Lyn'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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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”. This statement came almost six years after both he and Adolph Hitler had taken power, respectively, and almost six years after he had dispatched American professor William Dodd, a plain spoken Jeffersonian Democrat of Spartan means and simple tastes to serve as American Ambassador.

Differing mightily from the “Pretty Good Club” of independently wealthy, aristocratic leaning gentlemen diplomats usually deployed by the state department, Dodd had vowed to operate the Berlin embassy on a strict budget and would live within his means on his government salary of seventeen thousand dollars a year. As an example and illustration he eschewed the limousines and other trappings of his office and transported his homely old Chevrolet to Germany with him. Roosevelt hoped that Professor Dodd would be a shining beacon of American common sense and constitutionalism in the fanatical leaning Germany that was embracing a young Hitler. But truth be known, Dodd was not Roosevelt’s first choice for the appointment, or the second or the third; he was by all accounts a dark horse candidate for the job and a statesman not at all embraced by the elitist upper echelons of diplomatic society. And truth be known, Dodd himself would have much rather spent those years on his farm in Virginia quietly writing volumes of his Old South history.

So it was a misfit ambassador in an aristocratic, transitional government city, speaking with an odd accent who confronted the embryonic Third Reich on behalf of America. Dealing with awkward relationships in Berlin and an increasingly hostile state department in Washington, Dodd alone among so many government leaders saw what would become if nothing was done. And his enemies in Washington downplayed his warnings and played politics and intrigue rather than investigating his claims of Hitler’s real purpose.

It is in this setting of internal and external tension that author Erik Larson weaves his novelistic history of the years before World War II and Hitler’s rise to international conflict. More than that, Larson’s journalistic narrative describes Dodd’s family, his lusty and adventurous daughter and how this eclectic American family lived down the street from SA commander Rohm and within walking distance of Nazi elite. Fascinating, compelling and disturbingly relevant for our own times as issues of freedom of speech and expression continue to be discussed, scarcely realistic given that we now live in a twenty-first century global civilization.

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Reading Progress

April 19, 2012 – Shelved
August 6, 2012 – Started Reading
September 17, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-5 of 5 (5 new)

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message 1: by Howard (last edited Sep 13, 2016 06:18AM) (new)

Howard Great review, Lyn, of a fascinating subject. But I am puzzled by the fact that you gave the book only 3 stars. How come?


message 2: by Stuart (new) - added it

Stuart I really liked The Devil in the White City and have this on the shelf but haven't read it yet. Your review suggests 4 stars...why only 3?


message 3: by Lyn (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lyn Thanks guys, I get this response a lot, a three is a good rating for me, I liked it. I tend to be a little more stingy with my higher ratings. It was a good read and enjoyable, recommended


message 4: by Dennis (new)

Dennis good book nice review


message 5: by Lyn (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lyn thanks


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