Sunday, November 2, 2014

Book Review: In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

Non-fiction, narrative.  I really enjoyed this book!  I ended up finding it as a part of my continuing quest to learn more about Chicago and Illinois history.  It is about William E. Dodd, a professor of history at the University of Chicago, and how he becomes the U.S. ambassador to Germany during the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich.  There are so many WWII stories out there that it can be quite daunting when trying to tackle the subject.  This one is a little different, in that it shows you how an american family living abroad felt when arriving in 1933, and how their opinions adapt and change as things in the country do as well.  Since Dodd took his family with him (wife, son, and daughter) and they wrote letters and diary entries religiously, we get multiple perspectives on the time, place, and changing attitudes.  His daughter Martha was very amorous and had relationships with prominent members of the Nazi party (Diels), socialist radicals, and even a Russian spy.  At first she felt positive about the new changes for the German people, but then she slowly became more aware of what was happening around her, and finally changed her tune.  

     It seems that Dodd was one of the few voices bold enough to see what was coming, and to talk about it, even though he was shunned by other ambassadors and the american public for doing so.  If you are one of those people who say "How didn't people see it coming?" well he certainly did.  This book is well worth a read if you are interested in what Germany was like as an outsider during the building up of the Nazi regime and how Hitler and his inside men were constantly bickering, paranoid, chasing gossip, and vying for control of each other and the country.  This is a great story of a prominent Chicagoan and of the climate in Germany leading up to WWII from the perspective an american family.

And so it goes...

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