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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

3.8 1065
by Erik Larson

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“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


“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 Göring 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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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. He surveys Berlin, circa 1933–1934, from the perspective of two American naïfs: Roosevelt's ambassador to Germany, William Dodd, an academic historian and Jeffersonian liberal who hoped Nazism would de-fang itself (he urged Hitler to adopt America's milder conventions of anti-Jewish discrimination), and Dodd's daughter Martha, a sexual free spirit who loved Nazism's vigor and ebullience. At first dazzled by the glamorous world of the Nazi ruling elite, they soon started noticing signs of its true nature: the beatings meted out to Americans who failed to salute passing storm troopers; the oppressive surveillance; the incessant propaganda; the intimidation and persecution of friends; the fanaticism lurking beneath the surface charm of its officialdom. Although the narrative sometimes bogs down in Dodd's wranglings with the State Department and Martha's soap opera, Larson offers 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. Photos. (May)
Library Journal
Best-selling author Larson (The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America) turns his considerable literary nonfiction skills to the experiences of U.S. ambassador to Germany William E. Dodd and his family in Berlin in the early years of Hitler's rule. Dodd had been teaching history at the University of Chicago when he was summoned by FDR to the German ambassadorship. Larson, using lots of archival as well as secondary-source research, focuses on Dodd's first year in Berlin and, using Dodd's diary, chillingly portrays the terror and oppression that slowly settled over Germany in 1933. Dodd quickly realized the Nazis' evil intentions; his daughter Martha, in her mid-20s, was initially smitten by the courteous SS soldiers surrounding her family, but over time she, too, became disenchanted with the brutality of the regime. Along the way Larson provides portraits based on primary-source impressions of Hermann Göring, Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler, and Hitler himself. He also traces the Dodds' lives after their time in Germany. VERDICT Larson captures the nuances of this terrible period. This is a grim read but a necessary one for the present generation. Those who wish to study Dodd further can read Robert Dallek's Democrat & Diplomat.—Ed Goedeken, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames
Kirkus Reviews

A sometimes improbable but nevertheless true tale of diplomacy and intrigue by bestselling author Larson (Thunderstruck, 2006, etc.).

William E. Dodd, the unlikely hero of the piece, was a historian at the University of Chicago in the early 1930s, tenured and unhappy, increasingly convinced that he was cut out for greater things than proctoring exams. Franklin Roosevelt, then in his second year in office, was meanwhile having trouble filling the ambassadorship in Berlin, where the paramilitary forces of Hitler's newly installed regime were in the habit of beating up Americans—and, it seems, American doctors in particular, one for the offense of not giving the Nazi salute when an SS parade passed by. Dodd was offered the job, and he accepted; as Larson writes, "Dodd wanted a sinecure...this despite his recognition that serving as a diplomat was not something to which his character was well suited." It truly was not, but Dodd did yeomanlike work, pressing for American interests while letting it be known that he did not think much of the blustering Nazis—even as, the author writes, he seems to have been somewhat blind to the intensity of anti-Semitism and was casually anti-Semitic himself. More interesting than the scholarly Dodd, whom the Nazis thought of as a musty old man, was his daughter Martha, a beauty of readily apparent sexual appetite, eagerly courted by Nazis and communists alike. The intrigues in which she was caught up give Larson's tale, already suspenseful, the feel of a John le Carré novel. The only real demerit is that the book goes on a touch too long, though it gives a detailed portrait of a time when the Nazi regime was solidifying into the evil monolith that would go to war with the world only five years later.

An excellent study, taking a tiny instant of modern history and giving it specific weight, depth and meaning.

Dorothy Gallagher
Larson has meticulously researched the Dodds' intimate witness to Hitler's ascendancy and created an edifying narrative of this historical byway that has all the pleasures of a political thriller: innocents abroad, the gathering storm…The story of prewar Germany, of the Jews, of book burnings, of the Reichstag trial, of the Night of the Long Knives, of the Nuremberg rally, of the unfolding disaster is old news. But Larson has connected the dots to make a fresh picture of these terrible events.
—The New York Times Book Review
Philip Kerr
History books have to work much harder than they did of old. It's no longer enough that they are authoritative and well-researched—they have to be entertaining, too. As entertaining as a novel, perhaps. Of course this is quite a tall order. But Larson fills it admirably…his book reads like an elegant thriller…utterly compelling, and while I was reading it there were several occasions on which I had to stop and check to make sure it really was a work of nonfiction. It is—and marvelous stuff…an excellent and entertaining book that deserves to be a bestseller…
—The Washington Post
Janet Maslin
…[Larson's] best and most enthralling work of novelistic history…There are hindsight-laden books that see the rise of Hitler as a parade of telltale signs. There are individual accounts that personalize the atmosphere of mounting oppression and terror. But there has been nothing quite like Mr. Larson's story of the four Dodds, characters straight out of a 1930s family drama, transporting their shortcomings to a new world full of nasty surprises…The Dodds' story is rich with incident, populated by fascinating secondary characters, tinged with rising peril and pityingly persuasive about the futility of Dodd's mission.
—The New York Times
From the Publisher

