Skip to main content

In the Garden of Beasts By Erik Larson

After reading Devil in the White City, I became a huge fan of Erik Larsen, so when I heard on NPR that he had written another book, I knew that I had to read it. I even thought enough of Larsen to actually purchase this book as a hardcover!

In The Garden of Beasts is the story of Hitler's Germany in its infant stages, when Hitler had just been made chancellor and Hindenberg was still President (and some control over Hitler) as observed through William Dodd (the newly minted American ambassador to Germany) and his daughter Martha (who was scandalous by anyone's standards, but perhaps more so considering the time at which she was living). Dodd was an interesting pick for the position - and it's made clear pretty early on that he wasn't FDR's first choice - because he is a history professor, extremely frugal, had no real experience in politics (in spite of his friendship with Woodrow Wilson, of whom he wrote a book), and is very unassuming (which makes him an oddity in the ambassador society and among the Nazis, who are very extravagant). Martha initially falls in love with the burgeoning Nazi movement - she seems to romanticize the movement and sees it as a revolution. She is connected romantically, at various points, to the head of the Gestapo and, when she's not with him, a Soviet spy. She even meets Adolf Hitler at one point. We read not only of Martha's affairs but of Dodd's interactions with the Nazi leaders and the novel culminates with the Night of Long Knives.

This book took my breath away.  Absolutely astounded me.  From the get go, I was absorbed into the lives of William and Martha Dodd, their relationships, their trips, their parties and the people that they met.  I was also impressed by the depth of Larsen's research.  He used mostly primary sources - a lot of the stories and descriptions that he gave were taken from letters, diaries and other writings composed by the people that he was writing about.  The depth of his research and the material was also absolutely remarkable.

What perhaps most impressed me about this was how interesting and accessible Larsen made this topic. He took an extensive amount of information, compiled it and narrated this true story in a way that was interesting, educational and accessible.  He taught about a topic in a humble, everyday manner that would appeal to anyone, even if you don't like history.

Definitely read this one.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

In Memoriam

One of my most favorite bookish podcasts, Books on the Nightstand, has ended its tremendously successful run.  It has been around seemingly forever and was one of my staples in book recommendations. It will be sorely missed and leaves a space in my podcast listening zone that I'm striving to fill.  While I understand that the podcast em-cees, Michael and Anne, have their own lives that they probably want to continue with (and podcasting takes a lot of time, particularly when you're as popular as they are and, for example, as popular as the Manic Mommies are/were), they will be sorely missed.  However you can find them on both Goodreads and on Twitter.

In anticipation of their ultimate decision to end the podcast, I found a number of other really awesome podcasts to fill the void, some of which are bookish and some of which aren't.  For your listening pleasure:


BookRiot - more of a news in the publishing industry podcast but still pretty awesome;All the Books - a weekly po…

Missoula by Jon Krakauer

You may recognize the author's name - Krakauer is perhaps most famous for the book Into the Wild about a young man that goes to Alaska (and which was made into a movie).  I enjoyed that book and when I heard on a podcast that I listen to that Krakuer had written a new book, I decided to get it and read it.  In this book, which is non fiction - he focuses on the University of Montana, the local police department and at the local prosecutor's office and analyzes their job performances through the eyes of five young women who were sexually assaulted. During this same period, the Department of Justice investigated how those same parties handled 80 rape cases and that investigation yielded dismaying results. In one instance, a detective re assured a male suspect during an interrogation that she didn't believe he committed a rape (despite evidence to the contrary) because they got a lot of false accusations. Similarly, the Chief of Police (!!!) sent an article to a victim citin…

City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin

I was hesitant to pick up Justin Cronin's trilogy, which began with The Passage, because I was vampired out.  But it's different. It combines science fiction and westerns and spans about 1500 pages and 1000 years and generations, upon generations of people.  It's dystopian and hopeful all at the same time! The vampires don't sparkle, thankfully, and the story isn't just told in prose - it's told via letters, journals, scientific journals, flashback, the whole nine yards.
As the book opens, we find our beloved characters in a time of peace and relative prosperity.  There have been no viral attacks for twenty years. The main characters are all struggling with something that has broken them and they each struggle. And there was also Zero, the ultimate bad guy, that wants his say and his ultimate revenge. This book is wonderful in the sense that it is Cronin at his absolute best - he is a storyteller on par with perhaps the best of the fantasy writers - of any w…