gobI just finished reading In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson, and enjoyed it very much.  First, I am a big fan of Mr. Larson, his Devil in the White City is among my favorite books of recent years.  Second, I love reading nonfiction stories about people living their lives amongst the backdrop of extraordinary circumstances.

Here, we have the story of a family living in Berlin as representatives of the United States as the Nazis rise to power.  Most of the history here has been explored before, but it is the story as seen through the eyes of these individuals that make it personal and compelling.

About In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin: “The time is 1933, the place, Berlin, when William E. Dodd becomes America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Germany in a year that proved to be a turning point in history. A mild-mannered professor from Chicago, Dodd brings along his wife, son, and flamboyant daughter, Martha. At first Martha is entranced by the parties and pomp, and the handsome young men of the Third Reich with their infectious enthusiasm for restoring Germany to a position of world prominence. Enamored of the “New Germany,” she has one affair after another, including with the surprisingly honorable first chief of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels. But as evidence of Jewish persecution mounts, confirmed by chilling first-person testimony, her father telegraphs his concerns to a largely indifferent State Department back home. Dodd watches with alarm as Jews are attacked, the press is censored, and drafts of frightening new laws begin to circulate. As that first year unfolds and the shadows deepen, the Dodds experience days full of excitement, intrigue, romance–and ultimately, horror, when a climactic spasm of violence and murder reveals Hitler’s true character and ruthless ambition.”

I have often wondered what I would do or how I would react were I to be placed in various places and times in history.  By telling the story of the Dodds in Nazi Germany, Mr. Larson allows us an opportunity to see events from such a personal perspective and have a better idea what it would have been like to be there – unlike the broader more sweeping accounts of the same time and event.

At its core, In the Garden of Beasts is also an interesting accounting of the life of William E. Dodd, whose story otherwise may have never been told.  Dodd is not the biggest player of this extraordinary period of history, but was an eye witness to a world gone seemingly gone mad.

Mr. Larson proves yet again that nearly 70 years after the end of World War II, there are still stories left to be told

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin is available from Amazon and other booksellers.