“By far his best and most enthralling work of novelistic history….Powerful, poignant…a transportingly true story.” —New York Times

“Reads like an elegant thriller…utterly compelling… marvelous stuff. An excellent and entertaining book that deserves to be a bestseller, and probably will be.”
—Washington Post

“The most important book of 2011.” —O, The Oprah Magazine

“A dazzling amalgam of reportage….Reads like a suspense novel, replete with colorful characters, both familiar and those previously relegated to the shadows.  Like Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories or Victor Klemperer’s Diaries, IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS is an on-the-ground documentary of a society going mad in slow motion.” —Chicago Sun-Times

“Fascinating...A master at writing true tales as riveting as fiction.” —People (3 1/2 stars)

“Larson has meticulously researched the Dodds’ intimate witness to Hitler’s ascendancy and created an edifying narrative of this historical byway that has all the pleasures of a political thriller….a fresh picture of these terrrible events.”
—New York Times Book Review

“Larson, a master of historical nonfiction, has written a fascinating book that, although carefully researched and documented, reads like a political thriller...highly recommended to anyone interested in the rise of the Third Reich and America’s role in that process.” —Jewish Book World

“Larson's strengths as a storyteller have never been stronger than they are here, and this story is far more important than either "The Devil in the White City" or "Thunderstruck." How the United States dithered as Hitler rose to power is a cautionary tale that bears repeating, and Larson has told it masterfully.”
—Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Larson has done it again, expertly weaving together a fresh new narrative from ominous days of the 20th century.” —Associated Press

“Mesmerizing...cinematic, improbable yet true.” —Philadelphia Inquirer

“Compelling...the kind of book that brings history alive.” —USA TODAY

“[G]ripping, a nightmare narrative of a terrible time.  It raises again the question never fully answered about the Nazi era—what evil humans are capable of, and what means are necessary to cage the beast.” —Seattle Times

“A stunning work of history.” —Newsweek

“Tells a fascinating story brilliantly well.” Financial Times

“A cautionary tale not to be missed.” —Washington Times

“Highly compelling...Larson brings Berlin roaring to life in all its glamour and horror...a welcome new chapter in the vast canon of World War II literature.”
Christian Science Monitor 

“Terrific storytelling.” —Los Angeles Times

“Vivid and immediate...a fascinating and gripping account.” —Washington Independent Review of Books

“Gripping...a story of stunning impact.” —New York Daily News

“Larson is superb at creating a you-are-there sense of time and place. In the Garden of Beasts is also a superb book...nothing less than masterful.” —Toronto Globe and Mail  

“Harrowingly suspenseful.” —Vogue.com
“Larson has taken a brilliant idea and turned it into a gripping book.” —Women's Wear Daily

“A gripping, deeply-intimate narrative with a climax that reads like the best political thriller, where we are stunned with each turn of the page.” —Louisville Courier Journal

“Electrifying reading...fascinating.” —Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“Larson's books are tightly focused and meticulously researched, but they also are rich in anecdote and detail from the homey mundane to the tragic, the absurd and the downright funny. His prose has an austere, compassionate lyricism. His narratives have novelistic pull...his psychological perception and empathic imagination lend flesh to the documents, music to the ballrooms. He gives a throbbing pulse to the foolish and the wise, the malignant and the kind.” —The Oregonian

“A masterly work of salacious nonfiction that captures the decadent and deadly years of The Third Reich.” —Men's Journal

“Even though we know how it will end — the book's climax, the Night of the Long Knives, being just the beginning, this is a page-turner, full of flesh and blood people and monsters too, whose charms are particularly disturbing.” —Portsmouth Herald
“Larson’s latest chronicle of history has as much excitement as a thriller novel, and it’s all the more thrilling because it’s all true.” —Asbury Park Press

“Larson succeeds brilliantly…offers a fascinating window into the year when the world began its slow slide into war.” —Maclean's

“Larson's scholarship is impressive, but it's his pacing and knack for suspense that elevates the book from the matter-of-fact to the sublime.” —Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

“[A] brilliant tour de force of nonfiction writing...Larson, as always, conjures magic with the details, and often injects a welcome dollop of dark humor...In the Garden of Beasts serves as both a serious, insightful look at history, and a stern warning against national complacency when you’re being run by a dictator who is both vicious and undeniably off his rocker.” —Dallas Morning News
“Like slipping slowly into a nightmare, with logic perverted and morality upended….It all makes for a powerful, unsettling immediacy.” —Vanity Fair

“A master of nonfiction storytelling...Larson once again gathers an astounding amount of historical detail to re-create scene after vivid scene...a stunning, provocative immersion...a call to citizens in all nations to investigate the motives of power brokers and government officials, to stand our ground when we see others' moral compasses going awry.” —Dallas/Fort Worth Star-Telegram


“No other author...has the ability to actually live up to that old adage of making history come alive. What Larson is doing is creating a world that no longer exists on the page...[He] not only succeeds but is able to turn what one would expect to be tedium into page-turning brilliance.” —Digital Americana

