Thursday, June 1, 2017

Book review - In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

🔯🔯🔯🔯 (out of 5)

A friend bought this book for me after we visited the new Holocaust Memorial in Dallas, Texas.  When he recommended it to me, I mentioned I was familiar with Erik Larson, having read several of his works.  I had not read this one simply because I was not interested in pre-World War II history.  It was important enough to him that I read it so he bought it for me.  I’m glad he did because I always enjoy Larson but also the book tells a different point of view of Germany under Hitler’s reign just prior to the Holocaust and WWII.

The subjects of In the Garden of Beasts are American Ambassador to Hitler’s Germany William Dodd and his daughter Martha.  Dodd’s wife Mattie is mentioned very little and seemingly played no role in any events, except as bystander, in the book.  The son Bill Jr. is not much more involved.
Much of the book is devoted to the daughter Martha and her sexual exploits, as she enjoys the perks of being the U.S. Ambassador’s daughter.  Life is one big party and she cannot imagine the atrocities being committed against the Jews by the Nazis.  A little anti-Semitic herself, Martha enjoys several lovers and playing them against each other.

I was confused as to Lawson’s choice of Ambassador Dodd as the main subject matter.  Dodd’s appointment, although controversial, was not scandalous.  It seemed the main reason he gained enemies in Washington was because he couldn’t force Germany to pay back the money the U.S.  The State Department could not, or would not, believe the reports of attacks against the Jews in Berlin, despite repeated efforts by Dodd to enlighten them to the horrors he knew to be factual.

Other than this, there is nothing spectacular about Dodd and his family, besides being helpless witnesses to the events unfolding around them and being unable to convince anyone in the U.S. that the worst was yet to come.

As with all of Larson’s books, In the Garden of Beasts contains intimate details of the events, gleaned from hundreds of resources.  You can imagine you’re standing in the Tiergarten area of Berlin watching soldiers march by, and feeling the underlying terror of the city.

I give it 4 (Jewish) stars out of 5 since the main character only provided a minor portal to a majorly important time in history.

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