In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The title really explains everything you need to know about this book. It is about the experiences that the American Ambassador to Berlin and his family had during the 1930s when Hitler was chancellor and coming to power. The book focuses mostly on Ambassador Dodd and his daughter Martha, quite the player in today's terms. They are quite enchanted with Germany when they first arrive but find themselves more disgusted with the anti-Semitic events as time goes on. And while shocked at the things that are happening, they are quite powerless to do anything to stop it.
The top consular official in Berlin, George S Messersmith, America's consul general for germany since 1930 was convinced of Hitler's deranged government but thought few Americans realized the threat. This is a telling quote by Messersmith,
With few exceptions, the men who are running this Government are of a mentality that you and I cannot understand. Some of them are psychopathic cases and would ordinarily be receiving treatment somewhere.
I don't think much more needs to be said about the depravity of Hitler and the men he surrounded himself with.
I was a little disappointed in the book. Much of it seemed to focus on how Ambassador Dodd really wasn't suited for his position and that he didn't have the wealth to fete the local officials the way he should. There was tension between Dodd and the "pretty good club" back home in America who wanted him out. Another large chunk of the book focused on Dodd's daughter Martha and her many affairs with men, some even high in the Nazi system like Rudolf Diels. She was very sexual as the book kept pointing out and took great delight in sharing that with anyone she chose.
The book didn't seem to follow much of a plot like Larsen's book, The Devil in the White City, but was more just a random collection of situations. It was interesting to read about the Ambassador's meetings with Hitler. While putting great effort into making Germany the most powerful military nation, he would lie straight-faced about how he wanted peace for the whole world. Hitler was a demented maniac and I thought the book would be more about him, but I should have read the title a little closer I guess, not about him, but the American Ambassador family.
It was interesting to read about how the American government and the German people just didn't realize how destructive Hitler was starting to be. Even some Americans were unkind to Jews. It was different to see that perspective when all I have ever known is the horror of the Holocaust and the extreme un-political correctness of anti-Semitism.
I am always in awe of the enormous amount of research goes into writing a non-fiction book and Larsen definitely has my respect fort that. I just thought I would enjoy this book more than I did.
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