“Narrative nonfiction at its finest, this story drops into 1933 Berlin as William E. Dodd becomes the first U.S. ambassador to Hitler's Germany—a tale of intrigue, romance, and foreboding.” —Kansas City Star

“One of the most popular history books this year...offers something for both serious students of the 1930s and for lovers of charming stories.” —St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Erik Larson tackles this outstanding period of history as fully and compellingly as he portrayed the events in his bestseller, The Devil in the White City. With each page, more horrors are revealed, making it impossible to put down. In the Garden of Beasts reads like the true thriller it is.” —BookReporter.com

“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)

“An excellent study, taking a tiny instant of modern history and giving it specific weight, depth and meaning.” —Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)

“A brilliant and often infuriating account of the experiences and evolving attitudes of the Dodd family during Hitler’s critical first year in power. With the benefit of hindsight, of course, the Dodds seem almost criminally ignorant, but Larson treats them with a degree of compassion that elevates them to tragic status.” —Booklist (Starred Review)

“Larson writes history like a novelist...conveying quite wonderfully the electrically charged atmosphere of a whole society turning towards the stormy dark.” —The Telegraph

Praise for Erik Larson
“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
“[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 events public and private. Exceedingly well-documented, exhaustive without being excessive, and utterly fascinating.”
Chicago Tribune
“An irresistible page-turner that reads like the most compelling, sleep-defying fiction.” Time Out New York

“A gripping account…fascinating to its core, and all the more compelling for being true.” New York Times Book Review

“Superb...Larson has made the Great Hurricane live again.” The Wall Street Journal

“Gripping….The Jaws of hurricane yarns.” Newsday

Product Details

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6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.50(d)

Read an Excerpt


Means of Escape

The telephone call that forever changed the lives of the Dodd family of Chicago came at noon on Thursday, June 8, 1933, as William E. Dodd sat at his desk at the University of Chicago.

Now chairman of the history department, Dodd had been a professor at the university since 1909, recognized nationally for his work on the American South and for a biography of Woodrow Wilson. He was sixty-four years old, trim, five feet eight inches tall, with blue-gray eyes and light brown hair. Though his face at rest tended to impart severity, he in fact had a sense of humor that was lively, dry, and easily ignited. He had a wife, Martha, known universally as Mattie, and two children, both in their twenties. His daughter, also named Martha, was twenty-four years old; his son, William Jr.—Bill—was twenty-eight.

By all counts they were a happy family and a close one. Not rich by any means, but well off, despite the economic depression then gripping the nation. They lived in a large house at 5757 Blackstone Avenue in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, a few blocks from the university. Dodd also owned—and every summer tended—a small farm in Round Hill, Virginia, which, according to a county survey, had 386.6 acres, “more or less,” and was where Dodd, a Jeffersonian democrat of the first stripe, felt most at home, moving among his twenty-one Guernsey heifers; his four geldings, Bill, Coley, Mandy, and Prince; his Farmall tractor; and his horse-drawn Syracuse plows. He made coffee in a Maxwell House can atop his old wood-burning stove. His wife was not as fond of the place and was more than happy to let him spend time there by himself while the rest of the family remained behind in Chicago. Dodd named the farm Stoneleigh, because of all the rocks strewn across its expanse, and spoke of it the way other men spoke of first loves. “The fruit is so beautiful, almost flawless, red and luscious, as we look at it, the trees still bending under the weight of their burden,” he wrote one fine night during the apple harvest. “It all appeals to me.”

Though generally not given to cliche, Dodd described the telephone call as a “sudden surprise out of a clear sky.” This was, however, something of an exaggeration. Over the preceding several months there had been talk among his friends that one day a call like this might come. It was the precise nature of the call that startled Dodd, and troubled him.

For some time now, Dodd had been unhappy in his position at the university. Though he loved teaching history, he loved writing it more, and for years he had been working on what he expected would be the definitive recounting of early southern history, a four-volume series that he called The Rise and Fall of the Old South, but time and again he had found his progress stymied by the routine demands of his job. Only the first volume was near completion, and he was of an age when he feared he would be buried alongside the unfinished remainder. He had negotiated a reduced schedule with his department, but as is so often the case with such artificial ententes, it did not work in the manner he had hoped. Staff departures and financial pressures within the university associated with the Depression had left him working just as hard as ever, dealing with university officials, preparing lectures, and confronting the engulfing needs of graduate students. In a letter to the university’s Department of Buildings and Grounds dated October 31, 1932, he pleaded for heat in his office on Sundays so he could have at least one day to devote to uninterrupted writing. To a friend he described his position as “embarrassing.”

