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Friday, December 28, 2012

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin

I found this book by overhearing two friends talk about it in the lounge at grad school. True story. Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin sounded ridiculously fascinating and right up my historical-loving alley.

In 1933 a new American ambassador is assigned to Germany. After several others turn down the post, William Dodd takes it hoping it will give him down time to finish his epic history of the Civil War. Was he ever wrong. Adolph Hitler, the German Chancellor, is about to cede complete power over the state and is, in the meantime, building up the Nazi party to hold sway over the German people. It is a volatile time for the country, and matters are not helped when Dodd's daughter, Martha, becomes a society fixture. It's a game of cat and mouse with the German people that becomes more frightening and strange as the years soldier on. The rest, as they say, is history.

This book was utterly and completely engrossing. Larson writes this nonfiction story as he would a dark thriller that could only capture our worst imagination. Except it's real, and you know that reading this book, and that's what makes it all the more frightening. We know what is to come, but very few high school history classes cover the period before 1939 or so when understanding the lead up to Germany's takeover of Europe. I know I didn't receive much education on this front. The rise of the Nazi party is horrifying and frightening for me almost 80 years later--I can't even begin to imagine the daily fear and the desperate need to escape the country at that very time.

This book left me satisfied yet aching for what might have been. Larson truly gave me a sense that I was present and living with the Dodd's through their political struggles, their parties, Martha's love affairs, and the difficult decisions William Dodd had to make in order to keep those around him safe. Larson created a sense of the heightened tension in Berlin at this time and I found his book to be absolutely incredible. I closed the back cover of this book a little more edified, a little more respectful, and a little more cautious of how easily we turn our heads to the painful plight of others.

You can buy the book below; Kindle link on the left, paper copy on the right:

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