Sunday, July 15, 2012

30B430 Book 23: In the Garden of Beasts

After finishing The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, I couldn't wait to get his most recent book, In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin.

Larson tells the story of William Dodd and his family, who moved to Berlin in 1933, where he served as the American Ambassador to Germany during the rise of the Nazi regime. The climax of the book is The Night of the Long Knives/Operation Hummingbird, a night filled with political murders.

Dodd is portrayed as an unlikely candidate, whom some claimed got the job because Franklin D. Roosevelt called the wrong Dodd in the phone book. Unlike other ambassadors, he was frugal, attempting to live within his salary, and voicing his distaste for the lavish parties and entertaining that is expected of the role. Much of the book shares the criticisms that Dodd received from others within the foreign ministry, both in Germany and back in the U.S. The foreign affairs staff in the U.S. wanted Dodd's focus to be getting Germany to pay the debts that they owed, and didn't want him to rock the boat regarding the political happenings there.

His daughter Martha creates her own fair share of scandal throughout the book, due to the numerous men that entertains, including a number of high ranking officials within the Nazi party. She certainly had her own definition of foreign affairs.

Throughout the book, different individuals hinted at an ominous feeling of "something bad is about to happen." Obviously, we know that was true. But they couldn't totally put their finger on it. And they were living in place overflowing with propaganda that they did not really know what to believe. It is weird to think about being right in the middle of all of the terror and chaos, but not totally recognizing it. I would imagine it is the whole forest from the trees thing...

Overall, it was a very interesting look at Germany pre-World War II. It gave some insight as to the environment within the Nazi party, and how Hitler rose to power so quickly, without anyone challenging him, either in Germany or elsewhere. I am certainly not a seasoned World War II scholar, so I learned a lot from the book. Definitely worth the read.

Seven more books to go. I'm taking suggestions on what to read next. What would you recommend?

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