Adding to his dissatisfaction was his belief that he should have been farther along in his career than he was. What had kept him from advancing at a faster clip, he complained to his wife, was the fact that he had not grown up in a life of privilege and instead had been compelled to work hard for all that he achieved, unlike others in his field who had advanced more quickly. And indeed, he had reached his position in life the hard way. Born on October 21, 1869, at his parents’ home in the tiny hamlet of Clayton, North Carolina, Dodd entered the bottom stratum of white southern society, which still adhered to the class conventions of the antebellum era. His father, John D. Dodd, was a barely literate subsistence farmer; his mother, Evelyn Creech, was descended from a more exalted strain of North Carolina stock and deemed to have married down. The couple raised cotton on land given to them by Evelyn’s father and barely made a living. In the years after the Civil War, as cotton production soared and prices sank, the family fell steadily into debt to the town’s general store, owned by a relative of Evelyn’s who was one of Clayton’s three men of privilege—“hard men,” Dodd called them: “. . . traders and aristocratic masters of their dependents!”

Dodd was one of seven children and spent his youth working the family’s land. Although he saw the work as honorable, he did not wish to spend the rest of his life farming and recognized that the only way a man of his lowly background could avoid this fate was by gaining an education. He fought his way upward, at times focusing so closely on his studies that other students dubbed him “Monk Dodd.” In February 1891 he entered Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College (later Virginia Tech). There too he was a sober, focused presence. Other students indulged in such pranks as painting the college president’s cow and staging fake duels so as to convince freshmen that they had killed their adversaries. Dodd only studied. He got his bachelor’s degree in 1895 and his master’s in 1897, when he was twenty-six years old.

At the encouragement of a revered faculty member, and with a loan from a kindly great-uncle, Dodd in June 1897 set off for Germany and the University of Leipzig to begin studies toward a doctorate. He brought his bicycle. He chose to focus his dissertation on Thomas Jefferson, despite the obvious difficulty of acquiring eighteenth-century American documents in Germany. Dodd did his necessary classwork and found archives of relevant materials in London and Berlin. He also did a lot of traveling, often on his bicycle, and time after time was struck by the atmosphere of militarism that pervaded Germany. At one point one of his favorite professors led a discussion on the question “How helpless would the United States be if invaded by a great German army?” All this Prussian bellicosity made Dodd uneasy. He wrote, “There was too much war spirit everywhere.”

Dodd returned to North Carolina in late autumn 1899 and after months of search at last got an instructor’s position at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia. He also renewed a friendship with a young woman named Martha Johns, the daughter of a well-off landowner who lived near Dodd’s hometown. The friendship blossomed into romance and on Christmas Eve 1901, they married.

At Randolph-Macon, Dodd promptly got himself into hot water. In 1902 he published an article in the Nation in which he attacked a successful campaign by the Grand Camp of Confederate Veterans to have Virginia ban a history textbook that the veterans deemed an affront to southern honor. Dodd charged that the veterans believed the only valid histories were those that held that the South “was altogether right in seceding from the Union.”

The backlash was immediate. An attorney prominent in the veterans’ movement launched a drive to have Dodd fired from Randolph-Macon. The school gave Dodd its full support. A year later he attacked the veterans again, this time in a speech before the American Historical Society in which he decried their efforts to “put out of the schools any and all books which do not come up to their standard of local patriotism.” He railed that “to remain silent is out of the question for a strong and honest man.”

Dodd’s stature as a historian grew, and so too did his family. His son was born in 1905, his daughter in 1908. Recognizing that an increase in salary would come in handy and that pressure from his southern foes was unlikely to abate, Dodd put his name in the running for an opening at the University of Chicago. He got the job, and in the frigid January of 1909, when he was thirty-nine years old, he and his family made their way to Chicago, where he would remain for the next quarter century. In October 1912, feeling the pull of his heritage and a need to establish his own credibility as a true Jeffersonian democrat, he bought his farm. The grueling work that had so worn on him during his boyhood now became for him both a soul-saving diversion and a romantic harking back to America’s past.

Dodd also discovered in himself an abiding interest in the political life, triggered in earnest when in August 1916 he found himself in the Oval Office of the White House for a meeting with President Woodrow Wilson. The encounter, according to one biographer, “profoundly altered his life.”

Dodd had grown deeply uneasy about signs that America was sliding toward intervention in the Great War then being fought in Europe. His experience in Leipzig had left him no doubt that Germany alone was responsible for starting the war, in satisfaction of the yearnings of Germany’s industrialists and aristocrats, the Junkers, whom he likened to the southern aristocracy before the Civil War. Now he saw the emergence of a similar hubris on the part of America’s own industrial and military elites. When an army general tried to include the University of Chicago in a national campaign to ready the nation for war, Dodd bridled and took his complaint directly to the commander in chief.

Dodd wanted only ten minutes of Wilson’s time but got far more and found himself as thoroughly charmed as if he’d been the recipient of a potion in a fairy tale. He came to believe that Wilson was correct in advocating U.S. intervention in the war. For Dodd, Wilson became the modern embodiment of Jefferson. Over the next seven years, he and Wilson became friends; Dodd wrote Wilson’s biography. Upon Wilson’s death on February 3, 1924, Dodd fell into deep mourning.

At length he came to see Franklin Roosevelt as Wilson’s equal and threw himself behind Roosevelt’s 1932 campaign, speaking and writing on his behalf whenever an opportunity arose. If he had hopes of becoming a member of Roosevelt’s inner circle, however, Dodd soon found himself disappointed, consigned to the increasingly dissatisfying duties of an academic chair.

