even more powerful.

Anne Thanks, Rebecca. I'm still near the beginning - they are arriving in Berlin and meeting all the embassy people, etc..

message 5: by Sue (new) - added it

Sue This is on my list Anne, but who knows when I'll get to it.

Anne Sue wrote: "This is on my list Anne, but who knows when I'll get to it."

Right. You have a lot of books to read.

message 7: by Judy (new)

Judy I'm glad to know that I'm not alone in giving an Erik Larson book less than 5 stars....I didn't care for Devil in a White City when everyone else loved it.

message 8: by Anne (last edited Dec 07, 2011 10:50AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Anne I didn't read that one, but he rubs me the wrong way. He writes to appeal to American "popular" taste. Not my kind of writing - it has a subtext of "oooh, look at this, isn't it fascinating?." But Ambassador Dodd and his daughter aren't the least bit fascinating. This period in German history is very interesting, but there are so many better books on the subject.

message 9: by Judy (new)

Judy Whew! Now, I can tell you that I tried listening to Devil in the White City on audiobook, which usually works better for me with these kinds of books and couldn't even finish it. It seems to me that he tries to give the book the 'big news story, headline news" appeal. That doesn't cut it for me, I'm not one for drama. He, also, seems impersonal to me. Are we saying the same thing?

message 10: by Anne (new) - rated it 2 stars

Anne I think we are in total agreement, just saying it differently.

message 11: by Judy (new)

Judy That's what I thought. :-)

message 13: by Anne (new) - rated it 2 stars

Anne I haven't read anything else by him.

message 14: by Sue (last edited Dec 07, 2011 03:47PM) (new) - added it

Sue That's good to know Gaeta. That's all I have to judge by. I have a used copy of The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, maybe paid 50 cents for it so small investment. I do plan on reading that one.

message 15: by Teresa (new)

Teresa Sue wrote: "I have a used copy of The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, maybe paid 50 ..."

I liked it well enough, Sue, though I do remember being a tiny bit bored with all the details about the architects, near the end, I think it was. It's the only Larson I've read and I don't read much non-fiction, so take that for what it's worth ...

message 16: by Sue (new) - added it

Sue Thanks Teresa. At least the monetary investment was small. I'll see if the reading investment is worth it. There are so many things I want to read that I think I judge books a bit differently now.

message 17: by Judy (new)

Judy Sue, you enjoy a nice variety of books, so you probably would enjoy it. :-)

message 18: by Sue (new) - added it

Sue I still plan to read it Judy, especially siince i liked Isaac's Storm. I may go into it with different expectations.

message 19: by Cynthia (new) - added it

Cynthia Has anyone read any Hans Falluda? I was disappointed in him.

message 20: by Anne (new) - rated it 2 stars

Anne I read two of his. They were pretty good. I liked them better when I thought about them afterward and what he was trying to say; not so much as a reading experience.

message 21: by Cynthia (new) - added it

Cynthia Tha makes sense. I can't remember the name but I read the one where the old man was leaving anonymous notes protesting the Nazis. It seemed like such a little thing but it was huge in the context of those times. I was frustrated, even while I understood, at what a small effort it was.

message 22: by Anne (new) - rated it 2 stars

Anne Yeah, I felt the same way reading it: Every Man Dies Alone.

message 23: by Rebecca (new) - added it

Rebecca McBride I read Every Man Dies Alone this year and found it was one of those books where I read quickly over some sections but was intrigued by most of it. It would have benefited by some substantive editing.

message 24: by Anne (new) - rated it 2 stars

Anne Rebecca wrote: "I read Every Man Dies Alone this year and found it was one of those books where I read quickly over some sections but was intrigued by most of it. It would have benefited by some substantive editing."

It's been a while since I read it, but I think you're right about that.

message 25: by Tajma (new)

Tajma I loved that Fallada novel but I would concur with you both.

Wendy I'm almost finished with it and am in complete agreement w/ your assessment Anne. I don't even need to write a review since you have summed it all up perfectly. I won't be sorry when I am done w/ it (probably by tomorrow). Definitely over-hyped.

message 27: by Anne (new) - rated it 2 stars

Anne Wendy,
I knew by reading your updates, which I enjoyed, that we felt the same way about this book. Definitely over-hyped! It can't be said enough.

Wendy Anne, does the book have a pictures insert? If so, I want to peruse it next time I'm at Barnes & Noble since I'm dying to know what the Vixen Martha actually looks like :-)

message 29: by Anne (new) - rated it 2 stars

Anne I read it on kindle and don't recall any pictures. I could be wrong. Maybe you could google Martha? Or the author? Let me know if you find anything. How funny!! That racist tramp! LOL!! Don't you want to know what happened to her after she left Germany?

Wendy The epilogue at the end of the book was included in the audio, so I do know (sort of) what happened to her after the left Germany. It would seem that she envisioned herself as quite the temptress/adventurer type -- probably far more so than she was in actuality. I am somewhat intrigued w/ her interest in communism, etc., but I attribute that more as a reaction to what she witnessed from the Nazis during her tenure in Berlin than any real passion for the cause of communism. She did not appear to enjoy the actual day to day communist existence when she lived in Prague -- and certainly doesn't sound like she wanted to live like a "regular" person in that City at that time. I will see what I can find in the way of any pictures and will let you know :-)

Wendy Check her out on google images and wikipedia. For some reason when I try to send you the link it doesn't copy well, but there is a picture of her and I must say -- she is not all that and a bag of chips.

Wikipedia is interesting as they say she was defnitively a spy for the USSR. See what you think.

message 32: by Anne (new) - rated it 2 stars

Anne Thanks, Wendy. Strange woman. I think she probably became a spy more for the action and intrigue than out of any real conviction. I mean, she had to marry a multi-millionaire? And his money wasn't even earned or from his own family. I'm sure there's plenty more to know about those two.

message 33: by Anne (new) - rated it 2 stars

Anne Did you see that image with the headline, "The Spy Queen Is a Nympho"? Hilarious.

Wendy That pretty much sums her up :-D

message 35: by Anne (new) - rated it 2 stars

Anne Yep! LOL!

Peggy Roberts A

message 37: by Jill (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jill Hutchinson This is the only Larson book I haven't liked very well. But you and I are probably in the minority, Anne.

message 38: by Anne (new) - rated it 2 stars

Anne Yes, I think so too. Can't imagine you liking this. You are so well-read on the topic of WWII.

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