In the Garden of Beasts
by Eric Larson

Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin

I was familiar with some of Erik Larson's works - Isaacs' Storm about the 1900 Galveston hurricane, and The Devil in the White City about a serial killer at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. Larson has a talent for writing nonfiction in a way that makes it seem you are reading an intriguing novel.

This book is written from two perspectives: that of naive, newly appointed American Ambassador to Germany, William Dodd, and his adventurous daughter, Martha.

William Todd was a history professor from Chicago, who became Roosevelt's ambassador to Germany after Roosevelt's several higher choices declined the position. Dodd is naive, penny-pinching, and had spent some time in college in Germany before becoming a professor. Though in favor of Hitler and the progress the Nazis seemed to be making as a government in Germany at first, he comes to realize that the reports of atrocities, especially against the German Jews, are true. As such, he becomes an outspoken critic of the regime and this, as well as the dissatisfaction with his performance as ambassador within the State Department, leads to his being fired by Roosevelt shortly before the start of World War II.

Martha was an assistant literary editor for the Chicago Tribune before accompanying her parents to Berlin. Martha develops many love interests in Berlin, including German princes, French diplomats, Rudolf Diels - the head of the Gestapo, and Boris Winogradov, who tries to recruit her to work for the KGB. Initially she, like her father, is enamored with the Nazis, but after witnessing the paranoia, beatings, and other horrors, like her fatller she comes to realize the lurking evil behind the façade.

Larson, as in the two books I previously mentioned, captures the time and setting splendidly, and shows how Dodd, his daughter, the German people, and the rest of the world simply could not believe the reports until it was too late. An excellent book that anyone interested in history should read.

James Shelton
Reviewed by James Shelton