Now he was sixty-four years old, and the way he would leave his mark on the world would be with his history of the old South, which also happened to be the one thing that every force in the universe seemed aligned to defeat, including the university’s policy of not heating buildings on Sundays.

More and more he considered leaving the university for some position that would allow him time to write, “before it is too late.” The idea occurred to him that an ideal job might be an undemanding post within the State Department, perhaps as an ambassador in Brussels or The Hague. He believed that he was sufficiently prominent to be considered for such a position, though he tended to see himself as far more influential in national affairs than in fact he was. He had written often to advise Roosevelt on economic and political matters, both before and immediately after Roosevelt’s victory. It surely galled Dodd that soon after the election he received from the White House a form letter stating that while the president wanted every letter to his office answered promptly, he could not himself reply to all of them in a timely manner and thus had asked his secretary to do so in his stead.

Dodd did, however, have several good friends who were close to Roosevelt, including the new secretary of commerce, Daniel Roper. Dodd’s son and daughter were to Roper like nephew and niece, sufficiently close that Dodd had no compunction about dispatching his son as intermediary to ask Roper whether the new administration might see fit to appoint Dodd as minister to Belgium or the Netherlands. “These are posts where the government must have somebody, yet the work is not heavy,” Dodd told his son. He confided that he was motivated mainly by his need to complete his Old South. “I am not desirous of any appointment from Roosevelt but I am very anxious not to be defeated in a life-long purpose.”

In short, Dodd wanted a sinecure, a job that was not too demanding yet that would provide stature and a living wage and, most important, leave him plenty of time to write—this despite his recognition that serving as a diplomat was not something to which his character was well suited. “As to high diplomacy (London, Paris, Berlin) I am not the kind,” he wrote to his wife early in 1933. “I am distressed that this is so on your account. I simply am not the sly, two-faced type so necessary to ‘lie abroad for the country.’ If I were, I might go to Berlin and bend the knee to Hitler—and relearn German.” But, he added, “why waste time writing about such a subject? Who would care to live in Berlin the next four years?”

Whether because of his son’s conversation with Roper or the play of other forces, Dodd’s name soon was in the wind. On March 15, 1933, during a sojourn at his Virginia farm, he went to Washington to meet with Roosevelt’s new secretary of state, Cordell Hull, whom he had met on a number of previous occasions. Hull was tall and silver haired, with a cleft chin and strong jaw. Outwardly, he seemed the physical embodiment of all that a secretary of state should be, but those who knew him better understood that when angered he had a most unstatesmanlike penchant for releasing torrents of profanity and that he suffered a speech impediment that turned his r’s to w’s in the manner of the cartoon character Elmer Fudd—a trait that Roosevelt now and then made fun of privately, as when he once spoke of Hull’s “twade tweaties.” Hull, as usual, had four or five red pencils in his shirt pocket, his favored tools of state. He raised the possibility of Dodd receiving an appointment to Holland or Belgium, exactly what Dodd had hoped for. But now, suddenly forced to imagine the day-to-day reality of what such a life would entail, Dodd balked. “After considerable study of the situation,” he wrote in his little pocket diary, “I told Hull I could not take such a position.”

But his name remained in circulation.

And now, on that Thursday in June, his telephone began to ring. As he held the receiver to his ear, he heard a voice he recognized immediately.

Meet the Author

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

Brief Biography

Seattle, Washington
Date of Birth:
January 1, 1954
Place of Birth:
Brooklyn, New York
B.A., University of Pennsylvania, 1976; M.S., Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, 1978

