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

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

Book rating: 04 Hardback

By (author) Erik Larson

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  • Publisher: Random House Inc
  • Format: Hardback | 448 pages
  • Dimensions: 157mm x 239mm x 41mm | 635g
  • Publication date: 10 May 2011
  • Publication City/Country: New York
  • ISBN 10: 0307408841
  • ISBN 13: 9780307408846
  • Illustrations note: black & white halftones, maps
  • Sales rank: 87,776

Product description

"Larson is a marvelous writer...superb at creating characters with a few short strokes."--"New York Times Book Review" Erik Larson has been widely acclaimed as a master of narrative non-fiction, and in his new book, 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. A mild-mannered professor from Chicago, Dodd brings along his wife, son, and flamboyant daughter, Martha. At first Martha is entranced by the parties and pomp, and the handsome young men of the Third Reich with their infectious enthusiasm for restoring Germany to a position of world prominence. Enamored of the "New Germany," she has one affair after another, including with the suprisingly honorable first chief of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels. But as evidence of Jewish persecution mounts, confirmed by chilling first-person testimony, her father telegraphs his concerns to a largely indifferent State Department back home. Dodd watches with alarm as Jews are attacked, the press is censored, and drafts of frightening new laws begin to circulate. As that first year unfolds and the shadows deepen, the Dodds experience days full of excitement, intrigue, romance--and ultimately, horror, when a climactic spasm of violence and murder reveals Hitler's true character and ruthless ambition. Suffused with the tense atmosphere of the period, and with unforgettable portraits of the bizarre GOring and the expectedly charming--yet wholly sinister--Goebbels, "In the Garden of Beasts" lends a stunning, eyewitness perspective on events as they unfold in real time, revealing an era of surprising nuance and complexity. The result is a dazzling, addictively readable work that speaks volumes about why the world did not recognize the grave threat posed by Hitler until Berlin, and Europe, were awash in blood and terror.

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Author information

ERIK LARSON is the author of the national bestsellers "Thunderstruck," "The Devil in the White City," and "Isaac's Storm."

Customer reviews

By Julie Smith 11 Sep 2011 4

Erik Larson has done it again - taken a slice of our collective history and served it up in an eminently readable fashion. Through dispassionate prose and accompanying photos, In the Garden of the Beasts chronicles Hitler's ascent from chancellor to tyrant by looking at the ambassadorship of William E. Dodd, a former professor turned American ambassador to Germany.

Dodd was not part of the wealthy elite that generally make up the ambassador corps, and his determination to live within his salary, coupled with his criticisms of those that didn't, made him stand out from the pack. As Dodd witnesses and hears of anti-Semitic attacks, including attacks on American citizens, he tries to sound a warning bell, but his warnings fall on deaf ears. There were many promoters of isolationism and laissez-faire (hands-off) within the United States at the time, and Germany had a huge bond debt to the US. Stirring up trouble by criticizing Germany's actions might have resulted in those debts not being repaid, and that seemed to be the biggest consideration by our government at the time. In addition, most Americans did not take the ridiculous-looking Hitler seriously.

His daughter Martha, rather promiscuous for the times, had a number of affairs while living with her parents in Germany, and her behavior also counted against Dodd, as at least one of her affairs was with a high-ranking member of the Nazi party, Rudolf Diels, originally the Gestapo chief.

As Dodd and his family witness persecution and see brutal laws being enacted such as the law for Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Diseases, which resulted in the enforced sterilization of close to 400,000 "undesirables" in Nazi Germany, Dodd continues his warning attempts to no avail.

This account helps the reader understand how and why Hitler was allowed to rise to power. It illustrates how a collective blind eye was turned until it was too late, and should reinforce the lesson that saying nothing is as good as giving permission.

I would definitely recommend this for any reader who would like a deeper understanding of this period in history, especially for anyone who still wonders HOW.


From the foreword: There are no heroes here, at least not of the Schindler's List variety, but there are glimmers of heroism and people who behave with unexpected grace. Always there is nuance, albeit sometimes of a disturbing nature.

Regarding Jews: . . . "they intended to ruin Germany." More furious now than ever, Hitler proclaimed, "If they continue their activity, we shall make a complete end to all of them in this country."
It was a strange moment. Here was Dodd, the humble Jeffersonian schooled to view statesmen as rational creatures, seated before the leader of one of Europe's great nations as that leader grew nearl y hysterical with fury and threatened to destroy a portion of his own population.

Throughout that first year in Germany, Dodd had been struck again and again by the strange indifference to atrocity that had settled over the nation, the willingness of the populace and of the moderate elements in the government to accept each new oppressive decree, each new act of violence, without protest. It was as if he had entered the dark forest of a fairy tale where all the rules of right and wrong were upended.

BOOK RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Review quote

"In this mesmerizing portrait of the Nazi capital, Larson plumbs a far more diabolical urban cauldron than in his bestselling "The Devil in the White City."..a vivid, atmospheric panorama of the Third Reich and its leaders, including murderous Nazi factional infighting, through the accretion of small crimes and petty thuggery."--"Publishers Weekly"(Starred Review) "Praise for Erik Larson" " " THUNDERSTRUCK "A ripping yarn of murder and invention."--"Los Angeles Times" "Larson's gift for rendering an historical era with vibrant tactility and filling it with surprising personalities makes "Thunderstruck" an irresistible tale."--"The Washington Post Book World" "Gripping....An edge-of-the-seat read."--"People" DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY "[Larson] relentlessly fuses history and entertainment to give this nonfiction book the dramatic effect of a novel....a dynamic, enveloping book." --"The New York Times" "A hugely engrossing chronicle of eve