Monday, July 27, 2015

In The Garden of the Beast by Eric Larson

I have finished reading In the Garden of the Beast by Eric Larson. It is wonderful though not as exciting and dramatic as The Devil in the White City. That has nothing to do with Larson who has written brilliantly as usual. It has to do with his chosen subject. The Dodds, father and daughter, are very ordinary people even though they played pivotal roles in Germany before WWII. Dodd was the American Ambassador to Germany and daughter Martha was a flighty, fun-loving young woman who thoroughly enjoyed the attentions of the young Aryan officers and government officials who gathered around Hitler and were smitten by her. Their time in Germany is played out against the rise of Hitler to power. 

The most impressive thing to me in the whole story was the number of times if other countries (France, the US, Spain, England) had acted or done something just a little bit different, Hitler would have been removed from power and the course of history would have been changed. 

It was interesting to watch diplomats and even German officers, move from appeasement to understanding of what was really happening. This is a terrific book if you have any interest in that period of history. Anti-Semitism was globally prevalent, not just in Germany. The US was basically isolationist. Germany had no understanding of the US Constitution and why our government couldn’t just step in and stop events that ordinary people were holding. 

Berlin was filled with parties, energy, excitement . . . and fear. Fear became the “uninvited guest” (a good phrase) at parties and meetings and gatherings as Hitler’s power grew. Because it is basically the story of the Dodds, Larson follows them well beyond WWII. His footnotes are worth reading too because many of them are annotated with stories that didn’t really fit his narrative but are worth the telling. Some of these include jokes that the Germans told to ward off fear and to laugh at the horrors that were increasing around them. 

It is a good read and one that is hard to put down even though you know the flow of the story. As usual Larson’s research is outstanding and detailed and his bibliography is extensive. My one regret is that my parents are not alive for me to talk to about their recollections of this time. 

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