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In the Garden of Beasts 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1065 reviews.
lsmeadows More than 1 year ago
This is the newest book by the author who wrote The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America. If you are a history aficionado like me, especially if you are intrigued by Germany during the time of the Third Reich, then this is the book for you. Through the eyes of the American ambassador to Berlin and his adult daughter, Mr. Larson shows in stunning fashion how the world was determined to ignore the warning signs, and thus the true intent of Hitler and the Nazi regime in Germany, until it was too late. This book certainly told a powerful tale. I am giving this one 5 stars, not because I loved the story, but because it made an impact on me and I will continue to think of it for quite a while.
BookGirlNY More than 1 year ago
The Dodd family moves to Berlin in 1933. Dodd is the US Ambassador to Germany appointed by Roosevelt. The book follows the family while they are in Berlin during Hitler's rise to power. This is a very intense look at what it was like to live in Germany during this time. Immensely informative and significantly disturbing read!
purplegurl More than 1 year ago
This book really opened my eyes to the insidious rise of Hitler and his henchmen. I was amazed by how indifferent America was as Mr. Dodd tried so hard to open their eyes to Hitler's real intent to start war. The story is told in a realistic and very readable form. I had a little trouble getting started with it due to recent cataract surgery, but once I picked it back up, I almost couldn't put it down to go to sleep, or go to work or anything. I read the last 330 pages of it in two evenings straight. Eric Larson is a wonderful writer, who backs up his story with solid research. Kudos to him! I immediately began reading his book "Thunderstruck" as soon as I finished "In the Garden of Beasts". It will also be an excellent read.
BarbAnn More than 1 year ago
Eric Larson has done it again! After a lackluster Thunderstruck, he has given us a skillfully written acount of the little know US's first ambassador to Germany during the rise of Hitler. The book perfectly captures the insidious evil of Hitler and his minions. Larson makes pre-World War II Berlin nightlife come alive as we watch Dodd's less-than-chaste daughter socialize with half of Fuhrer's posse. Even though you may not be a history buff, this book reads like a novel - pick it up, down load it - read it!
FeatheredQuillBookReviews More than 1 year ago
This novel is so good you feel as if you are right there in the midst of all of these events (good and bad) that took place in the years before the Nazis decided that they should own Europe. Not since The Devil in the White City, another book by Mr. Larson published in 2000, has there been a book so well researched and captivating. In the year 1933, Mr. William F. Dodd, a Professor from Chicago, along with his family (wife, daughter and son) were sent to Berlin by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, to become the American Ambassador. Mr. Dodd was the first Ambassador to Germany from the US and settled in Berlin during the year that was to become a turning point in history. Mr. Dodd, a fairly docile gentleman, was perfectly willing to accept the German politicians and their ways, which proved later on, that he was a bit overly naïve. Mrs. Dodd and Bill, Jr. were content with their lot in life and daughter, Martha, was extremely social and loved to party. Some of the handsome young men of the Third Reich were more than happy to show her the town. Martha was so impressed with these men that she had many affairs, one of them with the head of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels. But, as the days progress, it is evident that the new regime in Germany is starting a little "ethnic cleansing," as they say now, and the Jewish race and many others are being persecuted. These attacks against citizens of Germany are certainly not kept quiet and Mr. Dodd is getting very nervous and sending letters back to the State Department telling the President what is going on. Sadly, the State Department is very unconcerned about the letters and thinks that Mr. Dodd is crying wolf. Mr. Dodd watches the new laws passed by German Chancellor, Adolf Hitler, and also the newspapers are censored as to what they can write. He even has a meeting with Hitler, where Hitler swore that he was not interested in starting a war. Unfortunately, Mr. Dodd believed Hitler and said so to the U.S. State Department. As Dodd's first year as Ambassador ends, the shadows of war creep forward. It becomes clear that Chancellor Hitler is arming Germany and biding his time before invading other countries and starting the 1000-year Reich. After a horrible night of murder and mayhem, Mr. Dodd is sure that Hitler is heading toward war. A wonderful non-fiction narrative that tells the reader that the United States did not realize what Hitler was doing behind everyone's backs until the invasions started and the world was at war. Quill Says: Even though this was a terrible time in the history of the world, this book is an absolute MUST READ!!!
cdmann More than 1 year ago
If you want a glimpse into the world just before WWII and if you ask yourself how did civilized nations allow Hitler to take the world to the brink of destruction check this book out.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You'd think an up-close look at Hitler's Berlin in the 30s would be interesting. Well it isn't, not here. I've loved two of Larson's previous books, so I'm sorry to say he goofed with this one. The truth about the Nazis is they're boring. It doesn't take long to get fed up. It's like spending time locked in a smelly, airless closet. Larson's vehicle for conveying it all, the midwestern American Dodd family with their social and cultural pretensions, appealed to me not at all. They could've stepped straight out of Sinclair Lewis, only Sinclair Lewis didn't write this book. So we get dinner parties, drives in the German countryside, house decoration, spats among Nazi officials and embassy functionaries, and Martha Dodd ever on the prowl. One more dinner party with the Dodds and their German guest list and who sat where and which of Martha's lovers showed up and how tense everybody was -- I thought I'd go off my nut with boredom. Ditto for Martha's love-trysts, complete with hokey dialogue I assume Larson got from Martha's own literary droppings. You're better off reading Wikipedia's articles on the Dodds. When I read the eye-opening one on Martha I was halfway through Larson's book. If I'd read it sooner I might've saved my money.
PepaLou More than 1 year ago
