In the Garden of Beasts

Love, Terror, and An American Family in Hitler's Berlin

Larson, Erik

eBook - 2011
Average Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.
In the Garden of Beasts
The bestselling author of "Devil in the White City" turns his hand to a remarkable story set during Hitler's rise to power. 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.

Publisher: New York : Crown, c2011.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 9780307887955
Characteristics: 1 online resource (xiv, 448 p.) :,ill., map.


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Aug 12, 2014

A fascinating literary Non Fiction thriller about the shadowy and dark days that preceded World War 2! Very well research! Soon to be a major motion picture starring Tom Hanks and Natalie Portman.

Jun 19, 2014
  • lbarkema rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

I am not sure that I enjoyed the way in which Larson wrote the book. Too much detail at times, (like way too much), and at others not enough about the people that I found most interesting. I also expected more suspense at the end of each chapter (even though I know it's not a novel), but instead it just fell flat in those parts. A very interesting book to discuss though, and overall I liked it. I just wish he would have given us more of the following years that the Dodd family was in Berlin, instead of just 1933-1934.

Jun 06, 2014
  • Eosos rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

The story of Ambassador Dodd and his daughter Martha in 1933 Berlin is fascinating to say the least.

The politics of Berlin at the time was very volatile and no country was particularity interested in the reports coming from the ambassadors. Despite the increasingly restrictive laws for Jews and the incease in violence against them and anyone opposing the Hitler regime, no country publicly condemned them. The United States refused to even issue a travel advisory and the tourists didn't get to see the bad undercurrents, always bring home reports of how eveything was wonderful. No one wanted to believe that Germany was rearming.

This was a great personal story of a man not like the other ambassadors, he had no experience and very little money at a time when most ambassadors were independently wealthy. His reports on the happenings in Berlin were largely ignored and even he who lived there, didn't see all that Hitler was doing.
The story of Martha Dodd is more salacious. Her many affairs and initial love of the Hitler regime made her notorious, both then and now. Her eventual disillusionment in Hitler and embracing of communism made for even better gossip and led to her living outside of the US for most of her life.

I really liked this book but while I love the era and politics, this story had just a bit too much of the sensational. Especially when it came to Martha and her life, which makes sense as even by today's standards she would be a gossip columnists dream come true.
It is a good look at history from the point of view of a family who lived it and well worth the read.

May 04, 2014

really interesting view of 1930s Germany. Frightening portrayal of the 'pulse' as hatred came to a full boil.

Oct 25, 2013
  • hania4987 rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

This is the story of the consolidation of power on the national level, mostly seen through Professor Dodd who became the American ambassador in Berlin in 1933. The focus is the first year of his posting. At first he is a almost a comically naive character, full of his own prejudices and idiosyncrasies, who thinks he can persuade and reason with Hitler to change his agenda. As he becomes more aware of events that he cannot continue to justify, he starts to take some small actions, speaks out and stops to attend staged events. In the end he becomes that unlikely American hero who raises the warning of isolationism and its consequences. The Professor is never part of the clubby cronyism of the diplomatic corps, and in the end, he is undermined and ultimately removed. We have a picture of a collective European ambivalence towards German actions in that time period, but the US had similar attitudes. Larson writes: "the lengths U.S. officials felt compelled to go to avoid direct criticism of Hitler and his party. The degree of restraint would have been comical if the stakes had not been so high and raised a question: why were the State Department and President Roosevelt so hesitant to express in frank terms how they really felt about Hitler at a time when such expressions clearly could have had a powerful effect on his prestige in the world?" On a side note, his daughter Martha is the other major character in this narrative. Her actions become a symbol of the general American flirtation with the philosophies prevalent in Europe which are a direct contradiction to American ideals. It's also interesting to see the parallels to more contemporary events. (A great book which explains how this all happened is "The Nazi Seizure of Power" by William Sheridan Allen)

Sep 24, 2013
  • lorna2511 rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

A vivid account of the upper-eschelons of Berlin society during the years of Hitler's rise to power and entry to war. Larson's writing is engaging and informative, bringing to life Ambassador Dodd and his grown daughter, Martha. Fact-based fiction which entertainingly fills out the reader's knowledge and understanding of this period of history.

Aug 13, 2013
  • jeanie123 rated this: 3 stars out of 5.

Well, I didn't love this book nor did I hate it. There were definitely some tedious moments and some very loooong sentences. There were some very interesting facets of history that I had not previously accessed, but I found the writing style awkward.

Jun 09, 2013
  • WVMLBookClubTitles rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

In 1933, William E. Dodd is selected US ambassador to Nazi Germany. Dodd takes his family with him. At first, his daughter Martha is entranced by the parties, pomp, and young men of the Third Reich. But as evidence of Jewish persecution mounts, her father telegraphs his concerns to a largely indifferent State Department back home. With alarm, Dodd watches as Jews are attacked and the press is censored. As the year unfolds, the Dodds experience days of excitement, romance—and ultimately horror as Hitler reveals his true character. An addictively readable work that speaks volumes about why the world did not recognize Hitler as a threat until Berlin, and Europe, were awash in blood and terror.

Apr 24, 2013
  • DanglingConversations rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

While I can see why some of the readers [below] did not like the detail in the book, it might be because the ambassador Dodd is an odd character. On the one hand he does not have the courage of his convictions and certainly is a racist. He admits that USA has a 'Jew' problem ( in the 1930's) and his distain for 'coloured people' is evident in the final chapters of his life. On the other hand, an insight into the real lives of people who lived during the rise of Hitler is well worth all that detail. I think the author had so much material he had trouble paring it down. We are, to this day, asking ourselves 'how did this happen in the 20th century' and this book goes a long way to explain how it happened. It is an easy read, the characters are not all likable nor morally upstanding but they are real and the author is honest in his portrayal of a flawed ambassador who was the best of a bad lot of pretentious ambassadors in Europe at the time.

Jan 27, 2013
  • msevinrud rated this: 1 stars out of 5.

Have to agree with Michelle - just could not wade through all the non-relevant drivel. Made it more than 1/2 way but had a stack of books that seemed way more interesting so just quit reading. Was disappointed as author had been recommended to me.

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