Wednesday, May 18, 2011

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

This is my first Erik Larson book so I won't compare it to The Devil in the White City, although I do want to go back and read that one now, but I can compare it to other non-fiction that I have read about this time period and I was impressed. This is about the American ambassador to Berlin and his family during the period prior to World War II. Larson starts with a short prologue reminding the readers that "one has to put aside what we all know-now-to be true" to try to understand the experiences of these people living it in 1933. The book not only shows what it must have been like to live in Berlin as these warning signs grew, but it also gives a great deal of history on the conflicts within the Third Reich.
Personally I found the history of Hitler, Goebbels, Goring, and others the most interesting part of reading this book. It shocked me to see just how many times things could have taken a very different path. It is also upsetting to see how the other countries closed their eyes to things because they didn't want to stir the pot. I feel like I understand quite a bit more about how that situation unfolded.
I was interested in the stories of William Dodd and his daughter, Martha, but I honestly wasn't impressed with either of them as individuals. In my opinion (and it probably isn't shared with many) Martha's actions went beyond an innocent young woman caught up in enthusiasm of a new Germany. She witnessed things early on that I believe should have made a bigger impact on her even if she had no way of knowing where things were headed. She didn't seem like a dim bulb, she seemed like a smart but selfish woman. My opinion of her never really changed. William Dodd seemed more like a person who just didn't know how to process everything that was going on around him. He did his best, and I felt for him, although there were things about his character that bothered me a lot.
I gave this book a 5/5 because it was an angle on the history of that time that I didn't know much about. I think that Larson did an excellent job of pulling it all together and telling it to the readers in a can't-put-it-down manner. I definitely want to read more of his books.


Beth(bookaholicmom) said...

I have been hoping to catch some reviews for this book. It does sound interesting but I have never read this author so was not sure if it was a book I would like. It does sound like an eye-opening read that I will give a try.

TheBookGirl said...

I'm so glad to hear this is good -- I have it on my TBR pile, and now I can't wait to get to it. I have not read The Devil in the White city either, although I've heard wonderful things about that one too.

Jeannette said...

I highly recommend Larson's "Isaac's Storm" about the hurricane that devastated Galveston in 1900. It was a gripping, and fascinating, read.

Christine said...

I definitely want to read that one. I don't have it, but it's on my list.

Jeannette said...

I bought it for my husband for Christmas one year, but it almost didn't make it under the tree -- I had to finish it first! lol

Danmark said...

This is an excellent read for all individuals who are curious about WWII during the Hilter regime - it answers questions regarding how the United States was represented before we got into the war itself - what was our attitude toward Hilter? Did we understand the depth of what was occurring across the ocean? Did we care? What was our attitude regarding Jews? Our ambassador at the time was Ambassador Dodd.