I thought the book was fascinating. However, I could only give it 3 stars, because it was kind of strangely written. The first 3/4 of the book were so crammed with minute details, that some of them seemed superfluous. Then the last few chapters were rushed. Like, how the beginning is a day by day by day account of every-little-thing. Then all of a sudden, it jumps from 1934 to 1937 with little detail at all. Had it not done that, I would have easily given it 4, or maybe even 5 stars.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The rise of the Nazis from the point of view of the American Ambassador and his daughter. Sheds light on how a civilized Germany was led down the path of distruction through the stories of some significant but lesser known personalities of the mid 1930s in Germany.
HarryVane More than 1 year ago
I'm honestly baffled by the positive reviews for "In The Garden of Beasts," a work that is nearly unreadable as a narrative history. I can only assume that Larson's readers remember the adventures and high drama of "Devil in the White City," a work of deserved praise. After a laborious three hundred pages of diplomatic dinners, infantile liaisons, minor diplomatic spats and walks along the Tiergarden, I was ready to consign Mr. Larson's recent work to the donation bin. Larson's protagonists, William E. Dodd, the first American ambassador to Nazi Germany, and his family (notably the vapid and promiscuous Martha, his daughter) are the epitome of American policy (and to a certain extent public opinion) as a whole toward the newly-born Nazi government; impotent, grossly naive and ill-prepared. Though Larson wants to draw this parallel, he fails to mention any detailed information regarding American views toward Germany, Hitler or the Nazi regime, with the exception of the American Jewish Congress. It's hard to decide whether Larson wants us to sympathize with Dodd or castigate him for behaving like a stubborn tenured professor. Dodd comes off as a dullard and, frankly anti-Semitic. Larson's failure to expound on the history of the Nazi party and several of the high ranking officials, relegating these figures to side-show status does the reader a great dis-service. His cliff notes version of the Nazi leadership is pathetic an lazy. When you compare this to the details regarding Martha Dodd's affairs and paramours, Larson insults the learned reader and indulges the tawdry side of this flawed history. Why quote or reference Shirer, when you have Mosse or Bullock? Why amble on and on about that love triangle between Martha, Biels and Boris, when you can actually quote from German newspapers reacting to Hitler's policies? This is a cheap history written for an ill-informed American audience. By the way......stop complaining about the price of "NOOK" books! You knew this was going to happen! Books need creative talent, time and research to complete. This is not the dollar store...If you would like, go down to your local INDEPENDENT bookstore and by it from them...its the same price.
soberfloyd More than 1 year ago
An excellent read of the turmoils of one Ambassador and his family during the Third Reich's rise to power. Mr. Dodd was never seen as a good example by Washington standards but an intellectual with good diplomatic skills nonetheless. Dodd being from North Carolina was my main reason for reading and I was able to read of his stress being a Southern Gentleman farmer going through the spell of Hitler's Germany. The whole family is represented in this work and a grand description of a pious family amist the every extravgant Nazi Party.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a great book that gives insight into Germany's path to destruction through the eyes of an American family. A fascinating true story, Eric Larson has done an excellent job with this one!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
After White City / and Isaac's Storm, I expected better than this. In my opinion the characters were flat and boring. I didn't care what the ambassador's daughter was doing, and so much of the book was devoted to her romances, just boring! This could have been a fantastic look at Germany pre-World War II but it turned out flat as a pancake. Too bad.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Unlike so many others, I was not upset about the price... Had I not been between semesters with abundant free time, I would not have elected to even finish this book. The story lacked flow and, at times, was almost unreadable. This is from such a fascinating time in history and had so much potential to tell the story of a truly unforgettable and bizarre time in European and American history but fell short. I never felt a connection to the people in the story Larson was sharing. For a book about such an emotional time in history, there was little emotion within the text. The rave reviews and rankings within "must read" lists may have raised my expectations higher than anticipated. I have not read any of the other books of Mr. Larson's that also received such high praise (as indicated on the book jacket). Unfortunately, my disappointment with this book will bias me against other critically acclaimed books as well as Mr. Larson's past and future works.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'll pretty much read anything that might shed new light on the Nazi era, and WHY the things that happened did happen. I found this book to be well worth the time and effort, and for the most part, I enjoyed the book. That being said, it's not tremendously well written, and sometimes I struggled with his lack of clarity. The book offers some good insight into how American's of the era saw occurrences in Germany, and indeed, how what we would call blat ant racism was the social norm. Dodd, I believe was an honorable man, with the best of intentions, and tried to make clear what was destined to happen with the Nazis in power. Unfortunately, Americans didn't listen. This book is also a wonderful journey into the experiences of Ambassador Dodd's daughter, Martha. Almost a one woman UN, her "entertaining" of some prominent names of the time is a wonderful record of how the Nazis evolved, and took Germany down a hellish road with them.
LuckyLuLu More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be highly frustrating but all due to the subject matter at hand. I find it incredible still to read how much Hitler got away with all of the things he did. Its not a book for a casual reader. I still recommend it.
David Sutton More than 1 year ago
- yet the Dodd family really isnt so interesting
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
His previous books were so well written and the stories so well constructed that when this was offered on pre-order I immediately did so.But I was very disappointed in what I got: a soap opera with Nazis occasionally showing up at the never ending embassy parties causing "tension in the air". Good grief, what a bore this was! I have to agree with other reviewers (The Dodds Do Berlin","Not Engaging", and " Not Worth The Money") and I only give this one star because the cover was kind of cool.Buy it only if you're having problems getting to sleep at night. Loved " Thunderstruck", "Devil in the White City", and "Isaac's Storm" so three home runs in four at bats is still Hall of Fame stuff. But I probably will not pre-order the next one.Keep swinging Erik.
