John'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
May 14, 2012

really liked it
Read in May, 2012

It is easy to forget, when thinking about WWII and the Nazi regime, that Hitler and his party came to power way back in 1933, and ruled Germany for a good five or six years before the war actually broke out. They even had time to hold an Olympics, in 1936. This is the only book I've ever read, as far as I can remember, that deals with this early period- when Hitler was brand new on the world stage and everyone was wondering how serious this whole situation was. Surely these Nazis couldn't last, they were far too nutty for a sensible country like Germany...right? Germany?
Larson has a great window on this world; the American ambassador and his family had to meet and go to parties with all the important people in Berlin at the time, and their diaries and letters are a real wealth of stories. It is fascinating how many people just refused to take Hitler seriously. Here is Ambassador Dodd, listening to Hitler (in a private meeting!) say he will "make a complete end" to the Jews, and he's thinking "well...he's not being serious...anyway, he won't be chancellor for long...other people in the government are sane..." I also did not know about all the diplomatic incidents that were coming up in 1933- apparently, Nazi troopers were constantly holding impromptu marches, and everyone was expected to stop and do the Hitler salute when they passed by, but American tourists obviously didn't join in very often, and on a regular basis these tourists were getting beaten in the street by Nazis and Hitler Youth. And the German police wouldn't do anything. And this is just a few months after the Nazis took power. Crazy.
This is probably not quite as good as "Devil in the White City," but it is still pretty good. I tore through it...lots of short chapters. Great choice for people interested in pop history, as long as thinking about Nazis doesn't get you too depressed. I was just contenting myself by remembering that hardly any of these awful Nazis were going to survive the war. There should be a name for that kind of shadenfreude- "schadenfuhrer- enjoyment obtained by thinking about impending misfortune for Nazis"

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