Blitzismydog More than 1 year ago
Best strict history I've read since Devil in the White City, and thoroughly enjoyable. Particularly enlightening is the feeling -- as you're reading -- that the U.S. was ridiculously isolationist and the State Department full of country-club socialites. Although the end of WWI left participants exhausted, depressed and bereft, it also left them unwilling to "rock the boat" as Hitler and his facists rose to power. Larson shows us this again and again... and the world inevitably is sucked into World War. Larson tells this story from a unique point of view -- the educated American family whose father was appointed US ambassador in 1933. Americans in Berlin seemed to ignore the unpleasant aspects of an encroaching crackdown, distracted by parties, culture and gossip. Ambassador Dodd slowly came to realize that Hitler's goals included European domination and the eradication of Jews. His convictions, framed in constant communications with other embassies, U.S. cohorts and FDR, The characters here are compelling, frustrating, sometimes despicable ... just as in life. Dodd's daughter Martha is particularly fascinating -- a frankly sexual, intelligent young woman who certainly seems to make the most of her circumstances. Dodd himself starts off a bit stodgy, ultimately brave, clear-headed, and quite misunderstood in the U.S. The correctness of his assertions becomes apparent only too late. This is an engrossing tale where quotes come from primary sources and the details of events draw you in. Larson has done his usual masterful job of focusing our attention on an engrossing tale. In DEVIL, you had parallel stories; here, the good and bad guys live in the same neighborhoods. The tension on Tiergartenstrasse must have been like a chokehold. MUST READ for any fan of history. Also, you might find a few parallels between early Nazi-ism and the more ridiculous elements of conservatives Americans.
GrantForbes 8 months ago
The overall descriptions of Germany during the 1930’s used by Larson created a great amount of images in my head that truly helped me understand major parts of the plot. For example, “In Germany, Dodd had noticed, no one ever abused a dog, and as a consequence dogs were never fearful around men and were always plump and obviously well-tended." This quote underlines the societal customs of prewar Germany and his descriptions of the dogs created a plethora of thoughts in my mind about well-fed and respected dogs. The context used by Larson not only helped me get a better understanding of the story, but also the theme of the book. The following quote represents the theme by stating that people who try to seek power for only themselves for whatever reason will never prevail. “No system which implies control by privilege seekers has ever ended in any other way than collapse.” Finally, this book truly captures the reality of the world and thoughts of the German people. The written account of Hanfstaengl about Hitler provided me with the thoughts of a German, and his take on Hitler. “Recalling his first impression of Hitler, Hanfstaengl wrote, ‘Hitler looked like a suburban hairdresser on his day off.” Larson’s work is worth taking the time to read, and anyone that does will surely not be disappointed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was hoping that this would be a good book for my 13 year old grandson who needed a good summer reading book. He is interested in military subjects and this sounded like it might be a good read. It was definitely not for him! Yes, there is the talk of affairs and sex, but mostly it is the complexity of the settings, events, and situations that discouraged me from offering the book to him. I'm glad I read it first! I am a firm believer that subject matter is of the utmost importance for good young adult readers. Just because they CAN read higher reading level books, doesn't mean that they SHOULD. This book is part of the Accelerated Reader system by Renaissance Learning, and has a reading level of 9.7 and a designation of "UG" for Upper Grades, 9-12. A young adult without the understanding of world history and much background in World War II would be lost and lose interest quickly. It would be over his head. That said, reading this book as an adult was very interesting and informative. Yes, the story reads in part like a cheap romance novel, but it was evidently an accurate portrayal of the Ambassador's daughter Martha. Having only a generic background in World War II, I was amazed by the details and timeline of Hitler's rise to power. The book traces Nazi development from the early 1930's through Ambassador Dodd's experiences as he slowly realizes what is happening in Germany. His attempts to be loyal to his mission as Ambassador are admirable as he tries to do his job of modeling the American ideals he believes in without condemning outright the downward spiral of Germany's abuse of human rights. People who are looking for a more detailed historical piece should heed the subtitle: "Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin." Erik Larsen has remained true to his objective and the subtitle is spot on. Although I cannot call this an "enjoyable" read, it was definitely worth my time and money. It was informative and interesting, and I look forward to reading more of Mr. Larsen's books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent book! Should be read by those who find history books "borring" as book is anything but!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
William_O More than 1 year ago
Read with a biography of Dietrich Boenhoffer, "The Book Thief," "Guns at Last Light," and "No Ordinary Times" this book is well written, enjoyable and an important contribution to understanding the degeneration of German society in the 30's leading to the horrible Nazi/ WWII/ holocaust experience. Could it happen again?
bluelu More than 1 year ago
excellent inside portrait of an unsuspecting family of an ambassador appointed (4th choice as he later finds out), to Berlin just as Hitler & his band of 'beasts' start the revolt that everyone with few exceptions, mistakenly think will soon fizzle out - starts to take over and begin their brutal, bloody slaughter of unfortunates. on the surface all is parties & sparkle to visitors & the like but underneath it all is the ugliness & lurking slaughter of those of whom do not comply to the liking of the new followers of Hitler. it is a compelling story of suspense, truth, & the uncovering of a family whose eyes are finally opened completely to what is actually going on underneath the cover of the parties & ignoring of what is real & what is not. a compelling read. as usual Erik Larson has done his very suburb best!!!!!!